We've seen the innovative features and levels of refinement Dodge is bringing to the 2009 Ram 1500, but company executives have said little about the brand's other pickup offerings - until now. During our recent drive of the new 2009 Ram 1500, we sat down with a number of engineers and planners and gleaned some surprising insight into what Dodge has in store for the heavy-duty Rams and the ailing Dakota.
While factories tool up for the 2009 Ram 1500, Chrysler engineers are already toiling away on the next series of heavy-duty - or 2500 and 3500 - Ram models. We're told that for the first time, the larger trucks will sport a unique front fascia, but we're happy to hear that the large Rams will make use of the same interior as the 2009 Ram 1500.
Historically, Dodge received a lot of complaints about its truck interiors, and that's an issue Ralph Gilles, vice president of Jeep, truck, and advanced interior design, took to heart. The new interior is exponentially nicer than that of the outgoing Ram, and it is the first product of Chrysler's new interior design effort.
Expect to see the output from signature Cummins diesel engines remain about even with today's engine (350 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque), or even drop slightly in order to improve fuel economy. Scott Kunselman, vice president of truck product development, believes fuel economy is more important to truck buyers than the ability to pull the largest possible trailer up huge hills at 85 mph. Beefing up the transmission, chassis, and other related components to handle much more power would add weight and cost to the truck and only a handful of buyers would ever make use of it. Most of these heavy-duty trucks are used in fleets, and fleet managers are more interested in reducing fuel cost than seeing outrageous power levels.
Dodge will likely stick with the Ram HD's current absorber NOx catalyst system, for future 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty trucks instead of the urea treatment most diesel passenger cars use to meet EPA regulations. However, Dodge will use urea for its class 4 and 5 cab and chassis Rams because the emissions certification process is different for the larger trucks. Storing enough urea to last between oil changes is one problem for trucks with factory-installed beds, plus the urea can freeze and thus be rendered useless in northern climates. If the price of the catalyst system - which uses plenty of exotic materials - continues to rise, Dodge may have to re-evaluate this approach.
Though the Ram 1500's multi-link coil suspension makes a lot of sense for light-duty trucks, it doesn't in the heavy-duty segment. Virtually all three-quarter and one-ton trucks use a main leaf spring pack and a set of helper leaves to handle overload situations. There isn't any way to add helper springs to coil springs. Dodge's current strategy gears the 2500/3500 trucks for maximum towing and hauling, so the traditional leaf springs will remain on these models.
Though Ford has received lots of press surrounding the introduction of a consumer-oriented F-450, Dodge has no plans to play in that space. The market is simply too small for consumer pickups above the one-ton range. Dodge will continue to play in the class 4 and 5 truck segment, an area where it performs well, but these trucks will strictly be cab-chassis vehicles for commercial users.