President-elect Donald Trump is considering two actions that could dramatically reshape the U.S. auto industry — imposing large tariffs on imported autos and automotive parts, and launching a review of scheduled fuel-economy and emissions standards.
That’s a shame because the Ram half-ton diesel truck demonstrates exactly how those policies have contributed to the design of one of the best trucks on the road.
On a 933-mile road trip in California recently, I discovered that the diesel version of the Ram 1500 achieves startlingly high gas mileage and has an international pedigree that shows exactly how globalization of the auto industry has benefited U.S. consumers.
Few things besides blue jeans are as uniquely American as a pickup truck. Americans will purchase about 2.7 million new pickups this year. That’s why pastoral Western scenes, construction sites and men wearing blue jeans so dominate truck advertising. Ram fits that mold.
Once the nameplate used for Dodge trucks, Ram was spun into its own brand in 2009 by Chrysler Group, now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. FCA is on track to sell about 500,000 Ram trucks this year, which would make the pickup the third-most-popular vehicle in America, trailing only the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado. But Ram sales are growing at an 8 percent annual rate, faster than its major rivals, and the brand now accounts for about 22 percent of the full-size pickup market in the U.S.
Yet despite its U.S. heritage and assembly at FCA’s Warren, Mich., factory, the Ram 1500 Laramie Crew Cab four-wheel drive pickup is very much an international truck.
A review of the Monroney sticker – the legal document glued to the window of every new vehicle – reveals that 27 percent of the Ram’s components come from Mexico. The sweet 3.0-liter, six-cylinder turbo-diesel is built by the VM Motori division of Fiat in Italy. The smooth-shifting transmission comes from ZF Friedrichshafen of Germany. (FCA says the transmission was designed in Germany but is now built at a ZF factory in Greenville, S.C.)
This truck combines the best automotive expertise from multiple nations and multiple continents. And it is a shining example of how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Shifts in the eight-speed automatic transmission were imperceptible regardless of whether the truck was plowing up the Grapevine on Interstate 5 leaving Los Angeles or climbing the curvy Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The front and back coil suspension smoothed the bumpy washboard pavement of many California highways. The fuel-sipping diesel engine notched 27 mpg for the entire trip – mostly highway driving that included 400 miles with a load of furniture in the truck bed. The truck proves that the auto industry can make the type of big, capable vehicle that American consumers favor and still achieve significant fuel economy.
The engine, which produces 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque, never complained as it passed big rigs on the interstate, ascended a 15-percent grade or hauled a payload of household goods.
There’s a lot to recommend in this truck, with a 26-gallon fuel tank that provides a range of about 600 miles, assuming some highway driving.
Ram has vastly upgraded its interior materials and the fit and finish compared with its last generation of pickups. The cabin is roomy for four people, and there are little amenities that other automakers should take note of.
It’s easy to measure a truck based on its payload – 1,330 pounds for the Ram – and towing capacity – 7,610 pounds.
But little things, such as two in-floor storage bins in the second row – just big enough to hold a small handbag or other valuable out of sight – add to the package. The rear seat cushions on the crew cab flip up – stadium style – to create a flat interior storage space. It's divided 60/40 so that you can still have one passenger sitting in the back of the cabin.
The Ram uses a urea-fluid-based selective catalytic reduction system to control diesel emissions. Every 10,000 miles, the driver will have to refill the 8-gallon tank with diesel emissions fluid. It’s a nominal cost – about $6 a gallon. Ram has conveniently located the port just inside the fuel tank door.
But there’s still room for improvement.
Ram is behind the curve when it comes to active safety systems such as adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support – a feature that warns drivers if they are approaching a vehicle too quickly and then pre-charges the braking system, so when they do hit the brake pedal they have a better shot at avoiding a crash. This is a big vehicle that takes longer to stop than a compact car, and it often will be carrying a payload or towing a vehicle. Insurance industry data prove that these systems reduce collisions. Every big truck needs them. It’s also missing lane-departure and blind-spot warnings, two other features handy for a big truck.
The truck also lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. These features allow you to plug an Apple or Android phone in with a USB cord, and with one button on the screen you can make phone calls, have text messages read to you, tap into a navigation program, and get your music and podcasts. All automakers should be going in this direction. Plug and play is what consumers want.
Our test vehicle – including the $4,720 diesel engine upcharge – had a sticker price of $53,855 including options. It comes with a five-year/100,000-mile powertrain limited warranty on the EcoDiesel and the standard three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper coverage for the entire truck.