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Ram 1500 ute gets $2 billion lift-off

Another one: The next generation of Ram’s 1500 is likely to land in Australia where it will join an ever-growing list of light truck contenders.

FCA announces big factory rejig for mid-sized pick-up that’s in frame for Australia

Ram logo27 Jul 2016

By RON HAMMERTON

FIAT Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has announced a $US1.4 billion ($2b) retooling of its Sterling Heights assembly plant in suburban Detroit to build the next-generation Ram 1500 medium pick-up – a vehicle being eyed for Australia’s booming light truck market.

As GoAuto has reported, FCA Australia has identified the Ram 1500 as a good fit for this market, as long as it can get head office approval for a right-hand-drive version.

If the RHD variant is not forthcoming from the factory, then Melbourne-based American Special Vehicles – a partnership between Ateco Automotive and Walkinshaw Group – has indicated that it might seek a deal with FCA to do right-hook conversions of the 1500 alongside the bigger Ram 2500 and 3500 full-sized pick-ups that are currently rolling out of its Australian plant at the rate of more than 40 a month.

Presuming the all-new Ram 1500 makes it to Australia as expected, it will join an ever-growing field of one-tonne rivals that, apart from the familiar contenders such as the top-selling Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger, might include another FCA entrant, the Wrangler pick-up planned for 2018 introduction in the United StatesLike the Ram 1500, FCA Australia has put up its hand for the Wrangler spin off.

Chinese brands are also planning to rev up their Australia ute presence, with Great Wall Motors’ Steed arriving from China late this year and an unnamed LDV ute from SAIC Motor, perhaps built in SAIC’s new plant in Thailand, coming in late 2017 or 2018.

The plan to build the next Ram 1500 at the Sterling Heights factory in Detroit is part of an FCA round of manufacturing musical chairs to re-organise its American production and product line-up.

The Chrysler 200 sedan that is currently built at Sterling Heights will be killed off at the end of this year to make way for the Ram 1500 and “future growth of the Ram brand”.

American pundits are speculating that part of that “future growth” might include a large SUV spun off the Ram flexible ladder chassis architecture.

FCA’s head of Ram and Jeep brands Mike Manley hinted as much when he told reporters in the US: “You have the opportunity to take a large SUV off of it because we already have a very, very capable frame today that is going to be upgraded.”

The Warren truck assembly plant that builds the current Ram 1500 will also be refurbished and retooled for future FCA models – thought to be the born-again Jeep Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer.

FCA’s $1.4 billion spend at Sterling Heights – which requires the plant to switch from monocoque car production to body-on-frame truck manufacturing – brings the company’s US investments since 2009 to more than $US8.3 billion ($A11b).

Along with Jeep, Ram has been a sales star for FCA in the US this year, growing 14 per cent year to date. The two brands drove FCA sales to its highest June score in 11 years.

By comparison, Chrysler sales have slipped 19 per cent in 2016, with the Chrysler 200 slumping 62 per cent, from 106,569 units in the first half of 2015 to just 40,981 this year.

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