Trucks & SUVs

What The Heck Is Ram Trucks Doing? It’s Confusing

With two different lines of pickup trucks and only limited body styles of its newest version, we wonder what the heck is going on at Ram trucks? Is it a money thing? Does FCA not have the dough to develop a complete line of trucks all at once? Is it some kind of manufacturing or labor issue keeping a lid on how many trucks can be made? Was Ram not sure how its new trucks would be received? What is it doing? We found some answers to help sort through the confusing circumstances around Ram’s pickup trucks.

A combination of events and timing has left Ram without a regular cab configuration for its new Ram 1500 truck. Internally known as “DT” it is available only as an extended cab and crew cab. The new truck is not available in any heavy-duty configuration, either. Those and the regular cab versions are handled by the last generation of Ram truck. Internally called “DS” it was first available in 2008 as a 2009 model. It is now called “Ram Classic” to differentiate from the new 1500.

Ram has three plants making trucks which makes for some confusion

2020 RAM trucks are displayed at a car dealership in Illinois
2020 RAM trucks are displayed at a car dealership in Illinois | Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ram has three different plants building Ram trucks, and that begins to explain what it’s doing. FCA’s original plan was to take the Sterling Heights plant once Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart production ended, and convert it for the new Ram 1500. This meant gutting it and then adding more square footage. All of that went as planned.

Since the DS was built at the old Warren Truck plant outside of Detroit, it would continue for Sterling Heights to ease into production. Both Dodge and then Ram pickups have been produced there since 1938. Ram builds its heavy-duty and regular cab trucks, based on the DS, in Saltillo, Mexico.

The plan entailed building the DS in Warren until 2019, then stop production and move heavy-duty to it after a thorough revamping for a DT heavy-duty truck for 2020. The Saltillo plant would be assigned some other product, probably a midsize pickup.

Changes within and outside of Ram have changed plans

The grill of a 2020 Ram truck is displayed at the New York International Auto Show
The grill of a 2020 Ram truck is displayed at the New York International Auto Show | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Since all of this was planned a gang of changes has occurred both within and outside of FCA. Notwithstanding the death of CEO Sergio Marchionne in 2018, the plan was to be implemented. Now it’s all gone out the window.

The heavy-duty trucks, though revised in many ways are still based on the older DS. As for the Ram Classic, it has sold well enough to see production possibly into 2021. Combined sales of both the DS and DT have bounced Ram into second place for truck sales. Why spoil a good thing?

The Ram Classic is a midsize offering that isn’t midsize

2020 Ram Single Cab | FCA
2020 Ram Single Cab | FCA

The DS offers Ram an opportunity to produce a pickup that has more than amortized its tooling and development costs. That allows Ram to offer it as a less-expensive entre into a Ram pickup. This works especially well because it doesn’t sell a midsize pickup. So in some ways, the DS is Ram’s midsize offering, but not in the traditional sense.

DT sales are so good that the Sterling Heights plant is at full capacity which means there is no more room for building a regular cab. The other reason Ram is not building a 1500 regular cab is that overall regular cab production amounts to less than 5% of total truck sales. Our guess is that Ram sees no hurry in getting into this version. 

Ram truck sales should hit 550,000 for 2019. That means regular cabs amount to roughly 27,000 units a year. Of course, multiplied by 6-10 years Ram is looking at 175,000 to 300,000 regular cabs over the course of the DT’s run. But the DS is currently satisfying that demand, which is mainly for commercial use. Is Ram losing sales by not having a 1500 regular cab? Probably not.

With the PSA merger, all bets are off

2019 Ram Power Wagon Crew Cab
2019 Ram Power Wagon Crew Cab | Ram

Another question mark is the inevitable merger with the PSA Group of France. How this will affect future plans and money allocations for development is anybody’s guess. As for now, the Ram plan seems to be that the heavy-duty version will move to the DT platform in either 2022 or 2023. Then it will be built at the Warren plant as the DS gives way for the DT. At that time a regular cab based on the DT will probably show up.

Even though the regular cab only accounts for 5% of Ram sales, it does serve another purpose. For marketing and advertising regular cabs typically score the best towing and payload numbers. Ram doesn’t want to give anything to the competition. Towing and payload numbers translate into sales and bragging rights. 

So, by 2022 or 2023 at the latest, the disarrayed Ram truck portfolio will settle down into a more typical offering that uses one body style for every iteration it makes. The truck gods will be happier, and the confusing “two Ram trucks” situation will finally end.

But what about a full-size SUV like the Suburban?

That still doesn’t explain why Ram doesn’t make a Suburban-type SUV based on its 1500…