Interview with Ram CEO Fred Diaz (March 31, 2010)

Fred DiazWe sat down with Ram CEO Fred Diaz at the 2010 New York Auto Show and asked a few questions about the Ram brand, which was created in 2009, taking over Dodge trucks.

We first asked whether Ram trucks would continue to have a Dodge VIN (vehicle ID code), or whether the brand would spin off on its own. Mr. Diaz responded that Ram would continue to use the Dodge VIN identifier:

Ram will always have the Dodge emblem inside and outside. We need to continue to market as Ram so Dodge can have a different brand identity: hip, cool, young, energetic. That will not fit the campaign for truck buyers. The two should have distinct themes. ... Sam Elliot’s voice overs are fantastic — perfect [for Ram] — but wouldn’t fit for Dodge.

He noted that Rams would always be Dodges, and that while there is some overlap between the buyers, the brand images of the cars and trucks had to be different. We asked if the “lifestyle Dakota” would be a Dodge or a Ram, and he said, “If it has a [pickup] bed, it’s a Ram.”

Regarding the forthcoming “lifestyle Dakota,” he said there had been research that said it had to be:

... capable, but not as capable as a full size Ram. People want to be able to take cargo, with a reasonable payload, and people, with high mpg, reasonably priced. The Dakota is so capable, pricing bumps against the light duty [Ram 1500]. We don't want confusion.

Fred M. Diaz was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Ram Truck Brand in October 2009; he is also the lead executive for sales in the United States. He was promoted from Director of the Denver Business Center. He has also been the Dodge Brand communications director, a manager in customer relations, and has held various business center and zone service district management positions. Diaz was hired on as a trainee in the Dallas zone in 1989, after earning his BA in management from Texas Lutheran University; he gained an MBA from Central Michigan University in 1995.

We asked about whether Ram was looking at a compact pickup, the size of the current Ranger. Mr. Diaz said, “We are only looking at a Dakota replacement.” He pulled out a Ward’s study which showed that the same people tended to cross shop both compact and midsized trucks, including Ranger, Tacoma, Ridgeline, and Dakota.

We then asked what plans he had to counter the loss of sales from the bankruptcy. Mr. Diaz replied,

Ram is still winning awards. We were quiet when going through bankruptcy, from an advertising standpoint. We lost some momentum. We gained [in February] four points of market share over January.

... Ram truck sales are down. Last year dealers needed big rebates; now we’re being competitive, not hypercompetitive. We were selling the deals, not the vehicles. Now we’re not having ridiculous rebates. ...

[Mainly we are having a] “butts in seats initiative.” When customers get in, they’re amazed. They say, “We had no idea you’d done this with the interior,” then they test drive and they’re “done.”  We’re pushing hard to get them to try us.

1965 tilt cabRegarding the rumors of a full-sized Ram Class 8 commercial trucks, Mr. Diaz said, “Fiat is the number one commercial vehicle producer in Europe. First we have to get our feet beneath us. We are exploring Class 8 markets; we have a lot of experts at Fiat. But it’s long term, not in the five year plan.” The Class 3-5 chassis cabs are continuing to gain acceptance, with according to Rick Deneau, roughly a 25% market share.

We asked about which Fiat full-sized van Ram would choose to replace the Sprinter and B-vans. To our surprise, no specific model had been chosen yet; he said that they were “looking at everything, exploring the business case,” studying their vans and other platforms to round out Ram’s product line. He listed the Iveco Daily and Fiat Ducato as part of a list of possibilities.

Mr. Diaz wrapped up by saying:

Consumer confidence in our company continues to grow. The American public likes an underdog, and we’re definitely an underdog. As we continue communicating about our financial health, people will get more confident. We have great product to sell, and it will be even better in seven months.

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