Will midsize Ram, Jeep pickups share underpinnings?

The redesigned 2008 Dodge Dakota at the 2007 Chicago Auto Show. The Dakota was dropped after the 2011 model year but Fiat Chrysler plans to rejoin the midsize pickup market with a new Ram truck. Photo credit: REUTERS

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles left some unanswered questions about trucks and powertrains last week when it shared a five-year product plan and business outlook.

FCA has three midsize trucks, one on the ground now -- the Fiat Fullback sold overseas -- a Jeep pickup coming next year and the just-announced midsize Ram coming by 2022. It's senseless for FCA to have three similar-size trucks unless the vehicles share a majority of their parts. Think Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon.

Numerous outlets have reported that the Jeep pickup could use a Ram pickup frame. But if so, the Jeep would likely not be midsize and probably couldn't be based on the hot-selling JL Wrangler, the latest generation of the venerable off-roader.

The Fullback debuted in 2016 and uses Mitsubishi underpinnings. By 2022, it will be old and in need of an update.

It would seem a no-brainer that all three trucks would share the same basic frame, suspension components and powertrains, with perhaps only the length of the frame changing to suit each model. Maybe FCA boss Sergio Marchionne didn't want to drill down to that level of detail. But at least one analyst, Dave Sullivan of AutoPacific, says he believes the Jeep and midsize Ram will share parts, with the rear axle and cabs different for each truck. They could also be built in the same plant, perhaps in Toledo, Ohio, where the Wrangler is made.

Jeep's new pickup spotted near Detroit in April 2018. Photo credit: MIKE WAYLAND

"FCA has enough capacity in Toledo for both," says Sullivan. He also said the Jeep Scrambler and the Ram will be exported. That calls the Fullback's future into question. Does it have a future when a Jeep or Ram pickup would be viewed as more authentic than the Fiat?

FCA also said it will phase out diesel engines from its European cars, leaving the fuel-saving engine only in its light-duty commercial vehicles. No mention was made of the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 sold here in the Ram 1500 pickup and the Jeep Grand Cherokee. That engine has been mired in emissions scrutiny and, although it has proved thrifty, especially on the highway, its reliability has been less than sterling. So the 3.0-liter engine might also fade away, just when Ford and GM launch new diesels in their light-duty, full-size trucks. It's possible that the EcoDiesel could be replaced with the eTorque hybrid system used in the new Ram 1500. That would help city fuel economy but likely do little for highway mileage.

There were a lot of unanswered questions and vague glimpses into FCA's future last week.

What we know, based on FCA's last five-year plan, is that some of these proclamations will not be realized. Not because FCA doesn't intend to keep its word, but market conditions and government regulations change. If anything, FCA under Marchionne has been quick to act to try to take advantage of market swings.

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@crain.com

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