Chrysler's Ram gains ground on Silverado
DETROIT -- The side-view mirror of a Chevrolet Silverado contains this warning: "Objects may be closer than they appear."
The warning could be talking about the Ram.
The Silverado, the longtime No. 2 in pickup sales, still has a substantial lead on No. 3 Ram. But the Ram is gaining.
In the last seven months, after the redesigned Silverado arrived last summer, Ram sales were at 208,414, while the Silverado was at 261,258 -- still a sizable gap of 52,844 units.
But consider: In the same period a year earlier, the gap between the two was 97,199 units.
In the U.S. pickup market, dominated by loyal shoppers who rarely switch brands, it would be shocking if the Ram passed the Silverado. But the fact that the Ram is gaining ground is noteworthy.
"Never before has [General Motors] lost share after launching a new pickup truck platform," Barclay's analyst Brian Johnson noted last month.
From Jan. 1, 2013, through Feb. 26, the Silverado and GMC Sierra have lost 3.29 percentage points of market share in the large pickup market. In that time Ford has picked up 1.86 percentage points and Ram 1.8 percentage points of market share, Johnson wrote in late February. Johnson's market share calculation includes only the Detroit 3.
And the Ram seems to have momentum. In February, Ram started offering a diesel in the light-duty pickup, and dealer orders for the diesel have been strong.
It's the only diesel available in U.S. light-duty pickups and is rated at 28 mpg on the highway. The highest-rated Silverado light-duty is rated at 24 mpg on the highway.
GM spokesman Jim Cain said sales of well equipped high-end Silverados are fine. But there is some potential weakness in lower-end trims and V-6 models, he said.
That's why Chevrolet launched what he called an "unprecedented promotional assault," declaring a Truck Month promotion in March and increasing incentives and marketing.
The Silverado, with more than $7,500 in discounts and incentives, depending on the model, will be featured on advertising during the NCAA men's basketball tournament. Ram also is conducting a Truck Month campaign in March for its pickup.
"Our immediate challenge is to build momentum at the lower end of the market while protecting the gains we've made everywhere else," Cain told Automotive News. "One thing's for sure, we're not going to follow the lead of brands that are buying market share. That story never has a happy ending."
Critics have complained that the redesign of the 2014 Silverado, which went on sale in June 2013, was uninspiring.
Chevrolet "was focused on refining the interior, making the truck a better experience overall, but it was conservative," says Alec Gutierrez, an analyst with KBB.com. Other critics have described the Silverado redesign as "evolutionary, not revolutionary," and chided General Motors for not differentiating its 2014 pickups enough from 2013-model styling.
Analysts say, meanwhile, that the Ram has received some nice touches in the last few years.
"If you look at what Ram offers, everything from MegaCab, Rambox, a [light-duty] diesel, the eight-speed transmission, coil spring rear suspension -- they're innovating. That's the gist of it," says AutoPacific analyst Dave Sullivan.
The MegaCab, introduced in the 2006 model year, is an extra-long cab that provides 22 inches more than a regular crew cab and allows the four-door pickup's rear seats to recline.
The Rambox is a pair of locking storage boxes built into the rear quarter panels of the Ram pickup. The Silverado does not offer a similar feature.
The Ram 1500 is the only pickup with coil spring rear suspension. This provides a smooth ride, often preferred by suburban drivers who want a pickup but don't need a work truck. Shoppers who want a work truck can buy a Ram 2500 or 3500 with traditional leaf springs.
Eddy: Some SUV trade-ins
Chuck Eddy is chairman of the Chrysler National Dealer Council. His dealership, Bob & Chuck Eddy Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram, is near one of the nation's largest GM plants in Lordstown, Ohio.
"This is ground zero around here for GM, so what I see predominately for Ram are Silverado and Sierra trades," Eddy said. "But it's interesting. With the [top-end model Laramie] Longhorn and the Rambox, we get a lot of guys buying that truck as their main car. Our truck rides like a car, so we are getting some sport-utility and car trade-ins on it, too."
This year MotorTrend awarded the Ram 1500 its annual Truck of the Year prize -- the first pickup to win the award in consecutive years.
Marketers for the Ram have touted the consecutive victories in advertising that includes the brand's brawny pitch -- "Guts, Glory, Ram" -- to the pickup crowd.
The redesigned 2014 Silverado arrived in June.
Gutierrez, the KBB.com analyst, said that in February -- before Chevrolet launched its Truck Month incentive campaign in March and while Ram was in the middle of its own -- Ram incentives averaged $4,000 per unit, slightly higher than Silverado's average of $3,800.
But Ram was commanding higher average transaction prices for similar pickups, he said.
For example, Ram dealers got an average transaction price of $35,300 for a Ram 1500 Quad Cab in February, while Chevrolet dealers received an average of $34,200 for a Silverado 1500 Extended Cab, Gutierrez said.
This year a wild card in the Silverado-Ram competition will be GM's redesigned mid-sized pickups, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, which are scheduled to arrive in showrooms in the fall.
GM executives have said that the two vehicles, which are only slightly smaller than the Silverado and Sierra, are the company's answer to buyers looking for higher fuel economy.
Spokesman Cain said the company doesn't think the redesigned mid-sized pickups will cannibalize sales of the larger Silverado.
"We're not worried about the Chevrolet Colorado attracting would-be Silverado customers," Cain said. "The people who should be worried are the ones who orphaned their mid-size truck customers, and those who sell trucks that are about to be rendered obsolete."
You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at email@example.com.