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Ram On

It pretty much began with the 1994 Dodge Ram pickup.

It pretty much began with the 1994 Dodge Ram pickup. Dodge trucks went from being "ho-hum" to "You'd better get out of the way, because I'm comin' through!" Everyone-cross-town rivals included-took notice. They maintained this for the '02 model year. The '09 Ram is a whole new product. Speaking to the truck, Ralph Gilles, vice president, Jeep/Truck and Advanced Interior Design, explains, "Before this truck, I was doing cars-the 300 and the Charger-and I wanted to bring that emotional thing"-and let's face it, of the mainstream cars that have appeared during the past several years, the 300 and the Charger are among the most expressive-"to the trucks. Trucks are very functional devices. There are a lot of mechanical components that you have to respect." So Gilles went to school on trucks. "I spent time with real customers, understanding the truck market before we put pen to paper. We learned a lot. Trucks are much more personal for these people than we might have thought." Yes, people feel emotional about their trucks. It's a truck thing.

Gilles admits that at one point they thought about "revolutionizing it, doing something completely different." In this regard, Gilles references two concept trucks, the 2006 Rampage and the 1999 Power Wagon. But then they rethought the revolutionizing because, he explains, "The truck is an icon. So we were going to consciously evolve it. We went for the ‘over-the-road' look, but worked to make it as sporty as possible, as athletic as possible, and have a wind-cheating feel to it." So one aspect of the big-rig look is the increased power bulge in the aluminum hood (under which can be fitted a 5.7-liter Hemi); there is sportiness in that the grille is canted forward à la the Dodge Charger; the athleticism can be discerned in the sleek body side but muscular features like the wrap-around rear bumper; and the wind-cheating was actually a result of working on the vehicle in the Chrysler wind tunnel so as to achieve a coefficient of drag on the order of 0.422 for the crew cab 4x4 model as compared with 0.463 for a 2008 Ram Quad Cab 4x4. 

One thing that Gilles is particularly proud of is the interior. There are five trim levels, starting at the ST and going to the top line Laramie. "Even our base ST has a pretty darn nice interior. That guy is going to be in the truck 8 to 10 hours a day, so we put some love in there." Chrysler is using the '09 Ram as something of a benchmark as regards the quality of the interior, in terms of materials and amenities. As for the Laramie, he remarks, "We've never been that far north. We're stretching into Ford territory." A truck all gussied up, inside and out? "Why wouldn't the guy who has functional needs want elegance, as well?" Gilles asks.

An interesting feature that the truck offers is the RamBox, a lockable, drainable, lighted storage bin that runs the length of the 5-ft, 7-in. pickup box and is as wide as the wheel well, translating into 8.6-ft3 of storage space. What's key is that this storage does not come at the expense of the width of the pickup bed; the designers and engineers simply took advantage of space that isn't otherwise used (the wheel-well intrusions are already in the truck bed, so why not take advantage of the space above them?).
While the price of gasoline and growing environmental concerns are putting pressure on vehicle manufacturers when it comes to big vehicles like the Ram pickup, Gilles is not apologetic, explaining that for a number of people, the vehicle is "very relevant" (to say nothing of being extremely important to the corporation).

"What would you expect us to do with trucks?" he rhetorically asks, adding, "If we're going to play in the market, we're going to do it right."-GSV