Along with Jeep, Ram is undoubtedly one of FCA’s most important divisions.
While we’re not privy to exactly how much bacon this brand brings home, we do know that company CEO Sergio Marchionne is betting big on both. The Italian-born Canadian automotive magnate is killing the slow-selling Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart sedans to focus more attention on profitable trucks and utility vehicles. Undoubtedly, Ram will benefit from this strategy shift.
But there are rumblings that Jeep will once again offer a pickup, one based off the ever-popular Wrangler, something we just had to ask Bob Hegbloom, the head of Ram Truck about when we sat down with him recently for an interview.
“We’re just Ram trucks,” he said, quickly defusing the query. “We don’t work for Jeep.”
Still, it’s not like he wants to see a hypothetical Wrangler pickup fail. “It’s part of our family … just like all the other products we have, I’m sure it would do great in the market and resonate.” Still, one gets the impression he’s a little annoyed by this prospective product, as he should be.
Changing gears and focusing on efficiency, the subject of a hybrid Ram came up. Hegbloom explained this technology has “been out there in pickup trucks before,” and that it hasn’t done well in the market. Still, he said, “We’ll continue to explore it. We’re going to look at it.”
The all-new Chrysler Pacifica minivan will be offered with a hybrid option, so perhaps a variant of this fuel-saving powertrain will find its way into a future Ram.
Underscoring this, when it comes to efficiency, “We can’t stand still,” said Hegbloom. “It’s interesting, I tell this story. When we were doing research in 2006, customers told us they weren’t willing to sacrifice any capability or power for fuel economy. Well, fast-forward to 2010 as we’re developing our ’13 model, and it was a complete reversal.”
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Undoubtedly, harsh memories or $4 per gallon gasoline during the summer of 2008 were fresh in drivers’ minds at that time, though seemingly, against all odds, things are totally different today with oil hovering in the neighborhood of $30 a barrel.
Despite the welcome drop in fuel prices, Ram isn’t backing down when it comes to efficiency. Beyond the possibility of including an electrified drivetrain in a next-generation pickup, there’s plenty this company has done to reduce the consumption of its trucks that are currently on sale. For instance, their Pentastar V6 and eight-speed automatic transmission make a tremendous drivetrain combination; Ram also offers an economical and incredibly capable light-duty diesel engine. But that’s not all.
According to Hegbloom, today’s Ram line is rife with efficiency-boosting features most customers have no idea are there. Active aero shutters are one such item, reducing wind resistance and drag. Ram’s available air suspension system can lower a truck’s body at highway speed for similar benefits. They even have something called pulse-width modulation, which reduces parasitic drivetrains losses by turning the alternator on only when needed.
Another efficiency-boosting feature are specially designed side steps. Hegbloom understands it may seem like side steps have nothing to do with fuel efficiency, but he clarifies: “The way they’re positioned, it actually keeps the air underneath the vehicle, to enhance the aero, to improve the fuel economy.”
Of course, materials also came up during this interview, and how could they not? A major competitor just switched to a certain lightweight metal with its latest pickup truck (*cough* F-150 *cough-cough* aluminum).
When asked about the periodic table’s 13th element, Hegbloom said, “Well, I think it still comes down to delivering on the requirement that the customers want. And if I can do it in an efficient way with technology that’s less expensive, still providing the attribute they want, then I’m going to go down that path.” All of this seems rather dismissive of aluminum, something that seems to be working well for Ford.
Their F-150 already features a lightweight body made of this metal and the Blue Oval’s Super Duty range will receive similar upgrades for 2017. Beyond this, rumors strongly indicate GM’s next-generation pickups will be going the same route as well, but where does this leave Ram?
Their trucks already deliver impressive efficiency without resorting to fancy materials. However, their upcoming lineup is currently under development, and you’ve got to imagine there have been some heated discussions in Auburn Hills about the use of aluminum in Ram models. Naturally, Hegbloom wouldn’t comment on this topic, though he said, “At the end of the day, the customers are saying ‘I want fuel economy.’ They don’t care how you get there.”
While incredibly important, efficiency is a rather dry subject. Performance is what enthusiasts really care about, and when it comes to going fast, Chrysler’s Hellcat models are some of the most exhilarating in the business. A supercharged, 707-horsepower Ram truck seems like a logical product offering … if a Hellcat anything was ever rational.
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When asked whether Ram would ever offer such a high-powered pickup, Hegbloom said with a laugh, “You know, I think Tim’s using all those engines.” FCA’s Tim Kuniskis is the head of passenger-car brands including the SRT range. Still, Hegbloom said they might be able to spare one for him if he ever wanted to replace his EcoDiesel-equipped Ram 1500 Limited.
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