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Ram vs Ford: future fight

by David Zatz on

When talking about Ram pickups, the elephant in the room is always Ford, with their aluminum bodies — an issue that would likely never have appeared had Daimler not swallowed up Chrysler, pushing much of the aluminum-body Prowler team over to Ford.


Ram director of engineering Mike Cairns told Allpar that aluminum was just one piece of the puzzle (as diesel engines are just one part of Ram’s solution). Each company, including GM, has been going after fuel economy in different ways. Ram retains the fuel-economy crown for the moment, with its diesel engine and eight-speed automatic, but Ford will eventually add a ten-speed and diesel (even if the latter might not be quite as good as Ram’s).

So what will Ram do in response?

First, looking at aluminum bodies, Mr. Cairns said, “We certainly look at aluminum. We use aluminum in certain areas. We didn’t see the benefit in fuel economy [vs the cost] to do an aluminum truck at this time.”

Instead, “We’ve put a lot of work into the powertrain development. We’ve done a lot of vehicle-side efficiencies with our active grill shutters, with our trans thermal management where we heat up the transmission fluid to reduce losses and things like that, and our aerodynamics. We still have best-in-class aerodynamics. And a 10% improvement in aerodynamics is the equivalent to about a 300 pound weight reduction [at highway speeds].”

2014 Ram grille shutters

When we asked about future reactions, Mr. Cairns was somewhat (and not surprisingly) guarded, but he did say, “We haven’t sat still any single year. We’ve been working, working, working, and that will continue.”

His reaction to government fuel-economy mandates was interesting, in light of how engineers reacted to mandates of the 1960s and 1970s:

I talked to our engineering team, and said, “This is why we went to college, why we studied engineering, because that’s what engineering does: we solve problems. So here’s a challenge or problem we have to solve. This is really exciting for engineers, because let’s come up with ideas. Let’s be innovative. Let’s really go after this. So we’ve got a lot of good stuff rolling, a lot of great ideas coming out.”

As an engineer, it is a big challenge but it’s also quite honestly fun because we like to invent. We like to solve problems and come up with creative solutions.

… There’s not one single answer. [The aluminum body is] an answer, but they’ve got to do other things. We’ve got some answers with diesel and other things, but it’s not [just] one answer. There’s going to be a multitude of pieces. You’ve got to do a lot of little things. And that’s what we did in the ’13 and ’14 Ram lineups.

… we wanted to get best-in-class fuel economy. That was our goal for the program. So we sat the engineering team down. “Okay, what can we do?” Lots of great ideas. And we put them on a chart that we called the bang for the buck chart. … And that’s how we ended up with all these cool things that ended up in the ’13 Ram.

You can read much more, including comments on Lee Iacocca, safety, and how Ram is working on the unexpectedly high demand for diesels, in our second part of our second Mike Cairns interview.

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