By on February 8, 2019

Ram 1500 MultiFunction Tailgate

Between last month’s Detroit show and the ongoing Chicago vehicle extravaganza, pickups trucks currently occupy about 93.7 percent of the average American’s mind. While your author can easily visualize himself in a 2020 Subaru Legacy, that AWD sedan is certainly not the buzz generator in anyone’s social circle.

Mike Manley knows trucks, as his company owes its profitability to the vehicle type. Speaking this week during a fourth-quarter earnings call, the Fiat Chrysler CEO said his team learned its lesson on how to launch the things, with the botched roll-out of the 2019 Ram 1500 providing a valuable lesson on what not to do with the 2019 Ram HD.

Manley had plenty to say about those lessons, as well as the upcoming Jeep Gladiator and a yet-unrealized vehicle he’s pushing to build.

Thanks to smooth production of a full line of Ram 1500s, not to mention the juggernaut Jeep brand, FCA’s net income rose 61 percent (to $1.47 billion) in the fourth quarter of 2018, with revenue up 6 percent (to $34.7 billion).

Manley, who took the reins of FCA in July, echoed a sentiment expressed by his predecessor, Sergio Marchionne, when speaking of the Ram 1500 launch.

“We were not pleased with this launch,” he said, via audio provided by Automotive News. “We were slow getting it up to full production rate. Now, there were a variety of reasons for that, and we’ve corrected them, and production is now up to full speed. The lessons we learns have already helped to ensure that our all-new Ram Heavy Duty truck is hitting production targets in the early part of the launch curve.”

Image: FCA

Jeep’s Gladiator pickup, expected to start production this quarter in Toledo, is on track, Manley claims. He added that FCA expects 10 to 15 percent of would-be Wrangler buyers to switch to a Gladiator instead. The rest of the Gladiator’s customers will come from outside the Wrangler pool.

When asked about a now-glaring absence in the FCA lineup — a midsize pickup — Manley responded by saying the Gladiator is just such a vehicle, and will soon offer a unique alternative to the likes of the Toyota Tacoma, GM’s Colorado/Canyon twins, Ford’s new Ranger, and the ancient-but-popular Nissan Frontier. It is, however, a less-than-conventional choice.

While the Gladiator is an exciting addition to the Jeep brand, what about a normcore midsizer bearing the Ram badge? One analyst on the call pointedly asked about the chances of a modern-day Dakota.

“Where we sit today, the only vehicle missing in our portfolio is metric tonne pickup, which is midsize pickup in the U.S.,” Manley said. “I am working hard with a team to try and solve that. Haven’t solved it yet, but if that gets solved, it will give us the opportunity to bring a midsize truck in the marketplace.”

No promises yet, just hope for fans of the old Dakota (as well as Ram diehards who’d prefer not to venture into rival dealers). FCA no doubt looks on with envy as Ford ladles out overtime at its Ranger plant.

[Image: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]

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43 Comments on “Trucks, Trucks, and More Trucks: FCA Boss Has a Midsize on His Mind...”


  • avatar
    dividebytube

    In the ere of mini trucks – the S10,Ranger, Tacoma, and Nissan Hardbody, the Dakota was a freak for it’s more mid-sized proportions. Little did we know it was a vision of the future.

    Anyways – the Dakota, especially with a V8, was always on my radar but I never got a chance to drive one. The R/T was a lust-after vehicle back in the late 90s.

    • 0 avatar
      Jean-Pierre Sarti

      A co-worker bought one of the lust mobiles you speak of in the late 90s. It was loaded with basically every feature. This was in the heady days of the first internet bubble so he could afford it at the time.

      Brand new it was a very impressive truck but less than a year in the thing turned into a nightmare with everything under the sun breaking or falling off. Even if the first internet bubble didn’t burst and hence make it no longer affordable he was so tired of taking it to the dealer that he got rid of it at a loss…

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        And I knew people who bought early-’00 Durangos and Dakotas – they were a mixed bag reliability-wise.

        • 0 avatar

          Either of those with the V8 were just so damn thirsty. They also rusted if you misted them with spring water.

        • 0 avatar
          Flipper35

          Our 2000 Durango is one of the better ones. After that the bean counters were in charge of engineering.

          We have just shy of 200k miles. We did have to replace the radiator and heater core. The idler and tensionor bearings on the serpentine. Starter and Alternator and A/C compressor, but the body is still solid. We have one rust bubble on a fender that was replaced after hitting a deer. The OEM sheetmetal has a little rust inside the doors on the bottom and the bottom inside of the hatch.

          It has the 318 and we get about 18 highway and 13 city with the 3:73 rear and tow package.

          Oddly, I park it next to a new one and it makes ours look pretty small.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      ’02 Dakota Quad Cab 4.7l V8 2wd owner here: I am waiting for a replacement to arrive.
      Can confirm: gas mileage is horrible, 12 city and 17 highway (tow package with upgraded diff)
      Can confirm: rusted wheel wells due to picking up tiny bits of saltwater at boat ramps. If I lived up north and drove on salted roads it would have died years ago.
      Reliability? Brace yourself… PERFECT! I think its been in a shop twice: once for some A/C work and once for a body control module that was flaky. I’ve put three sets of tires and brakes on it in 17 years. Over 113K miles 90% of which is towing a 2,500lb boat all over Florida. The interior with its much laughed at rock hard plastic looks like new. Paint other then rust areas also in great shape. Suspension bits are starting to wear with squeaks, rattles and shakes. Once again 90% towing duty so can’t complaint. Just replaced a power steering pressure sensor – took 10 mins and cost just $20. I’d buy another tomorrow…. so Dodge, sorry RAM – make it already.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        Sounds like a trip to the body shop might do wonders for that rust (a good opportunity to check the underbody, too.) Even with work, it sounds like you could get another 17 years out of it.

  • avatar

    I can’t even with the shut line down the tailgate.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Oh Manley, the Gladiator is NOT a mid-size pick-up it’s a specialty niche vehicle and will be too expensive for your typical mid-size truck buyer. For someone who “knows trucks” he doesn’t seem to understand the market

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      He says he’s pushing for a midsize truck, aside from Gladiator.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Yes, but he also thinks the Gladiator will fill the mid-size void in the meantime. The Gladiator will be a huge success, but not as an everyday mid-size work truck. He’s still losing sales to Ford and GM

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          While the Gladiator may not fill the everyday mid-size work truck mission it really doesn’t need to in order to create some significant profits thanks to it sharing so much with the Wrangler.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        I chose a Colorado INSTEAD of a Gladiator, for numerous reasons. Fuel economy and towing capacity were just two of them.

    • 0 avatar
      MrIcky

      From my casual observations, the typical mid-size truck buyer is buying a mid-$30s truck with quite a few 40k mixed in. Which doesn’t sound far off of this (mid 30’s in sport trim). There will likely not be a lot of negotiating for a while- but there isn’t on Toyota’s either.

      Side note- I used to have a Dakota with the 5.2/manual combo. I loved that truck. My finances took a sudden downturn and I had to sell it- probably the only time in my life I cried over a vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      salmonmigration

      “will be too expensive for your typical mid-size truck buyer.”

      Your typical mid-size truck buyer is shopping for a “lifestyle sedan”. A guy in my town has a Colorado ZR2 with about $20k worth of aftermarket garbage on it.

      The Gladiator is gonna sell just fine.

    • 0 avatar
      James Charles

      The Gladiator appears midsize and is designed more akin to older truck design, like a live front axle.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    That sounds so familiar. We botched the roll out of the Dart/200/Wrangler/1500 but we know what we did wrong so we won’t do it again.

  • avatar
    kcflyer

    To bad FCA just had to pay millions in fines for not meeting Obama era efficiency requirements. That cash and the millions more they paid out in trade to Tesla would have made a nice down payment on the R&D for a new Dakota or Ramcharger.

    • 0 avatar
      vehic1

      kcflyer: Too bad when anybody fails to comply with the law – whether under an administration winning both elections with over 50% – or one like today’s, who came in second place.

      • 0 avatar
        redapple

        VEHIC;

        HUH ???

        • 0 avatar

          Political troll. #electoralcollege

          • 0 avatar
            redapple

            Budda

            Thx. Truly didnt know and couldnt decipher if my life depended…….

          • 0 avatar
            vehic1

            Budda-Boom: Who’s the political troll? There was a comment made about the onerous nature of Obama regulations – and a reply. That’s life in the real world, deal with it.

        • 0 avatar
          Luke42

          @redapple:
          vehic1 is saying that Trump may have won the electoral college, but that Trump did not win the mandate of the people.

          Most leaders would recognize this situation and try to gain that mandate from those who voted against him-or-her by being reasonable and helpful toward the other side whenever possible.

          But not Trump!

      • 0 avatar
        kcflyer

        I’m not trying to argue politics (waste of time/ wrong forum). The Obama era reference was just a timeline for the law / subsequent violation of said law. My argument is that those millions will be wasted by our government instead of being plowed into commerce. FCA made a choice to stop producing unprofitable/unpopular models and focus on what their customers actually want. Our duly elected government punished them for that. I don’t see an upside for that punishment. FCA is now doing much better and looks to be well positioned for the CUV / truck hungry market. They will continue to pay the fines since they believe the alternative is even worse.

        • 0 avatar
          Luke42

          @kcflyer:
          Oil is really valuable stuff.

          There’s only so much oil underground and the world won’t make more on a human timescale.

          Climate change aside, it make sense to save the USA’s oil for the oil era’s endgame, in whatever decade that endgame eventually arrives — so that we have the oil and our global opponents do not. There’s no reason to waste oil now, especially when a few inexpensive engineering tweaks are all that’s required to save thousands of tons of it every year — we’re nowhere close to the point of diminishing returns WRT fuel savings.

          Fuel economy is a good thing. Conservation is such a good thing that an political movement has been named after it. Conserving our oil is a nearly-free money (now) and nearly-free political power (decades down the road) for the USA, if we do save our oil. But, we as a nation have decided to “drill baby drill” and not care about fuel efficiency instead, which is the opposite of conservation.

          So, yeah, there is an upside to those Obama-era regulations. It’s just a long-term thing. It’s fine not to care about the future, but you should be informed about the other side’s argument so you can make a real decision.

          • 0 avatar
            ToddAtlasF1

            The problem with the other side is that their course of action remains the same no matter what the level of understanding of reality is.

            1: “Peak oil” – We need government control of the economy! Hitler and Stalin were right! We’re going to run out, so we need to forfeit all of our freedoms to a huge central government!

            2: “Middle East has all the oil” – We’re vulnerable! We need government control of the economy! Hitler and Stalin were right! We’re vulnerable to scary people, so we need to forfeit all of our freedoms to a huge central government!

            3: “Oil is being discovered faster than we’ve ever used it, Texas fields are replenished. The US is the largest producer of energy in the world” – We need government control of the economy! Hitler and Stalin were right! Oil is too damaging and precious to use to increase the wealth of common men like it did a century ago, so we need to forfeit all of our freedoms to a huge central government!

            Sorry if those of us who aren’t brainwashed continue to learn from the past and the present instead of being soldiers of our own destruction like Democrats. You should watch “Yuri Bezmenov: Deception Was My Job (Complete)” and see if you can’t figure out what your role is and why nobody with life in their eyes thinks your has any respect for your regurgitation of Marxist talking points. If conserving resources is important, why are your masters packing high carbon footprint western nations with people from low carbon footprint primitive ones? Isn’t that the worst thing you can do to the planet? It’s almost like they don’t believe what they rely on you believing. #walkaway

  • avatar
    jatz

    This Gladiator is not a mid-sized pickup; it’s a commemorative reproduction of a WWII icon.

    How long can that GI Joe appeal be expected to last in the face of actual mid-sized pickups from Ford and GM?

  • avatar
    MotorCityMotorhead

    Beg to differ Mike on your “fully completely product portfolio” with addition of neo-Dakota.

    Major miss for FCA is a competitor to the GM Yukon/Suburban twins as well as the Ford Expedition/Lincoln Navigator.

    Chrysler is crying out for product, and a large SUV built off the excellent new Ram 1500 seems like a layup for anybody with knowledge of the industry.

    FCA interiors are worlds better than they used to be, build the damn thing already and call it the Chrysler ThunderYacht

  • avatar
    teddyc73

    “normcore”? Really? You lose credibility when you use stupid made up terms.

    • 0 avatar
      jatz

      I like “normcore”; it’s like “cookie cutter” or “standard issue”. Think of Pajama Boys defending Michael Moore, Hillary or Barry on the internet.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      If you saw me in person, you’d probably describe me as “normcore”.

      I have three kids and drive a minivan.

      Nevermind that I can make thousands of Unix systems dance in harmony, that I have an economics habit, and that I have hobbies which requires the use of parachutes.

      I cultivate a normcore appearance, because it puts the people around me at ease. I’ve found that it’s best to keep everything else on the DL until it becomes relevant.

      Gray minivan FTW!

  • avatar
    WildcatMatt

    With the Gladiator imminent, I think it makes sense for FCA to take a wait-and-see approach.

    You don’t want a Ram variant stealing any of the Gladiator’s oxygen at launch, and then you can look at a few months’ worth of real sales data before going forward to maximize product differentiation and minimize overlap.

    I’m sure there are Ram design variants ready to move forward at a moment’s notice.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Around here if your truck isn’t a status symbol itself, it’s for carrying your other status symbols – quads or sleds on a deck, 5th wheel trailer.

    • 0 avatar
      kcflyer

      I didn’t know quads were a status symbol. I’ve been doing it all wrong. Usually I just ride the trails and open fields where no one can see my status symbol. Sometimes I pull the kids on a sled in the snow with it but they don’t seem impressed by my status, they are too busy having a ball. To top it off, when we do take the quad and my son’s dirt bike on the road we used an enclosed trailer… thus no one can see it and improve my status:)

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    Gladiator needs an extended cab version with a longer bed.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Extended cab:
      It’s already a 4-door truck. Are you looking for want a 6-door truck?!? If so, I’m sure a limo builder could help you out there.

      Bed:
      I agree that a longer bed provides more utility. Any truck with less than an 8′ bed could probably use a longer bed. But, trucks are already too long — so an 8′ bed should be accommodated by a van-style front end to keep the vehicle length reasonable. But, I don’t see anyone lining up to buy flatbed chassis vans — so it would seem that pickup truck buyers aren’t as practical as the image is supposed to suggest. So, the market is selling them what they want, I guess!

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        No, Luke42. Like me he wants a two and two-half door truck, lacking a permanent second row. He wants a truck more like the 2005 Gladiator concept rather than this ridiculous crew-cab beast–even though we all know the crew cab will sell more overall. By shortening the cab, you can add to the bed length without having to change frames.

        https://pictures.topspeed.com/IMG/crop/201209/2005-jeep-gladiator-9_800x0w.jpg

  • avatar
    kushman1

    With Gladiator they have a built in mid size that doesn’t need much advertising and will be the #1 custom aftermarket model in the segment. So they’re missing a simple traditional bodystyle midsize pick up and I don’t think there’s really a need for it with gladiator because the glad is going to take 25% of the market if not more. Ram as a brand needs more product to build out around but it doesn’t need another dodge nitro to the jeep liberty situation.

    What I would do is sell the fiat toro midsize unibody truck -which is basically the jeep cherokee platform/version like ridgeline and sell that as the Ram rampage or something and I’d sell it at an affordable price in the 20’s vs ridgeline’s 40k. Because the midsize pickup segment is so small and flooded at this point the only benefit for a second truck from FCA is to be a price leader.

    So if FCA offered the toro as the light use entry level midsize, and then gladatior as the middle priced custom truck and then the ram and ram hd as the large offerings they will cover the truck market. The toro has this awesome built in bed extender in the tailgate that makes another foot of bed space. They could offer that as an option and put a regular tailgate on the base models.

    I’m happy that Ford is talking about offering a compact truck but my guess is that it will be a 4 door unibody cuv truck that’s still too expensive. It would be great if we had a compact truck that’s simple in two trim lines that starts like 17-18k. You know the base trim would be a work truck and offered as fleet where a second package with a few more things is what people looking for.

    You know it’s too bad they didn’t take the patriot/old compass platform and mod it to be a compact truck. The platform was paid off, and while it was the least refined compact cuv, it would’ve made a great 2nd life as a cheap pickup. There’s customers there for such a truck: farmers, college kids, 3rd weekend car, small and large businesses.

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