The National Truck Equipment Association's (NTEA) Work Truck Show is ground zero for the latest in the medium- and heavy-duty truck world, especially trucks with upfits for vocational needs. This year's show took place last week in St. Louis. I trawled the OEM booths and product reveals for what's new in the truck world and will serve up a series of reports, manufacturer by manufacturer.
First up is Ram. Get used to saying Ram, not Dodge Ram, just Ram. Under the Chrysler reorganization, Chrysler announced last fall the creation of a new truck brand that would stand on its own. "This reorganization will allow us to protect and develop the unique nature of the product offerings within the Dodge Brand," said Sergio Marchionne, the Chrysler/Fiat chief.
At the Ram booth I spoke with Joe Veltri, Chrysler's vice president of product planning. Ram fired the first cannon in the ongoing pickup wars last fall with the release of the 2010 Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duties. That truck's payload has been hauling major awards but faces stiff competition with the release of the Ford Super Duty and Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra HD's this spring.
Ram's next offering will be the new Ram 3500, 4500 and 5500 chassis cabs, in showrooms by the end of May. Veltri said a lot of features from the pickup are being adapted to the chassis cabs. The new chassis cab gets a crew cab version, an integrated trailer brake and built-in auxiliary power switches to control upfit applications. You can actually get the chassis cab in a manual transmission, the only OEM with the option. Veltri expects 25-percent uptake on the manual.
The chassis cab models will use SCR (selective catalytic reduction) with DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) injection to reach the new emissions standards. This is different than the 2500/3500 pickups, which use a diesel particulate filter (DPF) and an "adsorber catalyst" to reduce NOx. (That 6.7-liter Cummins diesel engine is the same one released in 2007 models that met the 2010 standards early.) So, you'll be squirting urea with the new chassis cabs but not the pickups.
The next generation of trucks will come in 2013, a "mid-cycle update." Pickups to chassis cabs will get powertrain changes, but don't worry, that iconic Ram look is not changing any time soon.
The tie up with Fiat presents some interesting possibilities on the commercial front. Veltri said Chrysler is looking at importing one or more of Fiat's vans and rebadging them as Ram with new model names. This could include the Fiat Doblo Van (Ford Transit Connect size, 6,000 GVW), Fiat Ducato, a 10,000-GVW van, or the Iveco Daily (15,000 GVW, body on frame, would compete with Mercedes Sprinter). Veltri said Chrysler "sees opportunity beyond Class 5."
None of these trucks are confirmed. What is available now, however, is the 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan Cargo Van. The Grand Caravan C/V flies under Ford Transit Connect's radar, but offers more cargo room, higher payload capacity and still gets a respectable 17/24 miles per gallon.
Also, the manufacturer is investigating a small pickup truck, which would have a unibody construction and be smaller than the Dakota, Veltri said.