Trucks, Trucks, and More Trucks: FCA Boss Has a Midsize on His Mind

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
trucks trucks and more trucks fca boss has a midsize on his mind

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.”

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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  • JD-Shifty JD-Shifty on Feb 09, 2019

    Gladiator needs an extended cab version with a longer bed.

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    • Vulpine Vulpine on Feb 10, 2019

      @Luke42 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

  • Kushman1 Kushman1 on Feb 11, 2019

    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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  • 3SpeedAutomatic As a side note, have you looked at a Consumers Report lately? In the past, they would compare 3 or 4 station wagons, or compact SUVs, or sedans per edition. Now, auto reporting is reduced to a report on one single vehicle in the entire edition. I guess CR realized that cars are not as important as they once were.
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  • 3SpeedAutomatic Lots of dynamics here:[list][*]people are creatures of habit, they will stick with one or two web sites, one or two magazines, etc; and will only look at something different if recommended by others[/*][*]Generation Y & Z is not "car crazy" like Baby Boomers. We saw a car as freedom and still do. Today, most youth text or face call, and are focused on their cell phone. Some don't even leave the house with virtual learning[/*][*]New car/truck introductions are passé; COVID knocked a hole in car shows; spectacular vehicle introductions are history.[/*][*]I was in the market for a replacement vehicle, but got scared off by the current used and new prices. I'll wait another 12 to 18 months. By that time, the car I was interested in will be obsolete or no longer available. Therefore, no reason to research till the market calms down. [/*][*]the number of auto related web sites has ballooned in the last 10 to 15 years. However, there are a diminishing number of taps on their servers as the Baby Boomers and Gen X fall off the radar scope. [/*][/list]Based on the above, the whole auto publishing industry (magazine, web sites, catalogs, brochures, etc) is taking a hit. The loss of editors and writers is apparent in all of publishing. This is structural, no way around it.
  • Dukeisduke I still think the name Bzzzzzzzzzzt! would have been better.
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