Ram Trucks brand president and CEO Fred Diaz has had a busy morning, what with the 2013 Ram 1500 being named the 2013 North American Truck of the Year at the crack of dawn, but we still found some time to ask him a bit about where Ram is now, and where it’s headed in the near future.
Automobile Magazine: Congrats on your North American Truck of the Year win.
Fred Diaz: Thanks so much. Wow. The moments leading up to it, I was so anxious. I couldn’t believe it. If we hadn’t won it, I would have been devastated. It was great for all the effort, hard work, and dedication the entire team put into it.
AM: The other big news from your brand here in Detroit lies around the Ram Heavy Duty pickups – or, more importantly, their towing figures. With these sorts of figures, we have to ask: will Ram be sponsoring CDL classes for owners?
FD: (laughs) That’s up to the individual. It’s funny; if someone who wants to properly utilize these trucks up to their maximum rating, they’re going to need proper licensing, obviously, which is okay. We think a lot of people are going to want to do it. But we also caught the trailer manufacturers by surprise. They’re going to need to catch up to us because the majority of them don’t build a trailer that can tow that much. That’s groundbreaking stuff that makes people rethink the business, but that’s what we did with the light duty, and that’s what we’re doing with the heavy-duty trucks.
AM: It seems as if you could also catch the class 4/class 5 recreational hauler manufacturers by surprise, too. Is that a market you deliberately set out to target?
FD: We’re looking to target any and all buyers that have a use for that sort of capacity, that type of towing, that type of GCWR. It could be camping, hauling, towing, whatever. If you have a massive load you need to tow or haul, we have the truck for you.
Also, we’re tired of playing this little one-upmanship game where someone goes up by 200 pounds, and someone goes up by another 300 pounds. It’s like c’mon; let’s get serious about this. You want to play with the big boys? Then let’s go.
AM: Speaking of those tow numbers, we can’t help that no one in this segment really seems to rate their trucks by the new SAE standard…
FD: We are all for SAE standards; we always test with SAE standards. The situation with our 30,000 pounds of towing is that the SAE standards as we know them don’t presently go up that high. We employed traditional SAE standards that they typically go by to test this truck, which is why we feel very, very confident about the tow rating. If anybody, or any manufacturer, wants to test our truck – if they want to do the Davis Dam test, we’re more than happy to do it.
AM: These sorts of tow figures conjure memories of Ram’s 5500 Long Hauler concept. Is that still something you’re looking at, or do these sorts of figures for 3500 trucks essentially render it pointless?
FD: You know, it’s still something we’re looking at. That’s exactly why we took it out to trade shows and showed it publicly, so we could gauge customer potential demand in addition to what analytics were able to pull from within our house. So far, the reaction we’ve received to that truck has been nothing short of spectacular. We’re still looking at ways and possibilities to build that truck, but for now, it’s very much a concept.
There are so many technical challenges we’ve looked at and discovered that would have to be made right in order for us to make that kind of truck. There are also federal regulations; that the amount of fuel carried on a truck like that would meet federal guidelines for carrying fuel/ hazardous materials, depending on how much fuel you have. There’s just a lot of investigative work to be done, and it can’t be something in a haphazard way. We want it to be a real, solid truck, and we also want to be comfortable that we can find enough of a niche market to find a value proposition for customers, and for us to build a positive business plan.
AM: Between 1500 and the new 2500/3500 models, it seems the pickup side of Ram’s lineup is fairly well stocked. What’s next on the horizon? We’ve heard you mention a few van models in the past, namely Doblo and ProMaster.
FD: Are you going to the Chicago auto show? You should see some things that are very interesting in Chicago as we get further into the commercial business.
We’re really focusing on the Ram Commercial line right now, launching that division, and making sure we populate that division with the commercial trucks and vans that are needed to round out that stable. We’re focusing on what kinds of vans we’d need to do that.
AM: Beyond that?
FD: Beyond that, we’re looking at other things. What’s the possibility of us continuing to build a midsize truck? But not only a midsize truck that works here in the United States, but possibly a midsize truck that works well in this continent as well as other markets around the world, where midsize trucks are even more possible. We’re looking at several different cases and scenarios where we could build something that could work for all markets that could give us more synergies, but we haven’t made any type of decision at this point in time.
AM: But it’s something you’re still pursuing?
FD: It is, but we won’t bring it unless we feel absolutely certain we have a winner on our hands.
AM: Does it look like there is room for that still? We can’t help but notice General Motors is the only one of the Detroit 3 to commit to that segment going forward.
FD: That segment has become so small, so if you want to play in that segment, you have to play it right. You have to give great fuel economy, you have to be able to carry at least 4 people, and I fundamentally believe your styling has to be spectacular. It needs to be a hot truck that people immediately start salivating over because they can’t wait to get into a truck like that. And, of course, it needs to be a truck for people later in life, who’re done driving a full-size truck but still want the ability of a truck. It also needs to target younger buyers and their pocketbook needs, and helps usher them into the Ram brand.
Trying to find a formula that works for the youth and the older population, trying to find the right synergy between this continent and other markets where these trucks are popular, and then coming out with a design and engine platform that meets all these needs is a complicated stew – and you have to make sure you have that stew right, or else you’ll want to spit it out.
AM: It’s an idea you’ve been toying with for a while. Does it look more possible now given the global leverage of the Fiat Group?
FD: Having Fiat in our corner is a big positive. Because of our close partnership with Fiat, I wouldn’t say it adds complication, but several new layers of options and opportunities for us to look at and consider. It puts us in a position where we need to make sure we look at every single option in order to find the one that truly works.
AM: Readers constantly ask about the future of a light-duty diesel pickup. Our spy photographers have seen some mules running around that appear to be diesel-powered…
FD: (smiles) Are they entirely sure they’re diesels?
AM: They seem to be. But is a light-duty diesel option still something worth pursuing for Ram?
FD: There are so many things we’re looking at with this 1500. We brought so many new technologies to this 2013 Ram 1500 to earn this 25 mpg rating, We continue pushing the envelope to squeeze every single ounce of fuel economy out of this truck. Certainly, I’m not going to speculate whether or not diesel might be on the horizon, but I can tell you we’re looking at several different technologies – CNG, for instance, which has done extremely well in our Ram 2500 models -- to improve the MPG story. Customers are looking for anything that makes their dollar go farther. We believe as a brand that MPG will continue to be a big, big part of the truck market going forward.