Ram moving away from crosshair grille

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Los Angeles — Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is gradually shifting its Ram Truck brand away from the signature crosshair grille that has adorned its pickups for 35 years.

Fiat Chrysler pickups such as the 1500 Laramie have non-crosshair grilles that prominently read “Ram.”

Executives with the Italian-American automaker won’t commit that the grille, which Ram pickups and cargo vans have continued to use since the company separated the brand from Dodge in 2009, will completely disappear but the writing is on the wall, or grille, in this case.

“I love what the company has done by differentiating each brand — from the marketing to the materials — and it’s inspired us as designers to make sure we do that with cars themselves,” Fiat Chrysler head of global design Ralph Gilles told The Detroit News on the sidelines of the Los Angeles Auto Show. “It takes time. Establishing a brand takes five years, so we’re kind of at that point.”

Since the 2015 Detroit auto show, the company has introduced light-duty and heavy-duty pickups (Rebel, Limited, Power Wagon and Laramie Longhorn models) as well as two concepts (Ram Rebel TRX and Ram Promaster van) with non-crosshair grilles that prominently feature “RAM.” The company’s advertisements also have shifted toward the new grilles rather than those with the crosshair.

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“I’m watching this space very carefully,” Gilles said. “It’s been an experiment, and it’s working. People have responded to it. We like it. But it’s something we’re consciously doing gradually.”

Pickup buyers are some of the most loyal customers in the automotive industry and traditionally don’t like drastic changes in a vehicle’s design.

Since the first generation of Dodge Ram trucks debuted in 1981, the crosshair grille has been on nearly all of its vehicles. For Dodge pickups, a crosshair grille first appeared in the 1940s, followed by a re-emergence around 1970.

Mike Manley, head of Ram globally, said it’s important to differentiate the brand away from Dodge, which the company has positioned as a mainstream performance brand since separating the pickups into Ram.

Manley said one option may be to keep them grille on select models, while moving the overall design language of the brand to focus on Ram.

“You’re already seeing progressive moves in terms of the grille,” Manley told The News during a separate interview. “I would never say that something would ever completely move away from things because there’s always opportunity, I think, when you’ve established two different styles of grilles to use them.”

Gilles hinted that designers may take advantage of the next-generation Ram pickup to really differentiate the brand from Dodge.

“It’s a natural thing to slowly do it. We don’t want to tear it off like a Band-Aid, you know, we want to have it happen organically,” he said. “When we have a chance to do all-new product, we’re going to take advantage of that.”

Ram’s largest problem since separating from Dodge has arguably not had anything to do with its products but the brand’s reputation. Customers as well as factory workers can be overheard saying “Dodge Ram pickup.”

“This has been a challenge for Fiat Chrysler to make that shift from ‘Dodge Ram’ to just ‘Ram,’ ” said Autotrader.com senior analyst Michelle Krebs. “Changing the grille is another step in that direction in separating the brand, but it’s going to continue to be a long journey.”

Ram, with help of a pickup-friendly marketplace, has thrived after leaving Dodge, with ambitions of now moving the brand into new markets under Manley, who started leading the truck brand in October 2015.

To help that global push, Manley said a midsize pickup for the brand remains an option. He called the small-pickup segment a “relatively robust” market globally.

“I think Ram needs a mid-size pickup, but whether it’s in this generation or the next-generation, that’s what we’re looking at now,” he said, adding the pickup would not be introduced for at least two years.

Manley, also global head of the Jeep brand, said Jeep continues with its plans to introduce a Jeep pickup based off the next-generation Wrangler by mid-2018.


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Twitter: @MikeWayland