Is there a chance that a leadership change at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported by Automotive News could lead to an often-speculated new pickup truck?
Jeep’s longtime director Jim Morrison is leaving that post to head the Ram pickup and commercial vehicle division, replacing Bob Hegbloom, who is leaving for the global shores of Ram International.
Ram and Jeep are by far FCA’s biggest moneymakers these days, and under Morrison’s watch the Jeep brand took on new prominence by expanding its range of models, even if it meant adopting architecture sourced from (sacrilege!) Fiat.
The news of Morrison’s switch to Ram raises the question, “Is this the person who will take the Ram brand in a smaller direction?”
A smaller Ram pickup is an idea that’s been tossed around since the midsize Dodge Dakota was axed back in 2011. From a high point in the early 2000s, Dakota sales had fallen severely, much like the nation’s economy and Chrysler’s fortunes.
At the time, FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne — then head of Chrysler Group — speculated that building another small or midsize pickup was unlikely because the American public just wasn’t buying them like they used to. When asked the same question last year, Hegbloom said he was able to come close to matching what made those little trucks from the 1980s and ’90s popular — size, capacity and price — but couldn’t get the fuel economy right.
In Hegbloom’s mind, a smaller Ram would have to attain 35 miles per gallon on the highway to differentiate itself from its larger brothers.
With Morrison at the helm, the outlook could be different. This is the man who oversaw the green-lighting of the Jeep Wrangler pickup that so many lusted for, and the return of the Cherokee name in USCW form.
In the marketplace, the midsize Colorado/Canyon twins from General Motors, combined, sold over 100,000 units last year. Rumors continue that Ford will move Ranger production stateside sometime after 2018. And for some reason, Honda has decided to offer a second-generation Ridgeline.
The market’s not dead for smaller trucks, but it isn’t what it used to be. FCA, with its existing debt problems, surely wouldn’t gamble on a wholly new platform for a smaller Ram, nor would it source a platform from, say, Jeep, just to have a player in the small truck game. Production costs and lack of existing capacity forbids it.
Beyond that long, relatively unprotected border to the south lies a glimmer of hope for the Baby Ram crowd.
FCA Mexico will soon start production on the new Fiat Fullback pickup, a body-on-frame model bound for overseas markets that’s built on a platform sourced from the Mitsubishi L200 (FCA distributes Mitsubishi products in Mexico).
The Fullback also comes with a 2.4-litre diesel engine designed for the European market that makes 178 horsepower and returns 41 miles mpg on the highway and 35.6 mpg combined (in the existing L200).
FCA has said the Wrangler pickup will come with a diesel and hybrid option, either of which (even if it’s not the Fiat/Mitsubishi diesel) would likely satisfy Hegbloom’s mileage complaint.
Meanwhile, production of high-volume American-market FCA models are moving back to the U.S., while slower-selling models are being punted to Mexico. If a smaller Ram is going to happen, this is the most likely place for it, given the financial benefits to producing the vehicle in Mexico. It also helps to use an existing platform from an automaker FCA is already working with.
That’s assuming a Ram-bodied Fullback can even meet U.S. safety regulations, but stranger things have happened. They made the Prowler, dammit!