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Ram's Nick Cappa and Carl Lally at the 2014 DC Auto Show

Interviewed by A.J. Morning

Carl Lally is head of Ram operations; Nick Cappa is Ram's communications man. A.J. Morning interviewed them at the 2014 Washington, DC auto show.

Carl: The great resource that we have here at Ram [for vans] is our partnership with Fiat. Fiat has been a leader in Europe in terms of the van market. They have a brand or a division within Fiat called Fiat Professional. There's actually a history behind this van that goes back about 30 years in terms of the Fiat Ducato. It was introduced in the early 80s. It's the leading van in Europe. So we're able to leverage that knowledge that they have and that experience with that van that they have and bring it over here in the North American market.

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We do have unique powertrains. Our Pentastar V6 is the base powertrain in this van. We will have a diesel offering that will come in the market around the middle of the 2014 calendar year, but we feel that this solution is much more efficient which is what the business owner is looking for. The business owner is interested in total cost of ownership, meaning fuel economy, residual value, even maintenance and oil change intervals that are 10,000 miles on a gasoline engine and 18,500 miles on a diesel engine. We really feel that this type of product meets those needs in ways that competitors can't necessarily match.

Where is it made and where is it assembled and all that?

Carl: This is made in a brand new facility down in Saltillo, Mexico and went into operation roughly six months ago. [There was a break for the Ram presentation.]

Can you tell me about pickup trucks?

Nick: The most unmet need for customers on the half-ton truck side is fuel economy. On the heavy-duty truck side, it's capability. So on the half-ton truck side, we've got the number one and two spots of fuel economy right now - V6 8-speed, 25 miles a gallon. The EcoDiesel is probably going to be at least 27, at least. [Loudspeaker interruption].

As for torque, on the heavy-duty side, again, the customer needs capability. They've got 850 pound-feet of torque [with the Cummins diesel] and 30,000 pounds of towing. That's a big number. That's like saying five million light years. What's it mean? It's about ten Dodge Darts. It's about four and a half African elephants. It's a lot of weight.

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Then you step into the Ram commercial side, where we're launching the Promaster this year, as Dave knows about, we've got a competitive advantage with it being front-wheel drive. So for the things that our customers are asking for in the different truck segments, we're leading.

You're going to see us at all the different shows this year talking about that, just because people like yourself are going to say, "Really? You're beating EcoBoost?" Yes, we're beating EcoBoost in fuel economy. In fact, we have the top one and two spots in fuel economy in the great long-standing American [dominated] segment - pickup trucks.

By the way, our Hemi eight-speed gets the same highway fuel economy as an EcoBoost. I think a lot of people don't realize that either.

The eight-speed, 22 [mpg] right?

Nick: 22 [mpg], right. So your reaction, exactly what you just did right now, that you didn't know we're leading in fuel economy, that's why we're here.

Tell me about the Promaster. Is there a likelihood or a chance that we may see a passenger version?

Nick: [We have upfit suppliers that will provide different packages for up to ten people.]

Carl: So upfitters will start with what we call it a "glaze van," that'll have the windows put in it, and outfit it into a passenger van. We think it's going to be a relatively low percentage of the business, though. The bulk of the customers are looking for a cargo van, but we will do a version that can be outfitted to be a shuttle van and that type of thing.

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Nick: It's an advantage for us having a front-wheel drive system, which nobody else has. Mercedes and the Transit are both going to be rear-wheel drive. Now why is it an advantage? We keep the load floor low. Dave knows all this stuff. And our actual step-in height for the Promaster, for the person that's got to get in and out of the van 90 times a day, is the same height as the pre-step for some competitors.

They have to step almost double to get into their vans. That keeps our load floor low, which means the payload is low, which means it's more stable. We also have weight on the front end, so even when you're running light - when you've got nothing in the back and you're in snowy conditions - you still have weight in the front with your front-wheel drive. And it helps us package a great turning radius in the truck and best-in-class fuel economy.

Honestly, I can look you right in the eye and say right now, this year, all the models, we have the best products.

That's cool. What can you tell me about the Ram Long-Hauler?

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Nick: I'm going to rewind a bit because there is a better story for this. Back in Chicago, they told us we were going to reveal the new Ram Laramie Limited trim. I said, "What's that? Is that something like above a Sport?"

"Oh no, it's above a Laramie Longhorn."

We're coming right out of a rough economy with another trim level above the Laramie Longhorn, which is already an expensive trim level? They said, "Yeah, we haven't found the top. Our customers want the premium premium premium." The days on lot for those trucks are lower than for anything else.

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Our 2013 Ram 1500 took a Ward's Ten Best Interiors award with the Laramie Longhorn package against luxury sedans. Truck customers want every amenity they can possibly get, every feature, every nice piece of leather, every wood trim component. The wood trim component in the Laramie Longhorn, the veneers come from trees that were used as fence posts, wrapped in barb wire. Over time the barbed wire rusts and creates this unique pattern, and that's the wood we use in that truck. It's a special feature in that truck. I know, it's crazy. I didn't even know that until afterwards. I just liked the veneer pattern. [Nick later told us that the designers knew about the patterning of the wood.] We have a guy that does truck design interiors, Ryan Nagode. He bleeds Ram; he's great.

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But the Long-Hauler that came out because we were thinking, "How high can we go? Let's take a 5500 chassis cab and slap a bed on it, put the extra fuel tank on the back, and see what happens and see what the reaction is."

The reaction's been positive. The question is are we going to build it? It's something we're looking at, as far as the business case goes. It'd be a very expensive truck, but yes, we're still looking for the top tier, because the person who tows with a truck that's $65,000 or $70,000 - the dually Cummins, 4x4 crew cab Laramie Longhorn package -

Carl: High-end equestrian customers, they've got a lot of interest in that kind of stuff.

Nick: - his trailer's worth probably a hundred grand because it has living quarters in it. He's got $250,000 worth of horses or cattle or something in the back of it. The truck's the cheapest part of his rig, and it's got to be nice because he's sitting in it all day.

So basically you're looking at reaching the top-end of the market without doing something embarrassing like a Blackwood?

Nick: You can write that; I couldn't say it.

Yes. Well between us Chrysler guys, yeah. Jumping back to standard cabs, what are the production goals for the 1500 diesel?

Carl: It's a 10% [diesel production plan] across the Ram 1500, whether it's a regular cab, a quad cab or a crew cab, we're planning on about a 10% max. We'll bump it up to maybe 12%, if needed. We're going to keep our eye on it because we know there's going to be a lot of demand early on, based on all the activity we see. If we need to take it up a little bit, we'll look to do that.

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Nick: The EcoDiesel's available at every trim level. There's only one way you can't get it . . . you can't get a two-door short bed EcoDiesel truck [Nick later added, it also doesn't come with Sport, which has a Hemi]. You have to go to the long-bed, because we only wanted to design one diesel exhaust fluid system, and that fits in all the frames that go from a two-wheel drive two-door long bed, eight-foot bed, all the way up to the crew cab long bed. So a lot of people are going to look for a work truck with great fuel economy and can get the EcoDiesel for less than $30 grand. And a two-door, two-wheel drive eight-foot bed grabs the best-in-class mileage numbers.

The Washington Auto Show has more than 700 new vehicles. It is in the Washington Convention Center, which covers two city blocks and has a Metro stop (Mt. Vernon Square, off the green and yellow lines).2014 DC Show200 Chief Engineer InterviewCar Shows Index

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