While overall truck sales may be down more than 28% this year, that doesn’t mean the truck market is completely dead. There’s still a group of people who cannot live without their trucks: contractors and small business owners; and there are those who tow boats, recreational vehicles and horses. These folks bought 1.6-million heavy-duty trucks in 2008. This dedicated group of buyers is the linchpin of Chrysler’s focus as its Dodge brand launches its new 2010 Ram Heavy-Duty 2500 and 3500 pickups.
Even though the development of the new heavy-duties was well underway before the current economic malaise, Chrysler engineers focused on maximizing their return on investment. For starters, the team borrowed heavily from their light-duty counterparts, most notably in the improvement of the truck’s interior—the instrument panels are part-for-part identical. “Like our light-duty customers, these buyers wanted better quality materials, less hard surfaces and we thought why not just use the same interior?” says Joe Dehner, head of Dodge brand design. A few tweaks were made—the shifter has been moved from the console to the steering column, giving way to more storage on the center console.
The re-use story continues on the powertrain side as the optional 6.7-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel—which has a 90% take-rate—has been carried over: “When we introduced this engine in 2007, we said it would meet 2010 emission standards. It is essentially carryover with the only changes being made to improve quality and durability,” says Mike Cairns, vehicle line executive for Dodge trucks. The use of a diesel particulate filter and absorber catalyst enables the engine to meet the new requirements without urea. The fact that the diesel engine requires better breathing than the standard 5.7-liter HEMI V8 meant designer Dehner and his team had to make the already prominent Ram grille even bigger, allowing for a new hood design, complete with side louvers.
The cost-consciousness doesn’t mean the new truck lacks innovation. The single biggest complaint from previous generation heavy-duty owners was about ride quality, which was jarring. Engineers addressed this by using new hydro mounts between the frame and the cab: “It has a glycol fluid inside that acts like a shock absorber so it creates damping, which prevents the up and down motion of the frame from translating into the cab,” Cairns says, adding the team also made modifications to the tuning of the shocks and struts to add to the improvements.
Designers also pushed the boundaries a little by deciding to directly stamp the dual-rear-wheel fenders into the box, as opposed to using add-on parts: “We used to add composite fenders to the bed, but with this truck we wanted to do everything in single piece of sheet metal. This was nothing short of splitting the atom because it required a very deep draw in the die and we had to get the sheet metal to do some things that haven’t been done in a while,” says Dehner.—KMK
Ram Is For Trucks; Dodge Is For Cars
Chrysler’s decision to create a Ram brand that separates trucks from the rest of Dodge may seem questionable when its competitors are shedding brands like mad, but it makes perfect sense to Fred Diaz, the man in charge of Ram. He explains the separation will allow Dodge designers to focus solely on performance cars, without having to worry about harmonizing design across both the car and truck portfolios. “We want to make sure that we give Dodge an opportunity to create their own distinct brand with their own characteristics and then Ram will be trucks,” Diaz says. Look for Ram to expand to include several models from Fiat’s commercial truck group, including the Ducato and Iveco Daily, which will replace Sprinter van. “We’re exploring every possible aspect [of Fiat] that can be a part of every one of our brands,” Diaz says.—KMK