Ram Plotting Own Lightweighting Course

Ram CEO Bob Hegbloom doesn’t discount aluminum as a viable material for use in pickups, noting the Ram 1500 has had an aluminum hood for years.

Byron Pope, Associate Editor

November 7, 2014

5 Min Read
rsquo15 Ram 1500 offers fuelsaving features such as diesel engine and 8speed transmission
’15 Ram 1500 offers fuel-saving features such as diesel engine and 8-speed transmission.

AUBURN HILLS, MI – Ram is on a path toward meeting upcoming fuel-economy regulations, but it is unlikely to follow Ford’s lead with its new ’15 F-150 and adopt aluminum bodies, CEO Bob Hegbloom says.

“I’ve never heard anyone ask for an aluminum truck,” he says during a media backgrounder here. “I’m sure (Ford) will do a good job marketing it, but will it be a game changer? Time will tell. But I don’t see anyone asking for aluminum trucks today.”

Hegbloom says Ram is increasing fuel economy through other means, including offering a 3.0L diesel that achieves 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) in highway driving, as well as such new technologies such as active-grill shutters and an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Ram also is working to improve the aerodynamics of its light-duty pickup, which Hegbloom says already is the most aerodynamic in the segment.

Internal surveys indicate Ram customers aren’t sold on the idea of an aluminum-bodied pickup.

“Customers feel much safer in a steel vehicle,” Hegbloom says. “They can understand using different materials in certain areas, whether it’s on the hood or the box, but in particular on the doors of the vehicle, where they feel exposed, they feel the safest material to use there is steel.”

He doesn’t discount aluminum entirely, however, noting the Ram has had an aluminum hood for years. He says Ram will explore a mixed-material strategy to lightweight its lineup, as well as consider adding hybrid powertrains for greater fuel efficiency. 

“Do we have to lightweight the truck? Absolutely,” he says. “I think everyone will be going down that path to find opportunities to do that.”

Ford, he says, was forced to go to aluminum.

“It will lower (the F-150’s) weight and put them roughly 300 lbs. (136 kg) less than us,” he says. “They were the heaviest truck in the marketplace, so they had to do some things to get down to a test-weight class.”

For now, Ram is delivering on fuel economy with its 3.0L diesel, which is something pickup customers have been wanting for decades, Hegbloom says, adding the automaker is increasing its production mix from 10% diesel to 20%.

“That demand is still out there,” he says. “(The diesel) is turning three times faster than the equivalent gas powertrain.”

Ram Conquesting

Hegbloom says the diesel offering, as well as other updates to the Ram 1500, including a 3.6L Pentastar V-6 gasoline engine and updated exterior and interior, are helping win conquest customers from top competitors, particularly Ford and Chevrolet.

According to internal data, in 2009 Ram’s competitive conquest/defection rating with Ford was 0.5, meaning for every half truck sale Ram took from the Ford, Ram lost a full sale to Ford. In the same year, the competitive conquest/defection rating against the Chevrolet Silverado was 0.7.

“In the second quarter our competitive conquest/defection rating (against) Ford is 1.4,” he says. “And this isn’t something that was a one-time occurrence. We’ve continually grown as we’ve launched the portfolio of products and delivered on customer requirements. With Chevy we’re at 1.3.”

Ram also is drawing higher average-transaction prices.

In 2009, when Ram was spun off from Dodge and became a stand-alone brand, only 1% of its sales eclipsed $50,000. Today, due to a richer mix of high trim levels, such as the Laramie Longhorn, and more crew cab sales, more than 50% of deliveries have ATPs over $50,000, the executive says.

“We’re continually asked for more content and features. So we don’t know if we’ve hit the ceiling yet. In today’s market, 70% of light-duty trucks are crew cabs and very much for personal use. It’s really changed the dynamics of the segment.”

General Motors has been making headlines with its new midsize pickups, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. But a revival of the Dakota midsize pickup, discontinued in 2011, doesn’t appear to be in the cards.

The midsize pickup segment, Hegbloom says, is difficult, noting it requires good fuel economy, an affordable price point, capability and a right-sized truck.

“We’ve been able to come up with three (of the requirements), but when you start trying to do all of them you run into problems,” he says. “(GM) gets three out of the four, but fuel economy is where a fullsize is. If they raise that the price point will go up, so there are always compromises.”

Hegbloom says GM is attempting to reach younger buyers with its midsize offerings, but Ram already has the youngest buyers in the fullsize-pickup segment.

Ram also has the most educated and affluent and open-minded customers, he adds.

“They’re not buying the product because it’s what their father or grandfather drove,” he says. “That allows us to bring in younger demographics. We’re accomplishing what we would if we brought in a smaller truck.”

Ram sales are on the rise, but its quality levels are not where they need to be. In the recently released Consumer Reports annual reliability survey, Ram was one of the four lowest-ranked brands.

Hegbloom says the results were not satisfactory and largely due to new technologies introduced into recent products, including the UConnect infotainment system.

The average age of trucks on the road today is 11 years, and many of the buyers who have returned to the showrooms recently aren’t used to the new features, leading to confusion and bad reviews, he says.

“You’re going to have some growing pains there,” Hegbloom says. “If I don’t know how it works and I come in and say it doesn’t work, then I have a problem with it.”

Ram is focusing on improving quality across the board and educating consumers how to properly use the features in their trucks, he says.

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About the Author(s)

Byron Pope

Associate Editor, WardsAuto

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