ASHEVILLE, N.C. - The Dodge Ram was a spectacular part of the former Chrysler Corp.'s renaissance in the 1990s. After a dramatic redesign in 1993, sales skyrocketed, making Dodge a serious contender in full-sized pickups.
Dodge could use some of the same magic this fall when it introduces the redesigned 2002 Ram.
The full-sized pickup market is more competitive than it was eight years ago. Ford Motor Co. and General Motors redesigned their full-sized pickups in the late 1990s. And Toyota launched the highly regarded Tundra in 1999.
The result: Ram sales slipped about 10 percent - 29,256 units - from 1998 to last year.
Here is how the 2002 Ram will try to fight back:
A stiffer chassis. The current Ram has been criticized for excessive vibration. Chrysler group engineers used hydroformed frame parts to reduce vibration.
More storage space. Contractors and workers used full-sized pickups as mobile offices. So Dodge added more storage bins inside.
Family-friendly features. Dodge says the back seat of the Quad Cab version, with three shoulder belts, is large enough to fit child seats.
The exterior design continues to mimic the look of long-distance semi trucks. Dodge decided to give the pickup an evolutionary styling change 'not to alienate customers and go off in a different direction,' said Dennis Myles, senior manager at the Dodge truck studio, who was part of the design team for the 1994 Ram.
The redesign team created four different grilles for the four body styles. The most dramatic is the Ram Sport with its 'get out of my way' appearance, Myles said.
The overall look is 'muscular in form but more contemporary and aerodynamic,' Myles said. 'We cleaned up the body surfaces and did things like fill in the gap between the body and the box cab without added cost.'
Interior packaging will be a key feature in the new Ram, Dodge executives said. The Quad Cab has full-sized rear doors and grew only slightly in length over the current vehicle.
The 6-foot-6-inch cargo box was shortened by 3 inches and the cab length grew by 3.7 inches. 'We increased the rear seating area because customers said this is a good trade-off,' said Rich Ray, general product manager for the group's truck business.
Other new interior features include: rear windows that lower completely into the doors, storage under the rear seats, large hooks in the regular cab for grocery bags, a center business console that can store a laptop and charge a cell phone.
Dodge also upgraded the suspension and chassis. Improvements include: rack and pinion steering, hydroformed parts in the frame to increases stiffness, an independent front suspension on four-wheel-drive models, and four-wheel disc brakes. Dodge says the brakes are the biggest in the industry. The current Ram 1500 only has discs on the front wheels. Hydroforming uses high-pressure water to shape steel.
To provide more power, the redesigned truck will get a new 3.7-liter V-6 engine with 215 hp - 40 more than the 3.9-liter engine it replaces.
On the safety side, Dodge will offer optional side-curtain airbags for $395.
The official launch is in mid-September, but the vehicle is in production and small numbers are heading to dealers.
Dodge anticipates increased sales for the 1500 model and has increased production capacity to 265,000 units for the 2002 model year, up from 200,000 in 2001.
Annual production capacity for the 2500 and 3500 models will be reduced to 75,000 units from 120,000 for the 2001 model.
The current heavy-duty models will be carried over until the 2003 model year when they also will be replaced.