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Ram sees future growth in commercial vehicles

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Chelsea — The greatest opportunity for growth in the Ram Truck brand is in its lineup of commercial vehicles, says North American chief Bob Hegbloom.

“We have an opportunity to continue to grow on the commercial side of our business,” he said during a media event Tuesday in Chelsea. “We now have a portfolio of product.”

The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV truck brand, which has had 65 months of consecutive year-over-year sales gains in the United States, has grown its commercial vehicle lineup from strictly pickups in 2009 to five vehicles in 2015, including two vans and a chassis cab.

“We’ve never had the breadth that we do today,” said Hegbloom, adding Ram also has grown its commercial dealer network to 950, up from about 400 in 2010.

The company does not release its commercial sales versus retail sales. Overall through September, Ram is up 6 percent compared to a year ago. The growth is miniscule compared to its double-digit gains in recent years, including growing Ram market share to 20 percent or so.

One limitation for the brand has been production. Its Warren Truck Assembly Plant, which produces the light-duty Ram 1500, is running at or near capacity. It’s about the same situation for its Saltillo Truck Assembly Plant in Mexico, which produces heavy-duty pickups and chassis models as well as some 1500 models.

“I do want more. I want to be aggressive. I want to go after it,” Hegbloom said. “But we’re doing that very strategic in nature, where we’re going to stay true; we’re going to continue to grow.”

On the retail side of things, Ram continues to release new trim levels of pickups. Its newest models – Rebel and Limited – are attracting new customers. The vehicles sell to different types of consumers but feature some similar cues, including a new tailgate with large “RAM” badging and redesigned grilles that don’t feature a cross-hair grille – a design cue left over from its time with the Dodge brand.

Hegbloom, as he did when the pickups launched, said Ram does not intend to completely move away from the cross-hair grille.

“You’re always going to have a traditional cross-hair, whether it’s a majority or depending on the different trims,” he said. “We’re going to look at opportunities depending on the product … that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to just deviate 100 percent from the cross-hair.”

Adding the new double-nostril grille from the Rebel to other products also could hurt its uniqueness, as buyers of the new trim are looking to be different.

Hegbloom still doesn’t see a ceiling for the price of pickups, as every automaker continues to add more features to the vehicles. Ram’s new Rebel and Limited models start at $42,790 and $50,675, respectively.

The brand’s diesel 1500, Hegbloom said, continues to sell well even with Volkswagen AG’s ongoing scandal regarding diesel cars.

“It’s almost like trucks are in a different category,” he said. “Diesel with trucks is highly accepted.”


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