Ram Considering Pickup Above Laramie Longhorn

How much is too much for a pickup truck? Ram brand CEO Reid Bigland seems tempted to find out.

“I don’t even know where the ceiling is on the premium pickup truck,” Bigland said at a roundtable discussion yesterday.

Sales for all pickup trucks have risen dramatically in the past few months, powered by resurgent housing construction. But it’s consumers’ appetite for more expensive (read, more profitable) trucks that has automakers’ mouths watering. Bigland said retail sales for Ram 1500 crew cabs, which start at more than $30,000, were up 63 percent in May compared with last year. Prices climb from there past $50,000 for a well-equipped Laramie Longhorn Edition.

“We don’t even know if that’s the ceiling or if we should go above that,” he said.

The surge isn’t unique to Ram. General Motors, Ford, and Toyota have all rushed premium trucks to market with lush leather interiors and unique exterior treatments. The even better news for Ram is that buyers of these loaded up trucks seem less inclined to the sort of knee-jerk brand loyalty that has traditionally favored Ford and Chevrolet. Bigland did not go into the specifics of what a super-premium pickup would include, but noted Ram would have to be careful the add-ons weren’t “frivolous.”

If these are the best of times for big pickups, they are the worst of times for their affordable compact and midsize brethren. Bigland’s predecessor, Fred Diaz, had floated the possibility of a midsize Ram pickup before leaving for Nissan in April. Bigland seems less enthusiastic about the segment:

“I think that the thing with the midsize or lifestyle pickup [is] the theory is pretty good…but when it comes to executing on that pickup in today’s world—meaning all of the current safety standards, regulatory requirements—the ability to get a truck at under twenty-two or twenty-three thousand dollars is a massive challenge.”

Those looking for a more efficient, if not quite more maneuverable pickup will have another option this fall in the form of a diesel Ram 1500. The engine is essentially the same Fiat-sourced, 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 that appears in the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel. Bigland indicated that the fuel economy won’t be quite as impressive as the Jeep’s, estimated at 30 mpg highway, but promised it would surpass the 25-mpg highway rating of the Ram’s gasoline V-6.

The Ram brand is also looking to expand its presence in the commercial truck market. The Fiat Ducato-based ProMaster launches within the next three months. In about a year and a half, Ram will import the smaller Fiat Doblo to challenge the Ford Transit Connect. (Ram currently offers the C/V Tradesman, which Bigland admits is a “glorified, rebadged Caravan.”)

Bigland, who also serves as head of U.S. sales for all of Chrysler and as president of Chrysler Canada, was cagier when commenting on his company’s spat with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Chrysler is refusing to recall 2.7 million Jeeps over what NHTSA calls an unsafe gas tank design.

“It’s unfortunate how this occurred; we’re certainly not in the business of being at odds with any Federal agency. But our vehicles are safe,” he said.

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