Redone Ram counts on mpg, technology to grab pickup share
Diaz: Brand loyalty is a tough barrier
Ram boss Fred Diaz: "Truck buyers are very, very loyal and do not switch brands easily."
DETROIT -- The head of Ram predicts his re-engineered 1500 pickup will swipe loyal customers from other brands because of better fuel economy and new technology when it debuts this fall.
But Fred Diaz, the native Texan who has ridden herd over the Chrysler Group's truck brand since it split from Dodge in 2009, understands the size of the challenge.
The pickup segment's sales pecking order has been unchanged since 1994, when a radically restyled Ram overtook the GMC Sierra for the No. 3 spot.
"These truck buyers are very, very loyal and do not switch brands easily," Diaz told Automotive News last week.
The 2013 Ram 1500, scheduled to arrive at dealerships this fall, has about a dozen significant features designed to improve fuel efficiency. The company originally had scheduled a midcycle refreshing of the pickup but decided on a more significant re-engineering, Diaz said.
Diaz has been with Chrysler since 1989, when he started as a trainee in Dallas. He worked his way up through the automaker's regional business centers and into its executive ranks and was head of U.S. sales in 2009 before taking over operations in Mexico in 2011.
The pickup's biggest mpg booster will be a 3.6-liter V-6 engine with more horsepower and better fuel economy than the pickup's former 3.7-liter V-6. Also new are an eight-speed transmission, stop-start technology and an air suspension system that lowers the vehicle at cruising speed to reduce drag.
Through June, Ford's F series U.S. sales were 301,141, Chevrolet's Silverado sales were 182,785 and the Ram's were 138,581.
Next spring, General Motors is scheduled to start selling a redesigned Silverado and GMC Sierra.
Chrysler hasn't released the 2013 Ram's fuel economy but says it will be best in class. The two-wheel drive Ford F-150 with a 3.7-liter V-6 has the segment's best fuel economy at 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. The most fuel-efficient 2012 Ram is rated at 14 mpg city and 20 mpg highway. Diaz said pickup buyers "are definitely looking at fuel economy, even more so than they've ever done in the past. But they don't ever just simply look at fuel economy. The vehicle still has to perform. It still has to have the horsepower and the torque, and of course it has to have the great mpg that they're looking for."
Production of the re-engineered Ram 1500 begins in September. The vehicle will start trickling into dealerships in late September and October, and Chrysler will launch its marketing blitz in November, Diaz said.
Prices for the 2013 Ram pickup haven't been announced. Diaz said dealer ordering is scheduled to begin next month.
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at email@example.com.