Delayed EPA approval for key versions of the redesigned Ram 1500 could spoil the brand's plan to flood the market with old and new pickups this year and possibly overtake the Chevrolet Silverado in sales.
Nearly five months after the start of production of the 2019 Ram 1500 — known as the DT — the only models EPA-certified for sale are two- and four-wheel-drive versions equipped with the standard 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.
DT model Ram 1500s began arriving at U.S. dealerships in the second half of March, but dealers haven't yet received the 3.6-liter V-6 version or the 5.7-liter V-8 with an optional 48-volt belt-start generator. The belt-start generator, a fuel-saving mild-hybrid device, is standard with the V-6.
"I have customers looking for them and asking about them every week," said one Ram dealer in Michigan, who did not want to be named.
It's unclear why 2019 Rams with belt-start generators are not available. An FCA US spokesman declined to comment, but company engineers could be working to fine-tune the operation of the belt-start generator before releasing the vehicles.
FCA learned a hard lesson when it began selling the 2014 Jeep Cherokee before the software operating its nine-speed automatic transmission was fully baked.
The delay also could result from the EPA being far more stringent with automakers in its testing in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal. FCA and the EPA remain locked in litigation over the automaker's previous use of its 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine in the Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee, which resulted in delayed certification for the 2017 and 2018 EcoDiesel Ram 1500s.
|Ram aimed to pull close to the Silverado this year, but a gap has opened between Nos. 2 and 3 in 2018.|
|U.S. sales Jan.-May 2018||Change from Jan.-May 2017|
|Ford F series||371,934||5.70%|
|*Estimate Source: Automotive News Data Center|
Still, after a high-profile launch at this year's Detroit auto show, the slow rollout of 2019 Ram 1500s appears to be suppressing the pickups' sales.
The lack of a V-6 this long after launch is a problem, says Dave Sullivan, a senior analyst with AutoPacific.
"In the old truck, the V-6 represented about 20 percent of sales," he said.
Though Ram pickup sales were up 4.3 percent in May compared with 2017, it was the first monthly sales increase this year. Year to date, sales are down 8.4 percent. However, FCA US said retail sales of the Ram 1500 pickup were up 18 percent in May to 27,011.
Last year, Ram appeared to hatch a plan to knock the Silverado out of the No. 2 spot in the full-size pickup segment in 2018 by continuing to build the previous-version DS, backed by discounts — while ramping up production of the new Ram 1500.
But while Ram sales are off this year, Ford's F series, the top seller, is up 5.7 percent; Silverado sales are estimated to have increased 11 percent. This time a year ago, Ram and Silverado were running almost neck and neck.
Like Ford and General Motors, FCA reports sales of its half-ton light-duty pickups together with its heavy-duty three-quarter and one-ton pickups and normally does not differentiate model-level retail sales. Its monthly totals also do notbreak down sales by DS or DT versions.
With the DS Ram still in production, FCA has been able to wage an incentive war with GM and Ford, beginning last month after a fire at a magnesium supplier in Michigan interrupted Ford F-150 production for a short period. In Texas, for example, Ram was advertising $4,000 in bonus cash on top of $13,500 in savings on a 2018 Ram 1500 Lone Star Silver crew cab.
Through May, average incentives of $6,578 per vehicle are 11 percent higher than in the first five months of 2017, according to Motor Intelligence, citing Autodata Corp. data. But Motor Intelligence said that average factory incentives for Ram pickups in May had dropped to their lowest level since January.
Dealers say interest in the redesigned Ram 1500 remains strong, even if customers can't yet buy or order one equipped with the more fuel-efficient 3.6-liter V-6 engine. Indeed, according to suppliers, FCA's Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, where the redesigned Ram 1500 is built, is scheduled to operate six days per week through Sept. 4, including two scheduled Sunday operations in July and scheduled holiday shifts on Independence Day and Labor Day.
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