Massive American pick-ups to invade Australia
LOOK out HiLux and Ranger, the Americans are coming! Ram, the pick-up truck specialist brand owned by Fiat Chrysler cars, plans to launch an all-new one-tonne ute. It will be a direct competitor for the hugely popular Toyota and Ford utes.
"It will be for every global market," said FCA boss Sergio Marchionne, answering questions after presenting the company's new five-year plan to investors and the media in Italy last week. "I think the majority of that volume is going to be non-US." It will be produced in right-hand drive, another source confirmed.
Michael Manley, the FCA exec who heads both Ram and Jeep brands, said Jeep also plans to launch a HiLux and Ranger competitor. "We will re-enter the mid-size pick-up segment next year," he promised during his presentation in Italy.
Being a Jeep, expect it to be built only as a 4WD. In Australia 4WD versions of popular utes vastly outsell the 2WD versions.
A spokeswoman for the brand in Australia said the local operation would definitely add the ute to its line-up. She said a Fiat-badged version was unlikley, though.
It's unlikely that cost-conscious FCA would develop two entirely different utes. Sharing the same basic chassis and drivetrains for similar-size pick-ups makes powerful economic sense.
Booming demand around the world, including Australia, makes developing a one-tonne global ute something FCA simply cannot afford not to do. Manley said he thought it the company's smartest chance to increase sales and profits. "Clearly this remains the largest opportunity for all of the commercial divisions within FCA," he said.
The Ram ute will be ready for market sometime before 2022. It may reach Australia wearing a different badge. "Where appropriate, we can actually share products across the brands we use," said Manley. "This new truck will be used for both our Fiat and our Ram brands."
Importer Ateco currently sells big, US-style Ram pick-ups in Australia and New Zealand, after converting them from left-hand to right-hand drive. They're expensive - $140,000 to $150,000 - and sell in low numbers.
Ateco will next week launch the full-size Ram 1500, powered by a 5.7-litre V8.
Big and tough, the new 1500 looks anything but environmentally responsible, but a 48-volt mild-hybrid drivetrain will be an option.
Whatever badge it ends up wearing in Australia, the one-tonner will need to be competitively priced to succeed. Though a production site hasn't yet been chosen, FCA boss Marchionne said low-cost Mexico was being considered.
Marchionne has promised FCA will phase out diesels in passenger vehicles from all its brands by 2021. While they'll disappear from cars and SUVs, they will continue to be used in utes and vans.
But FCA is also preparing for a diesel-free future even for its light-commercial vehicles, including utes. It's developing a range of petrol-electric hybrid technologies for its workhorses.