Jeep/Ram chief sees ‘opportunity’ for two small pickups

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

New York — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV could eventually offer a smaller Ram pickup alongside the recently confirmed, upcoming Jeep mid-size pickup.

Mike Manley, global head of both brands, would not confirm any plans for a small Ram pickup but said there’s “opportunity” in the United States and globally for the brand to expand into the mid-size pickup segment.

“I think there’s opportunity there in the U.S. if you look at what’s happened in the mid-size segment here – significant growth last year,” he told The Detroit News on Wednesday at the New York auto show. “I think that space is big enough, certainly, to have two offerings there.”

Manley said he’s been encouraged by the growth of the mid-size truck segment in the United States in recent years: General Motors Co. has re-entered the segment with its GMC and Chevrolet brands, and Toyota Motor Corp. has redesigned its segment-leading Tacoma.

Autodata Corp. reports the segment increased to nearly 357,000 pickups sold in the United States, a 48.4 percent increase from the previous year. The Tacoma represented 50 percent of those sales.

Manley declined to comment if the company could have a small pickup for each Ram and Jeep in the market by 2020: “I wouldn’t even confirm if we’ll have two offerings, let alone confirm a time frame.”

His comments come less than a month after executives were repositioned in Ram to focus the brand on international growth. He said having a small pickup is needed for Ram long term to expand into major international truck markets.

“We don’t necessarily today have the right portfolio within Ram to cater to all of those markets,” Manley said. “But we do have a strong brand. Ram brand is known very well in Africa and the Middle East, and also Latin America.”

Manley said Bob Hegbloom, who was recently promoted from head of Ram North America to the new position of Ram International, is traveling to Brazil this week to discuss opportunities for Ram to work with Fiat-brand colleagues. Fiat already offers compact pickups in global markets, including the recently launched Toro in Brazil.

There’s potential, Manley said, for Ram to use a Fiat platform for a Ram pickup.

In the U.S., Manley said he doesn’t believe a Ram mid-size pickup would compete for the same customers as a Jeep pickup, which the company confirmed earlier this year will be produced in Toledo alongside the next-generation Wrangler.

GMC U.S. Vice President Duncan Aldred, when asked about Fiat Chrysler or others entering the mid-size pickup segment, welcomed the competition.

“We’ve proven we can be very successful in the full-size pickup market when everyone is in there competing, and I don’t see any reason we couldn’t be if a Ram or a Ford or a Jeep entered,” he told The News. “But it will change the landscape of that segment, and ultimately it will grow the segment.”

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