Chrysler to double Ram 1500 EcoDiesel production

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Chrysler Group LLC announced plans Tuesday to double production of its Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. The automaker said it will increase production of the diesel pickup from 10 percent to 20 percent of its light-duty pickup mix.

Bob Hegbloom, Ram Truck president and CEO, said there’s high demand for the diesel because of its fuel economy and exclusivity. “Innovation sometimes comes with risk, but being first to market with a diesel engine for the half-ton segment has shown to be a great decision for the Ram brand,” he said.

Chrysler is the only automaker offering a diesel engine in a light-duty pickup in the U.S. The vehicle features a 3.0-liter V6 diesel engine capable of 240 horsepower, 420 pound-feet of torque and 28 miles per gallon.

When the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel opened for orders earlier this year, Chrysler received more than 8,000 orders within three days, which quickly filled the initial allocation for the powertrain. Nearly 60 percent of all Ram 1500 EcoDiesel sales are customers who formerly bought from the competition, according to Chrysler.

“The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is a game-changer in the industry, and has proved to be a key to conquest sales over our competitors,” Hegbloom said.

The EcoDiesel increase is expected to be completed by the end of November at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant and the Saltillo Truck Assembly Plant in Mexico. The increase comes less than a week after Chrysler announced it had increased production at the Warren plant by 100 vehicles a day, or 28,585 additional vehicles a year.

Curt Towne, plant manager at Warren Truck assembly plant, said last week that the plant was “ramping up” to almost 230 diesel vehicles a day, up from 100 per day that the plant was originally building. He said, the plant “can’t build enough of them right now.”

The diesel engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and manufactured by Fiat Group Automobiles’ VM Motori in Cento, Italy. Chrysler has used VM Motori diesel engines since 1992.

Karl Brauer, Kelley Blue Book senior analyst, said high demand for the diesel pickup shows that buyers are willing to pay more for an option if it improves performance.

“Right now, if a feature adds to a truck’s desirability, whether it’s a luxury, technology or performance feature, there’s a sizable market ready to pay extra for it,” he said.

The Ram 1500 diesel is available in most trim levels. The diesel model is priced at $2,850 greater than a similarly equipped Ram 1500 with a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with an eight-speed automatic transmission, which starts at about $28,000 including a $1,195 destination fee.

Although the diesel model is still a minority of sales for the brand, analysts say it is helping increase the vehicle’s average transaction price and bringing positive attention to the brand. Through August, Ram Truck sales were up 21 percent compared to last year to more than 283,250 vehicles sold. That compares to nearly flat sales of Ford Motor Co.’s F-Series and General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Silverado — the two leaders of the U.S. pickup segment.