As Fiat Chrysler Automobiles prepares to launch a redesigned Ram 1500 pickup this spring, it’s looking to offer a flagship vehicle that powers sales growth and captures loyal truck customers from other brands.
The automaker also needs the 2019 Ram 1500 pickup it introduced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday to remain its best-selling and biggest profit generator.
“They can’t afford any hiccups with this,” said Dave Sullivan, manager of product analysis for industry consulting firm AutoPacific. “This is the vehicle that keeps the blood pumping through the entire company.”
The 2019 Ram 1500 is lighter, longer and wider than the truck it replaces. It’s more aerodynamic and fuel efficient. It offers increased payload and towing capability.
Ram has eliminated 225 pounds from its crew cab 4×4 version, which is also the most popular configuration. That’s a result of the strategic distribution of multiple materials — mostly advanced high-strength steel in the frame. The hood is aluminum and the tailgate is a mix of aluminum and magnesium. There’s a smattering of composites elsewhere.
“We put the right materials in the right places,” said Rob Wichman, head of Ram engineering.
The new Ram 1500’s wheelbase and cab grows up to 4 inches longer, depending on the body style. The truck is 0.5 inches wider. The center console has five USB ports and can hold a 15-inch laptop. The truck also has its own Wi-Fi connection. The truck will have the most interior space, legroom and storage among half-ton pickups, said Jim Morrison, head of the Ram truck brand.
“Storage is a big part of what a pickup truck is about,” said Ryan Nagode, who heads Ram interior design.
Ram designers worked to give the truck better aerodynamics than its predecessor, giving it a hint of the curves common in today’s SUVs and crossovers. But they were careful not to depart from truck design conventions, said Joe Dehner, head of Ram exterior design.
“The big-rig styling is still important. It is still paramount,” Dehner said. “A semi-tractor is the granddaddy of trucks.”
Buyers might not be able to drive a Peterbilt, but they like sitting in a vehicle that channels that classic design, he said.
A new Ram logo will adorn the truck. It forsakes curves for facets and is more angular, with a hint of Transformers in the design.
To improve fuel economy Ram added eTorque, a mild-hybrid system that shuts down the engine when the truck coasts to a stop and then provides torque upon initial acceleration.
There are other features to improve fuel economy. A standard active air dam automatically extends downward 2.5 inches from the front of the truck at 35 mph, improving aerodynamics. Some trucks have an optional air suspension system, which automatically puts the truck into an aero mode.
Ram didn’t provide fuel economy ratings for the new truck but said mileage will be better across the model range.
Engine choices include a standard 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 in most trims and the optional 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. The V6 offers 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. The V8 makes 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque. Both are mated to an 8-speed transmission.
“The new Ram demonstrates a strong use of taking a hybrid powertrain and applying it to a truck in a way that benefits the user,” said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst at IHS Markit. “It will make it both a stronger and more fuel-efficient truck.”
The truck has a maximum payload of 2,300 pounds and maximum trailer tow capacity of 12,700 pounds, both about a 20 percent increase compared with the current model.
Ram is packing new technology into the truck, including a Tesla-esque 12-inch touch screen in higher trim levels. An 8.4-inch screen is standard. Cameras provide a 360-degree bird’s-eye perspective of the vehicle. Standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay offer plug and play smartphone connectivity. Designers included redundant controls that cater to drivers who prefer knobs and buttons.
“You have the ability to get to the things you want with your fingertips,” Nagode said.
The new truck will have a full suite of safety features. Blind-spot alert, which detects nearby vehicles as far back as the end of a trailer, is standard. Rear cross-path alert warns drivers backing out of parking spaces of traffic moving toward their vehicle.
Optional safety technology includes forward collision alerts and automatic emergency braking. Adaptive cruise control will also bring the vehicle to a stop and then accelerate to keep pace with traffic. Adaptive headlamps use steering wheel input to point in the direction the vehicle is traveling for better road illumination.
Sullivan said the truck is an example of the increasingly robust engineering and design capability at FCA.
“There is a lot of really smart engineering inside this vehicle,” he said. “This is not a warmed-over version of the current truck.”
Significant changes such as the larger cab and little things like inclusion of newer USB C outlets will make the Ram competitive with other trucks in the marketplace, Sullivan said.
He expects Ram to continue to grab a larger slice of the full-size pickup truck market.
That’s already happening. The current Ram has stolen market share from industry leader Ford as well as stalwarts General Motors and Toyota. It had 21 percent of the full-size pickup market in the U.S. last year, an increase of three percentage points since the late-2012 launch of the current model.
But Ram could run up against several roadblocks.
Rivals aren’t sitting still. GM hosted the debut of its redesigned 2019 Chevrolet Silverado pickup at an event just prior to the official start of the Detroit auto show. Ford is adding a diesel engine option to the F-150 for the first time. It also launched the Ford Ranger midsize pickup at the show.
The new Ram 1500 will do well, but a lack of manufacturing capacity at FCA puts a ceiling on sales, Brinley said. “They couldn’t build enough trucks to outsell Ford’s F-150.”
Both Ford and GM, which each sold about 900,000 trucks last year, can churn out more vehicles.
A leveling to slight decline in U.S. auto sales this year and next also provides less room for growth, she said.
“You are going to have to work harder to convince consumers to choose your vehicle,” Brinley said.sold 2.8 million full- and mid-size pickup trucks in 2017, a 4.8 percent increase over the prior year, according to Autodata Corp., an industry research firm. Pickups made up 16.4 percent of U.S. auto sales last year.
Ram is ready, said Mike Manley, the FCA executive who heads the Ram and Jeep brands globally. It is building the new truck at a completely refurbished and updated factory in Sterling Heights, Mich. The company spent $1.5 billion on the upgrade. FCA will continue to produce the current model at its Warren, Mich., factory as it ramps up production of the new model this year. Eventually, the automaker plans to pump $1 billion into the Warren factory and retool it to make heavy-duty Ram pickups and Jeep SUVs.
Manley said he’s confident that Ram has engineered a truck with the durability, capability and technology buyers want.
“This is one of the most competitive markets in the world,” Manley said. “There’s nothing like the pickup truck segment in the U.S.”