Fiat Chrysler Automobiles took a “don’t mess with success” approach to its 2019 Ram heavy-duty pickups revealed Monday at the Detroit auto show.
The 2500 three-quarter and 3500 one-ton models shown at the North American International Auto Show bear a strong exterior resemblance to the hot-selling light-duty Ram 1500, while designers created distinct interiors for the six trim levels.
But heavy-duty pickups’ bragging rights focus on horsepower, torque and towing. Segment leadership shifts with nearly every new model introduced by Ram, Ford or Chevrolet.
For now, Ram HDs top all three power categories. How long the numbers will hold up depends on what claims General Motors makes by mating a 10-speed Allison automatic transmission with Duramax engines in the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD. The truck is expected at the Chicago Auto Show next month.
The diesel-powered Ram 3500 is rated at towing up to 35,100 pounds. It can carry up to 7,680 pounds of payload.
It is the first HD pickup to grind out 1,000 pound-feet of torque, thanks to the high-output Cummins turbo-diesel 6.7-liter engine rated at 400 horsepower.
“It’s the sound barrier, and we just broke it,” said Jim Morrison, head of the Ram brand in North America.
Diesel-powered heavy-duty pickups have been advancing toward the milestone. Ford’s current F-350 Super Duty maxes out at 935 pound-feet of torque. The one-ton Silverado with a Duramax diesel makes 910 pound-feet of torque.
The Ram 3500 HD with the gasoline-powered 6.4-liter Hemi V8 makes 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque.
In a year when crossovers, SUVs and pickups accounted for 68 percent of all vehicle sales, total Ram sales were the highest since the 1993 Dodge Ram pickup debuted. The 2500/3500 models accounted for about 32 percent of a record 536,980 Ram sales in 2018. As a group, the Ram pickup truck line was the third best-selling vehicle of any type in the U.S. last year.
“These trucks enable a broader commercial vehicle range for a consumer who values getting all or most of their fleet work trucks from the same source,” said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with IHS Markit.
Ram played it safe in adopting exterior styling from the 2019 Ram 1500, integrating the brand name into the massive grille surrounded by big rig-style drop fenders and low-set headlamps.
“It is consistent with some of our other Ram products, and we wanted to do that with the heavy duty,” said Joe Dehner, head of Ram exterior design.
Practically everything is bigger in the HD versions, including a 30 percent larger radiator. Differences from the light-duty model include new bodyside moldings, mirrors, running boards and fender flares.
Lighter and Sleeker
Under the skin, all-new frames consist of 98.5 percent high-strength steel with six separate crossmembers and hydroformed rails, for which highly pressurized fluid formed the metal.
The new Ram HD goes on sale in the second quarter. It weighs 143 pounds less than the outgoing model because of lightweight materials in the frame and powertrain. An aluminum hood shaved 20 pounds.
Even with the Ram HD’s massive front end, engineers achieved an 8 percent improvement in aerodynamic efficiency by using active grille shutters that open and close automatically to control air flow. New air vents help move air over and under rather than through the truck.
Designers focused on making the most of storage, function and technology.
Wood, metal and leather appointments achieve an authentic look and feel. Details like pinstriping on the seats, center-console and arm rests extend to the metal finishes on trim parts.
“We think a lot of parts on the interior look as if you can kind of wrench on them,” said Ryan Nagode, head of Ram design.
The Ram Mega Cab lives up to its name, with a 12-way configurable console spacious enough for a 15-inch laptop computer or 20 two-liter soft drink bottles. The Mega Cab has almost nine cubic feet of storage. Ram claims that is twice as much as its closest competitor.
The console contains five USB ports, four of which are Type C connectors that charge cellular phones at a higher data rate. Several models offer wireless charging.
With 142 cubic feet of interior space, the Mega Cab offers a rear seat that reclines 15 degrees.
An active rear suspension available on both models includes a new bed-lowering mode that makes trailer hood-ups easier. Two air bags replace the coil springs without sacrificing load capacity. A five-link coil with an air suspension is optional.
“You hit the button and it will come down an inch to level that trailer off,” said Rob Wichman, head of Ram engineering.
New mirror-mounted rear spotlights help with backing trailers in the dark. Convex trailer tow mirrors increase rearward vision. An auxiliary remote exterior camera improves visibility in and behind trailers.
A cargo-view camera allows monitoring of payload in the bed and provides active gridlines to help hook up fifth-wheel and gooseneck hitches. A 360-degree surround-view camera system with trailer reverse guidance view gives a greater field of vision on a single display screen.
Ninety percent of Ram HDs are used for towing at some point, Morrison said.
All models offer a suite of safety systems including adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-path detection. Emergency braking is also available for trailers.
Backup sensors were designed for wide dual rear wheels to protect fenders.
Upgraded sound systems top out with a 750-watt, 17-speaker Harmon Kardon system. All audio is easier to hear thanks to active noise cancellation. Cabs are 10 decibels quieter than the current HD models.
The fourth-generation Uconnect infotainment system carried over from the Ram 1500 features a 12-inch reconfigurable touchscreen display with split-screen capability and graphics tailored to each of the models.
Because of the split screen, Apple CarPlay and Android Audio do not take over the entire screen like they do when plugged into most infotainment systems.
Since Ram became a stand-alone truck brand in 2009, the ways in which customers use heavy-duty pickups have changed.
“There was a time when these trucks did their job on the weekend and sat in the driveway during the week,” Nagode said. “Now our customers are driving these every day.”
That means customer expectations for luxury and technology rise constantly.
“These features are proliferating to all segments,” said Brinley, the IHS Markit analyst. “In the case of work trucks, there is opportunity to use features like embedded Wi-Fi for the needs of work-truck users.”