Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has made the launch of the next-generation Ram 1500 pickup such a priority that some vehicle engineers are empowered to make decisions on the spot -- a reversal from previous projects where virtually every decision had to be sent up the chain of command.
Other engineers are still weighed down by the same slow decision-making process that plagued other launches, where decisions could take weeks or months, which could severely hamper the launch.
Still, some suppliers say the streamlined process they've experienced is keeping the next-generation half-ton pickup -- a crucial piece of FCA's new SUV- and pickup-heavy future product plan -- on schedule to start production Jan. 28, 2018.
The new Ram, which carries the two-letter code DT, will be built in FCA's Sterling Heights Assembly plant in suburban Detroit. That plant will undergo an extensive retooling to allow for body-on-frame construction after it stops building unibody Chrysler 200 sedans just before Christmas.
Notably, sources say the Ram will continue to use steel for the majority of its body panels, instead of switching to aluminum construction like the Ford F-150.
The 2019 Ram 1500's exterior styling will be largely evolutionary, keeping the accentuated raised hood and mammoth chrome grille, albeit in a slightly changed shape, according to sources. The headlights will shrink in size and be more integrated into the chrome grill than is the current generation, giving the vehicle's front fascia a toughened, squinty appearance.
Under the hood, the new Ram 1500 is expected to get an upgraded 3.6-liter Pentastar engine with direct injection and optional turbocharging. FCA officials have said that the company plans to incorporate fuel-saving belt-start generators in its next-generation pickups to further improve fuel economy.
New technologies under the hood will require more air, forcing designers to include a new large air intake above the tow hooks on the front bumper. Horizontal fog lights integrated into the front bumper will largely mimic the styling of the headlights above, sources said.
Staying with steel will allow the Ram to separate itself from competitors by using more complex shapes in its body panels. The pickup's side panels, for example, are said to feature a styling line front-to-rear right around the top of the wheel wells to evoke a more muscular stance.
At the rear, its taillights will be smaller, with back-up lights integrated vertically nearer the tailgate, instead of their current location at the bottom of the tail light.
Inside the cab, the biggest change is expected to come in a new, flattened center console design which will allow for additional storage space, sources said.
The biggest motivating factor for FCA right now seems to be keeping the 2019 Ram 1500 launch on schedule, suppliers said. Prototypes were originally scheduled to be built in Sterling Heights in October 2017 but were recently delayed to January 2018, meaning they will be built just before the start of saleable production.
Suppliers said FCA has set up a makeshift engineering center for the Ram at Warren Truck Assembly, where meetings on the pickup are taking place "all day, every day" to make the start of production.
FCA had previously taken heavy criticism during annual supplier relationship surveys because suppliers said FCA's middle managers were not empowered to make decisions in a timely manner, forcing unnecessary and costly delays. One supplier said that FCA's recent attitude in developing the 2019 Ram 1500 "seems to be working to keep it on time."