Chrysler Sticking With Heavy-Duty Trucks

January 21, 2008
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The longhorn cattle that starred in the launch of 2009 Dodge Ram may be back for an encore next year, as Chrysler LLC is already talking about the launch of its next big truck.

Chrysler President and Vice Chairman Tom LaSorda said recently that Dodge will follow up the launch of the Ram by introducing a heavy-duty Ram "about a year from now”--or, in other words just about in time for the 2009 North American International Auto Show.

LaSorda confirmed the existence of the new heavy-duty Ram during a recent conference call with reporters. The heavy-duty segment pickup segment is one of the very last segments held closely by the domestics in the U.S. market and is critical to General Motors and Ford, which estimated recently that roughly 40 percent of its pickup truck sales are now heavy-duty models.

The heavy-duty trucks have become increasingly popular with commercial buyers who like their extra towing capacity, which goes all the way up to 16,500 pounds, and diesel engines, which save on fuel. The current version of the Dodge Ram 2500 and Dodge Ram 3500 can be ordered with a 6.7-liter turbodiesel engine.

Chrysler planners, however, apparently want to make sure the new heavy-duty models carry over the new design look that bowed on the Ram, which includes a unique reverse grille.

Meanwhile, Chrysler executives keep talking about the need for more partnerships and joint ventures such one with Nissan announced earlier this month to build small cars for Chrysler to sell in South America. Nissan will build cars for Chrysler at a factory in Mexico, where the current Versa is produced, and Chrysler will sell them in South America and other markets. They would go on sale in 2009 as 2010 models, Chrysler said.

Nothing else has been finalized with Nissan at this point, including a long-rumored joint venture involving pickup trucks, LaSorda said.

“Where there's a win-win that could be there for both parties, we'll continue dialogue,'' he said.

However, it appears Chrysler has made a strategic decision to hang on to production of the full-size pickup trucks, which traditionally have some of the largest profit margins in the industry. Chrysler probably would have enough spare capacity to satisfy Nissan's demands as well as its own if necessary to justify the joint venture, analysts have said.

Chrysler is planning to build minivans for Volkswagen starting next fall and it has built pickup trucks for Mitsubishi. However, the Mitsubishi venture in 2005 and 2006 flopped when the Japanese automaker's sales and marketing effort behind the truck failed to get off the ground.

Nevertheless, Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn, who also heads Renault, has said alliances among automakers make a lot of sense. Joint ventures, while short of a complete alliance, can dramatically cut costs and strengthen product lineups immediately, Ghosn has said. No one from Nissan, which doesn't have a global truck platform, or Chrysler has discussed the potential savings from a truck venture.

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