Only in 2010 did Ram become its own brand, not just a Dodge model — and at that point, Ram still shared Dodge’s brand code in the VIN.
Part of the process of differentiating Ram from Dodge was that the ram-head emblem, which started showing up on all Dodges in the early 1990s, would be dropped from Dodge. Now, it appears that Ram itself is playing down both the ram’s head and shared crosshair grilles as well, possibly to keep people from saying “Dodge Ram.”
In five years since the amicable divorce, Dodge and Ram still share the same showrooms, are serviced by the same techs, and in most cases, share drivetrain components with the rest of the full size vehicle lineup; even many dealership personnel use the name “Dodge Ram” when referring to the full size trucks.
Differentiation has never been harder.
In a recent article in Automotive News, Larry Vellequette eloquently laid out the case as to the why Dodge and Ram might be seeking some distance. He did however question the methods that FCA appears to be using to do so. I agree with his conclusions, as many of the same thoughts had percolated to the top of my head when I first saw the images of the Rebel and the Laramie. [This article was begun before Mr. Vellequette’s article.]
Does creating distance from its roots help or hurt the Ram brand? Only time will tell, but if after five years the name Dodge Ram is still on everyone’s tongue, there is a tough battle ahead for Ram’s branding people. Then again, roots are not Chrysler’s strong point. Recent ads talk about Dodge’s roots in muscle cars and trucks — though the Dodge brothers never made a single muscle car, and only made a small number of trucks.
Ironically, Dodge recently ran the tagline, “Never forget where you come from.”
In a recent interview with Allpar’s Dave Zatz, Ram’s head of exterior design, Greg Howell, stated that the 2016 Ram design was locked in. In the same interview, Howell mentioned that the Rebel and Laramie grille change for 2015 was an experiment with the idea of changing to the “RAM” logo versus the standard Rams head logo and cross hair grille that we are all so familiar with. Take from that what you will, but FCA is playing its cards close to the chest on this.
It is entirely possible that the Rebel and Laramie grilles are unique and were designed to help distinguish those two trim lines away from the more pedestrian trim levels, which could retain a version of the cross hair grille.
Only time will tell, but FCA has been on a roll, even with some of its more controversial styling choices ( Cherokee ) selling well above what many of the pundits would believe possible. While many old school Mopar guys might not like veering away from our beloved styling cues, some change may be needed to attract new blood to the brand. It seems to be working decently so far.
The RFI, which actually covers a potential 210,000 vehicles, is really a wish list. It calls for a vehicle larger than the current Grumman LLV to handle the growing volume of package deliveries as the Postal Service tries to compete with FedEx and UPS.
While it’s true the specifications in the current RFI aren’t set in stone, it’s also true that six billion dollars can make a lot of wishes come true.
Based on the specifications in the RFI, the Postal Service is interested in something like one of the mid-size, single-rear-wheel UPS package cars.
Another big factor is improved fuel economy. The Grumman LLV is rated at 17 miles per gallon but in actual daily use, all the stops, starts and idling drop that figure to only about 10 miles per gallon.
The average letter carrier’s route is about 15 miles long. Then travel from the post office to the route and back, usually at speeds no greater than 40-45 miles per hour, has to be added. Multiply that by the tens of thousands of vehicles in operation, most of them six days a week, and it’s easy to see that even a small improvement in fuel economy will mean a significant amount of money saved over the 20-year service life the USPS wants.
In addition, the successful vehicle will be available in two-wheel drive and either all-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
While the RFI specs aren’t set in stone, it’s pretty clear the the USPS wants an aluminum, composite or plastic body or some combination of those materials. The weight savings of the desired materials translate directly into money saved at the pump and money made through increased payload.
The Postal Service also wants a body with easily replaceable panels. Body repairs on the Grumman body have proven to be costly. Based on the experiences described in the RFI, an aluminum body with a fiberglass or composite engine cover could be a solution.
The USPS RFI requires the NGDV to have either an alternative fuel or dual-fuel powerplant and it wants the drivetrain to survive 12 years of typical postal use. Proposals must factor in the availability of refueling and/or recharging infrastructure and the cost of any new construction required.
Given a fresh understanding of what the Postal Service wants, it would seem that Ram could propose a van based on the ProMaster 1500 with the four-cylinder diesel and the 136-inch wheelbase. The dimensions work out, except that the truck floor-to-ground height is less than the minimum but FCA could point out that the lowered floor height is actually a benefit, considering the concerns the USPS expressed in the RFI about musculoskeletal injuries .
The one feature lacking on the ProMaster is a tilting steering wheel which is one of the must-haves as letter carriers can run from a small female (5th percentile) to a large male (95th percentile). Other items, such as a rearview camera and LED lighting, are off-the-shelf or off a supplier’s shelf.
Any custom body could incorporate the ProMaster’s three-piece front fascia and its replaceable wheel opening cladding, another item on the wish list.
Actual body component production could be farmed out to a company like Morgan Olson or Utilimaster or it could be done in-house. The ProMaster is built at the Ram van plant in Saltillo, Mexico, so NAFTA sourcing isn’t an issue and frames could be shipped to a U.S. plant for final assembly.
As far as strict U.S. sourcing is concerned, the Postal Service said it “…has not made a determination at this time as to what percentage of the end product will be required to be sourced in the United States.”
Based on anecdotal evidence, the ProMaster diesel already gets better fuel economy than the Grumman LLV and a CNG conversion of the V6 is another option. Hybrids and electrics are limited options due to the cost and the weight, which, especially in the case of a pure-electric vehicle, would take a serious bite out of the payload capacity.
Of course, Ford and General Motors could, and likely would, offer competing solutions: Ford with the Transit and GM with the K2XX platform used for the G-series van. The Transit doesn’t currently have a federalized diesel option but Ford could modify one of its European diesels. General Motors did offer a hybrid for the the previous van platform but it was discontinued after 2013. CNG is an option for Ford and GM, as well.
The Colorado/Canyon platform and the T6 Ranger wouldn’t meet the specs laid out in the RFI because their rear wheel houses aren’t far enough apart.
The chart below lists some of the Postal Service’s desired specs and how the ProMaster 1500 meets them. There aren’t any compliance comparisons for the Performance section because the Postal Service’s requirements could almost be met using sail power. The specs with an “N/A” response are dependent on the body that will be proposed rather than the actual ProMaster body.
Ram’s director of engineering, Mike Cairns, said that using a version of Jeep’s link/coil suspension provided so much flexibility in tuning, they moved from four rear shock absorber variations to 18 when they moved from leaf-springs in the Ram 2500. Mr. Cairns told us:
One of the biggest benefits of a coil spring, is there’s zero friction … [with] leaf springs, all those leaves have to slide against each other… it’s pushing back, pushing back, and all of a sudden it’ll slip. … It’s busy, where a coil is just smooth, constant spring force, so you can much better tune a coil spring suspension.
We’ve got about 18 different rear shocks on a Ram 2500 [not in each truck, but depending on model, powertrain, etc] because we specifically tune each one. …
Mr. Cairns also said that, to prevent wheel hop in some Ram 2500s, they added a limiting shock under the top of the axle instead of using a “compromising” shock absorber setup. See the full Mike Cairns story.
Some Web sages noticed that the only interior color available for the Ram Rebel and Laramie Limited was black (this has been true for both generations of Laramie Limited). With the 2015 Ram 1500 Laramie Limited, even the headliner and pillars are black.
We asked Ram lead interior designer whether this was due to customer choice or cost, and he said it was partly a matter of being appropriate to the vehicle.
There’s just something about wearing a black suit, just a nice black suit, that your details pop. I think that’s the thing that we’ve learned over the years, that it’s okay to have a very calming black, very consistent, and then accent it with colors. That’s what we’ve chosen for like you mentioned the Limited; we’ve chosen it for the Rebel that we’re sitting in. It’s appropriate.
Mr. Nagode also mentioned the dirt resistance (to fingerprints) in truck use, as well as customer choice if presented with different options at a lot. However, he also noted that for other vehicles, different colors were more appropriate, particularly in cars such as Charger, Challenger, and Viper. The Laramie Longhorn, he pointed out, comes in either black with brown seats, or in “a frost color” with a warmer brown.
It’s just sometimes the extremes, we tend to kind of limit the choices. Like our Express and Tradesman really only comes in a black environment. And again, that’s perfect for someone that’s going to get it dirty. … At the core of our market, we tend to offer more colors, more variations.
Opinion/analysis. The United States Postal Service is looking for new rides for its carriers — around 180,000 of them. Solicitation No. RFI-NGDV is a request for proposals for small vans to replace the ubiquitous Grumman Long Life Vehicle (LLV).
The postal service wants (but does not require) an aluminum, composite or fiberglass van-style body with an interior that has no nooks and crannies to swallow up wayward mail.
Existing vehicles that match the requirements most closely are the Nissan NV2000 and its clone, the Chevrolet City Express, the Ram ProMaster City, and the Ford Transit Connect. All are steel-bodied.
The Post Office stated in the RFP (request for proposals) that it had good reliability and durability experiences with the particular aluminum body of the Grumman LLV, which was based on the General Motors S-10 small pickup chassis. Grumman Olson went belly-up and was acquired by JPBCO, which makes makes aluminum walk-in van bodies under the Morgan Olson name. So does Ultilimaster, which bought Union City Body in 2005.
The specifications call for a 1500-pound payload, which all the small vans meet, but the ProMaster City is the only one that is rated for a driver and 1500 pounds of cargo.
Hybrids and electric power are among the things to be examined, and all three manufacturers can handle that requirement.
While the USPS would prefer a US-built vehicle, none of the small vans are built here; the full-size Transit is, though, as is the Nissan NV. Both the Ford Transit Connect and ProMaster City would have a potential 25% tariff if sent from their plants in Spain and Turkey, respectively.
Larger vans could work, though the payload requirement is fairly small, but the big vans do not have the parkability or maneuverability, and they would have lower fuel economy, which matters over thousands of vehicles and 20 years.
The contract is worth up to $6.3 billion over the full term but the question must be asked: Is the game worth the candle?
The previous winner of the USPS contract went bankrupt in 2001. Whether it’s done as a solo effort or in a partnership, the investments to produce a vehicle that hits every point on the USPS wish list are going to be big, including the development of a suitable platform for the aluminum body (if one is used).
So perhaps the ProMaster City isn’t the ideal candidate.
FCA does have one platform that could be suitable: the next-generation, aluminum-bodied Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. The current model doesn’t have the required 1,500-pound payload as it comes from the factory, but stripping out seats, 4-wheel drive, and some amenities, it’s likely to be able to meet the specs, and a lightweight aluminum or plastic body would increase the payload. If vehicles are needed earlier, FCA could partner with Morgan Olson, Utilimaster, or another supplier for the aluminum body for the moment.
The Wrangler is produced in Toledo, taking care of the preference for U.S.-based production. Right-hand drive isn’t an issue since Wranglers are made that way.
CRVs get terrible gas mileage because they are driven with frequent stops and some idling, though letter carriers generally turn off the engine whenever they exit the vehicle.
GM has a possible solution in the Colorado, which has a traditional perimeter frame and is produced in Missouri. The four-cylinder Colorado gets better mileage than the V6-powered Wrangler. The wheelbase is over two feet longer than the LLV, while Wrangler is six inches shorter and Wrangler Unlimited is around 15.5 inches longer in wheelbase.
Ford could use a domestically produced version of the T6 Ranger body-on-frame chassis; it’s not sold in North America. The required investment would likely be significantly higher than it would be for FCA or GM, both of which which could use existing U.S. production facilities.
FCA and Ram could produce a ProMaster or ProMaster City that met the USPS requirements, but creating almost an entire vehicle for what would amount to a total of a few years’ production, setting up production in the U.S., and all the other costs would make margins slim, even at the $35,000/vehicle maximum price. It would be far less costly to adapt the Wrangler.
UPDATE: Patfromigh wrote that the request for proposals does not make aluminum, composites, or resins mandatory, but holds them as a distinguishing factor because of the reliability and durability of the aluminum-bodied LLVs.
According to Allpar sources, the 2016 Ram will not look like the Laramie Limited, but will be “very nice,” with an improved appearance.
The 2016 refresh is expected to update the styling somewhat beyond the 2009 look, which has already been mildly updated. How much freedom the designers will have is unknown, since certain contours are dictated by cost — major body changes seem unlikely.
Patent applications suggest a possible split tailgate, and one would expect some concession to climbing into the bed, especially given Ford’s easily released step.
The trucks are key for Ram, and for Chrysler itself, being one of the company’s largest sellers. While GM’s mis-steps have benefitted Ram, it faces a formidable foe in Ford, which has more factories and a sometimes unreasonably loyal audience.
When the Laramie Limited was first shown, many wrote that it was, in essence, hideous. But a survey of 400 randomly chosen Allpar readers shows it probably is not that bad — keeping in mind that many are not Ram buyers. All, though, were responding from the US.
461 readers responded to the question, “When are you likely to buy a Ram truck?” Of that group, one third said “never” and nearly as many, 29%, said “in more than three years out.” Of the remainder, most (nearly a quarter of the total) said they would probably buy in 1-3 years.
Ratings for Ram Rebel and Ram Laramie were fairly similar, with a small number more likely to say that the Laramie Limited grille was much worse than current designs. In both cases, only a small number of people said they liked the new design much better.
Overall, the results are not great, but are also not bad since the trucks do look better in person, and the on-line hyperbole would lead one to believe that the average would be somewhere around 1.0 — not, as it is, 2.5 for Rebel and 2.3 for Laramie Limited (on a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is best).
If we kick out the people who are never going to buy a Ram only, which seems to make sense, we get similar results, albeit in a different format since we had to download the data and run it ourselves. The results are both more negative, in that more people said “much worse” for both designs, and more positive, in that more people said “much better” for both designs.
Urban, rural, and suburban respondents had similar views on Rebel, while rural respondents had a higher regard for Laramie Limited.
Those who found the survey on the Chicago Auto Show page, which had numerous photos of the Laramie Limited, found that car far more attractive (mean of 2.95) than those who answered from the forums (2.42) or news (2.48) pages. For Rebel, no such effect was found; Rebel was only pictured once in the Chicago page. Thanks to dejoyrad for the idea. See the forum discussion.)
With just a year left before the Ram refresh comes, lead of exterior design Greg Howell said the design was “committed.” When we asked whether multiple designs were being considered, based on public reaction to the Rebel and Laramie Limited, he replied:
No, not at all. We’re committed. It’s good. We’re having a lot of fun. I guess you could say it this way: once we commit to something, we’re committed to it. But in terms of designs, there’s always multiple designs. We don’t just put one sketch on the wall and fall in love with it.
We call it wallpapering. We just put up a lot of sketches and see what works. There’s always multiple designs to choose from. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it where the first one was the one. It’s usually competition between a few designers, at least a few designers, that are putting up multiple ideas. That’s what we look for, a lot of ideas, quick ideas, and we go from there.
He also noted that the company still prototypes designs in clay, rather than looking at everything in 3D models on computer screens. “The sketching and clay modeling has remained as analog as it ever has been, and we supplement it with the digital era. We supplement it with laser scanning and rapid prototyping, milling…It needs to be done by human hands.”