Fiat Chrysler Automobiles introduced its 2019 Ram chassis cab Thursday at the Chicago Auto Show, unveiling a medium-duty truck with higher power, payload and towing ratings in a segment in which capability and operating cost overshadow looks and ride comfort.
The redesigned Ram carries over the popular looks of its other pickups. The combined weight rating, including the cab and whatever is added to the chassis, jumps to 43,000 pounds. It will tow 35,200 pounds and has a maximum payload of 12,510 pounds.
Those numbers could make it an option for buyers of larger and more expensive straight trucks, said Dave Sowers, head of Ram commercial trucks.
“As these Class 4 and 5 chassis cabs become more capable, we see people moving down from Class 6,” he told Trucks.com.
Since Ram doesn’t offer a Class 6 truck like its competitors, luring buyers to move down to a less-expensive Class 5 truck is necessary, said Antti Lindstrom, a trucking analyst with IHS Markit.
“It makes perfect sense they would try to sell it as a ‘switch product’ for anybody who doesn’t necessarily need a Class 6,” he told Trucks.com.
FCA’s Ram truck division is riding high. It sold 536,980 trucks last year, a 7 percent gain over the prior year and the most since Ram debuted in 1993. The light-duty Ram 1500 won North American Truck of the Year.
Its one-ton heavy-duty 3500 model, introduced last month at the Detroit Auto Show, grinds out 1,000 pound-feet of torque with the Cummins diesel. It is the first pickup to hit that mark.
When the new medium duties go on sale in the second quarter, Ram is looking to continue its positive vibe as it chases Isuzu and Ford, which dominate Class 4 and Class 5 medium-duty sales, respectively.
“Commercial customers are also regular consumers,” said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with IHS Markit. “(They) will likely have seen the strong reaction and reviews of Ram’s 1500 and HD products.”
That should help Ram target ranchers and well-heeled owners of horse trailers, race cars and luxury campers with a Ram 5500 Limited edition that features a split-view 12-inch infotainment screen, leather seats and wood and metal accents.
“There are some 30,000-pound fifth wheels with stainless steel appliances and fireplaces,” Sowers told Trucks.com. “Now you can have a vehicle that’s luxurious like your trailer.”
Pickup cabs are easier to get in and out of and ride more comfortably than cab-over models from truck makers that place the driver over the engine rather than behind it.
Ram has a massive center console with 12 storage combinations and optional wireless charging for a small tablet or smartphone. The console has five USB ports, four of which are type-C ports for faster charging. Two optional 115-volt three-prong plugs can charge power tools at up to 400 watts.
All chassis trucks start with a cab for the driver and passengers and bare frame rails, wheels, axles and tires. Third-party companies finish the trucks into everything from ambulances to shuttle buses, dump trucks, tow trucks, utility trucks, flatbeds and box trucks.
Ram tries to make that easier by hiding components that could interfere with body builders. The truck integrates more than 70 electronic controls between the truck and what was added. Engine power can be used as a generator to plug in electrical equipment from either side of the truck.
Engineers answer questions from up-fitters on a dedicated phone line and listen to their concerns and requests for changes at industrial trade shows, Sowers said.
The new Ram claims best-in-class power with 360 horsepower and 800 pound-feet of torque with the optional Cummins 6.7-liter inline six-cylinder turbo diesel. That compares favorably with Ford’s 6.7-liter PowerStroke V-8 turbodiesel that has 330 horsepower and 750 pound-feet of torque.
Ford has upgrades coming for its 2020 models. But specific power numbers have not been released. GM, which had been out of the medium-duty market for a decade, returned last year with three weight classes of Chevrolet Silverado chassis cabs with a 6.6-liter Duramax diesel engine that gets 350 horsepower and 700 pound-feet of torque.
The standard Ram chassis cab engine is the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 rated at 370 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque mated with an eight-speed automatic transmission. It tops Ford’s F-450/F-550 standard 6.8-liter Triton V-10 gas engine with a six-speed automatic rated at 288 horsepower and 424-pound feet of torque. GM does not offer a gasoline-powered medium-duty truck.
Safety and Technology
The new Ram offers standard automatic emergency braking for the cab and as an option for trailering. New cooling modules help keep brakes from overheating on downgrades.
Forward-collision warning and adaptive cruise control are optional along with a 270-degree camera that monitors the front and sides of the cab. Trailer-reverse guidance expands the field of vision. A cargo-view camera monitors the upfit or payload and helps with hooking up fifth-wheel and gooseneck hitches.
Isuzu Commercial Vehicles of America’s N-Series dominates Class 4 medium-duties, accounting for 61 percent of the 20,502 Class 4 units sold in 2018, according to Ward’s Intelligence. Ford was a distant second.
In the Class 5 weight class, Ford accounted for 63 percent, or 51,620, of the 81,347 models sold in 2018, according to Ward’s. Ram was second with 15,934 sales. The Class 3-5 medium-duty segment accounts for more than 100,000 sales annually.