2009 Dodge Ram - By Design

Back in 1986, Chrysler designer turned Dodge car marketing manager Bob Marcks had the idea that a tough "big rig" look could transform Dodge pickup sales. He made a couple of rough sketches, and even though trucks weren't his business, his idea was picked up in the creative ferment of the Bob Lutz/Tom Gale era at the old "New" Chrysler Corporation, resulting in the production vehicle that debuted at the Detroit auto show in 1993. That the aggressive styling really mattered was proven by results: with pretty much the same old underpinnings, sales tripled less than a year after the Ram went on sale. At one point, the Ram pickup was the third best-selling vehicle in America, ahead of all passenger cars and behind only the perpetual leaders, Ford's F-150 and Chevrolet's Silverado.

Today, pickups are far from the king-of-the-hill products that they once were, and fewer families are choosing a truck as their main vehicle. But a great deal of America's middle-class, working-man economy depends on pickups, so new ones are still constantly being developed. The latest Dodge, as seen here, is a nice piece of work in terms of styling and engineering, building on the previous generation and replacing the traditional leaf springs in back with coil springs for an improved ride. As is usually the case with Dodge trucks, the powertrains are strong and well suited to their purpose.

There have been three big changes in pickup trucks in the past few decades. Dodge emphasized the "truck" part with the new exterior aspect, and Ford changed its design and trim approach from "work" to "leisure" with its new-for-1997 F-150, providing a nice template of pickups as primary family vehicles. Unfortunately, the third big change is bloat. Pickups today are bigger and far more powerful than the ton-and-a-half, dual-rear-wheel, flatbed trucks that did a large part of American commercial hauling in the years when Detroit was at its peak.

The handsome four-door pickup you see here is representative of the new breed. It weighs more than two tons empty but has a short load bed that would have seemed ridiculous to a farmer or a tradesman in 1958. It has a more spacious cabin than almost any four-door sedan, and it provides the high viewpoint that was one of the chief factors in the popularity of SUVs. Putting lockers in the top of the rear fenders is a good idea that ought to have happened long ago, but the rest of the design is almost generic. Curved creases defining front and rear fenders are a nice touch, subtle enough not to detract from the desired over-the-highway image, yet giving a certain elegance to the whole.

A curiosity is that there likely will be no single-row, regular-cab version available in the forthcoming heavy-duty Dodge Ram lineup, another sign that things really have changed in the pickup world.

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