Compact trucks tend to be ubiquitous, entry-level vehicles, but at the 2002 North American International Auto Show, Dodge designers set out to change all that. One of a quartet of millennial-focused 2002 Chrysler Group concepts, the Dodge M80 breathes new life into what has become a bread-and-butter class of boring vehicles, sold mostly on price and ability to make a positive contribution to truck CAFE numbers. At the same time, in their typically coy manner, DaimlerChrysler is giving the auto world what may be a sneak peak at the next-generation Dakota pickup due in 2004.
“This year’s concept vehicles are all designed for the millennial generation,” said Dave McKinnon, Vice President for Design at the Chrysler Group. “We found that one of the products that the market lacks for this group right now is what they call ‘a real hot pickup truck, just for me, a friend, and our gear.’ The Dodge M80 concept is like ‘son-of-Power Wagon,’ an in-your-face pickup truck, now light, lean, agile, with four-wheel drive and a powerful engine.”
Designers John Opfer and Jeff Gale borrowed cues from the prewar series of Job-Rated half-ton pickups so popular with Dodge Truck aficionados. Together, this duo was able to translate honest simplicity of the 1939 TC and 1941 WC half-ton pickups into a fresh and contemporary design that builds upon the recent Dodge truck concepts, especially the 1999 Power Wagon, while illustrating a direct link to the new-for-2002 full-sized Ram.
An active off-roader, designer John Opfer said, “When we first conceived the design for the M80, we were looking for fresh proportions. In the M80, we have a truly American style of vehicle. We adopted the high cowl, short front overhang, a more vertical windshield, simple fender forms on the bed and body. It’s an honest design and most of all, elegant in its simplicity.”
Looking at the two vehicles, the prewar half-ton and the M80, it’s clear that there is a direct relationship. Both offer simple lines with short overhangs, the M80 design updated by new interpretations of classic elements like the fender vent vanes and push-button door handles. Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) is employed for the integrated side-storage lockers, while dual spin-off fuel-filler caps with a satin-stainless-steel-look match the grille, and simple stamped-steel 20-inch wheels suit the M80′s design.
Bed protection plays a part in both designs. The vintage Job-Rated pickups employed a wooden bed floor while the M80′s useful five-foot bed is protected by a durable TPE liner and bulkhead and incorporates myriad tie-down cleats compatible with MOPAR bike, ski, and surfboard racks. The tailgate features ‘stamped-through’ lettering for the Dodge and 4×4 emblems. Oversized, performance-tuned dual exhaust pipes and jewel-like round taillamps complete the exterior highlights.
Slightly longer than the current Dakota’s standard cab, the back of the M80 cab features a full-width “flipper” glass. Opfer explained that if you’re carrying gear that’s too long for the pickup bed, the glass can be raised and the cargo, such as a surfboard, can be positioned through the open the glass to take advantage of the cabin to add load length.
Chassis and Powertrain
Fitting the 210-horsepower V-6 introduced in the Jeep Liberty into a vehicle with a projected 2500-pound curb weight would seem to portend great performance numbers. DaimlerChrysler seeks performance targets of 8-seconds 0-60 mph with a top speed of 100 mph. These numbers are not too far off from a current 5.9 Dakota R/T, which admittedly is almost 1500 pounds heavier.
The rest of the drivetrain and chassis components are lifted from the Dakota parts shelf. The frame features independent short-and-long-arm front suspension and a solid axle with leaf springs in the rear. The V-6 is matched with a five-speed manual transmission and a two-speed transfer case.