When people look back at today's automotive industry, what do you think they'll remember us for? The emergence of hybrids? Ever more expensive and exotic supercars? The dawn of the self-driving car? All likely scenarios, but so is the blurring of lines between one bodystyle and another, giving rise to hardtop convertible coupes and crossovers of every shape and size. But one bodystyle the North American auto industry has stayed largely away from in the past couple of decades is a car nose and chassis with a pickup bed.
It's a bodystyle immortalized by the Chevrolet El Camino, but with few exceptions, we haven't seen too many of these automotive platypuses in recent years on our turf. Subaru tried with the Baja and the low-volume Honda Ridgeline soldiers along largely unchanged, but the genre's biggest adherents are still Down Under, where ute versions of the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon live. With a few other examples scattered to the four corners of the earth, that's really about it. But if these spy shots are anything to go by, it looks like Fiat Chrysler Automobiles could be working to bring it back.
Spied undergoing testing in Michigan, what we appear to be looking at is a heavily disguised Fiat Strada being prepared – like the Fiat Ducato-based Ram ProMaster and the smaller Doblo-based ProMaster City – for Stateside duty as a Ram product. The Strada, for those unfamiliar, is a product of Fiat Automóveis in Brazil and is based on the Palio economy car. The nameplate has been around South America since 1996 and was originally designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro (long before Volkswagen monopolized his talents), and takes a more rugged approach in the form of the Strada Adventure.
The test mule pictured here (said by our spy shutterbugs on the scene to be packing a diesel and a stick) is obviously wearing some heavy body cladding, but that in and of itself – along with its presence in Auburn Hills near company headquarters with Michigan manufacturer plates – suggests something could be afoot. Of course, it's 100-percent possible that engineers are merely working on a foreign-market model at the company's US operations – especially with that drivetrain combination – but past rumors have hinted that the now-dead Dodge Dakota could come back as a different sort of vehicle. Most recently, it's been hinted that the project was shelved, possibly in favor of a Mitsubishi-based pickup, but that doesn't appear to be what we see here.
Whatever this is, it looks longer than a Strada, with a bigger bed and four proper doors instead of just two and appears to be riding higher on a jacked-up suspension – all presumably to meet North American tastes. Any taller and it'd look less like a ute and more like a truck... which may be good news to those who miss the Dakota, but in its present form, it looks more like a revival of the Rampage than anything else.