May and June are the bidding season for commercial fleet operators who purchase pickups by the dozen and sometimes hundreds. That means the next few weeks will tell whether Chrysler Group's Ram brand will increase its small share of the crucial commercial fleet market.
Ram is trying to break the stranglehold Ford and General Motors have held for decades on profitable commercial fleet sales.
Chrysler has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the fuel economy and capabilities of its re-engineered 2013 Ram light-duty and heavy-duty pickups. This year it will launch its first full-sized commercial van since 2010, with a smaller version to follow.
Chrysler doubled to 800 the number of its dealers with dedicated teams to handle commercial customers. And the company established a corporate division, Chrysler Commercial, to win lucrative commercial fleet business.
But Jeremy Acevedo, an analyst with Edmunds.com, said Ram has a tough road ahead. In 2012, Ram's share of the commercial fleet business climbed from 9 percent to 11 percent -- still a poor third to Ford's 47 percent and GM's 40 percent, according to Edmunds.com. Ram's share historically has been low because for decades its product lineup was weak and fleet sales were not a high priority.
Commercial fleet sales accounted for about 6 percent of all pickup sales in 2012, according to Edmunds.com, which put the number of commercial fleet pickups sold in 2012 at 98,000. Assuming an average sale of about $30,000, commercial fleets were a $2.94 billion business in 2012.
"While the roll out of Ram's commercial division brings solid competition to the segment, they haven't yet been able to wrestle much market share from the other domestics," Acevedo said. "And in such a fiercely loyal segment it could prove to be quite a challenge."