In What Kind of Market Will the Baby Ram Find Itself?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
in what kind of market will the baby ram find itself

We’ve known since June that Fiat-Chrysler plans to re-enter a segment it abandoned at the dawn of the decade — in the U.S., anyway. A midsize pickup bearing the Ram logo will appear in 2020, a report claimed earlier today, joining what will by then be a stable made up of six brands. Ford makes a triumphant return to the segment this fall.

Luckily for Ram fans, it appears the forthcoming Ram truck won’t be some wimpy, unibody thing built on a Fiat platform, as Americans would like see such a creature as being worthy of contempt, and perhaps even ritualistic sacrifice. Still, a lot can happen in two years’ time. Analysts expect the auto market to cool off in the coming years, more so than the plateau we’ve been at for the past two.

One thing that’s for sure is American new car buyers increasingly gravitate towards light trucks over cars, and this trend works in any truck builder’s favor. Also, judging by the public’s reaction to the unibody Honda Ridgeline, it seems body-on-frame is the way to go to woo the midsize crowd. Sales back this up. It’s this reality that keeps Volkswagen on the fence, unsure whether to green-light the Atlas-based Tanoak for U.S. customers.

We’ve joked in the past that the Tacoma can only travel in one direction — up. Never mind hybrid technology or lightweighting or any of that stuff; Toyota’s main concern with the Tacoma is building enough of them to satisfy demand. Year-to-date sales rose 25 percent over the first eight months of 2018. Meanwhile, General Motors finds plenty of buyers for its Chevrolet Colorado, with a Ridgeline-sized crowd opting for its ever-so-slightly-tonier GMC Canyon twin.

Even Nissan’s Frontier, a truck that debuted in 2004, managed to secure a 1.5 percent year-to-date volume increase in August.

Looking at the somewhat fledgling segment over the course of this year and last, midsize truck market share continues heading in the right direction. Ford’s Ranger should energize it further. Year to date, new vehicles sales rose 1 percent compared to the same period in 2017. Of that tally, five midsize truck models accounted for approximately 3.1 percent of the total (GM’s quarterly reporting means estimates for July and August give way to hard figures in half a month’s time). This time last year, midsize trucks made up 2.6 percent of the industry’s year-to-date volume.

Unlike in the 1980s and ’90s, the small(er) truck segment suffers from the presence of heavily discounted full-size trucks offered with low, low interest rates. Much to the segment’s relief, it seems we’re incrementally stepping away from that reality. New car interest rates are heading up from rock bottom, albeit gradually. A flat industry means many automakers are having second thoughts about incentivization. GM reportedly took a hit in August after falling retail sales forced it to cut back on discounts, including on full-size trucks.

Still, much anger was vented into TTAC’s Slack chatroom when Ford’s Ranger pricing tool appeared online. Ram needs to keep fiscal distance between its upcoming midsizer and its full-size 1500 line to avoid this scenario and make midsize buyers feel like they’re being thrifty, not stupid.

[Image: Toyota, Ford]

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  • CoastieLenn CoastieLenn on Sep 18, 2018

    Gents- For those of you that believe this will be a Wrangler truck with a different body, you're mistaken. I'll cite two nearly concrete reasons: 1) FCA (Manley specifically) won't do ANYTHING to cannibalize sales from the upcoming Wrangler truck. Jeep's Wrangler is one of a very small number of vehicles keeping the entire corporate umbrella afloat. If the new "Dakota" (or whatever it'll be dubbed) starts picking sales from the Wrangler truck, it'll result in sales losses for the only marque left under the umbrella that's actually worth money. 2) Ram isn't known for doing anything beyond what the industry recognizes as "standard" unless it wears a Jeep or SRT badge. They don't have the market share or capitol to hedge too many bets. They have to play it safe and anyone that's been following their financial woes knows this. They need something that'll sell well to the masses, not yet another niche market vehicle to satisfy the fringe enthusiast. This will follow the same formula as EVERY other midsized truck on the market right now. It'll be IFS, SRA, small truck based on something from other parts of the world- either in whole or in part. Fully expect a reworked ProMaster chassis or something similar.

    • See 5 previous
    • Vulpine Vulpine on Sep 18, 2018

      @mopar: Off for the year, yes. But last year was one of their exceptional years, too. How do this year's sales compare to 2016 at this time?

  • Vulpine Vulpine on Sep 18, 2018

    First off, describing this new Ram as a "Baby Ram" is misleading; this thing isn't going to be any smaller than the other mid-sized trucks, which are 90% the size of full-sized. There's nothing truly small about them. However, the author, perhaps accidentally, hints at a possible future with the coming Ram filling out the American lineup and how mid-sized truck sales seem to be growing while other types of vehicles are realizing a bit of a slump. It seems to me that with this realization and the fact that Ford has separately suggested the possibility of an even smaller truck on the way that would probably eat into the current Crossover market. Ultimately, trucks may end up being classed based on a combination of size and capacity, with the "mini" trucks taking Class I, mid-sized trucks taking Class II and full-sized Class III. After all, when looking historically, the classes were based on load limits and full-sized trucks now carry and tow loads in excess of their original classifications. With the growth of mid-sized trucks for true light-duty use and load limits of 1500# (tow 7500#), the mid-sized truck fully replaces the old 150/1500-series of trucks with almost no loss of interior room, taking mandatory safety equipment into consideration. The 150/1500-series trucks are all rated at former 250/2500-series levels and those are now rated at the old 350/3500-series capacities. The 3-series trucks are dangerously close to 4-series by weight and typically carry/tow what the old 4-seriess trucks handled. Clearly its time to re-classify our trucks. But the point is that we appear to have trucks coming in as many size classes as we have cars and crossovers. Those truly small trucks WILL eat into that crossover market and we may, ultimately, see even sub-compact trucks return... though I doubt I'll live long enough to see that day, so I won't get a chance to say, "I told you so!"

  • Cprescott Yawn.
  • 28-Cars-Later Wrangler people are crazy.
  • 28-Cars-Later "Transition" to layoffs, this guy is the Bob(s) from Office Space.
  • Vap65689119 As a release engineer I also worked in quality, if they are serious they should look at Toyotas business model which has their suppliers as genuine partners, thats how you get a quality product
  • Mike-NB2 I seem to have landed in an alternate universe. $12,000 for a Jeep that's going on a quarter-century old and with an automatic transmission? Wow.