Chrysler is firing the first shot in what’s certain to be a brutal battle pitting three-quarter and one-ton truck manufacturers against each other: It’s introducing the new 2010 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickups at the 2009 Chicago auto show.
The 2010 model year will be a challenging one for several reasons: The U.S. economy is expected to still be sputtering, with new-truck buyers likely sitting on the sidelines until the housing market starts to recover or the government’s fiscal stimulus plan spurs spending on new trucks as part of a national infrastructure overhaul. The price of diesel fuel (the lifeblood of heavy-duty pickups) shows no sign of losing its 20 percent price premium over gas. Most important of all, though, Ford and GM are also expected to launch updated heavy-duty pickups with new diesel powertrains designed to meet stringent 2010 federal emissions standards that go into effect Jan. 1. The regulations will ratchet down NOx levels to the lowest on the planet – more than 90 percent lower than 2006 levels. NOx is a major air pollutant that contributes to smog, asthma, and respiratory and heart diseases. It's a byproduct of high combustion temperatures.
Chrysler has strategically prepared for 2010 over the past two years. In 2007, it introduced for its heavy-duty pickups an enhanced and innovative 350-horsepower, 650-pounds-feet-of-torque, 6.7-liter six-cylinder Cummins diesel, based on the previous 5.9-liter Cummins engine. The new diesel added a segment-exclusive exhaust brake, like over-the-road trucks use. The 6.7-liter motor not only met new 2007 EPA limits on soot emissions, but it reached 2010 NOx emissions requirements three years early. It featured a diesel particulate filter meant to catch and burn off soot, plus special “adsorber” catalyst material to soak up and break down NOx molecules before they leave the tailpipe. The move drew some smack talk from Ford and GM, who pointed to the expensive, rare precious metals needed to perform this feat of chemical engineering; at the time, commodity prices were rapidly rising in world markets. Ford and GM also launched new diesels in 2007 in order to meet the reduced soot emissions levels, but they didn’t have 2010-ready NOx traps (please see our 2007 Heavy Duty Shootout for an in-depth comparison of these trucks).
Now forced to play catch-up for 2010, Ford’s and GM’s NOx solutions are expected to come in the form of urea selective catalytic reduction. Urea SCR will use canisters (which will need to be replaced or refilled periodically) of the diesel emissions fluid that will be shot into the exhaust stream to lower NOx. While Ford and GM spend time and money to develop these new engines, Chrysler is sticking with its proven Cummins 6.7-liter for its 2010 heavy-duty pickups. It’s being carried over from the 2007-09 models without any changes.
On the gas-engine front, Chrysler replaced the Ram heavy-duty’s legacy Hemi V-8 last year with the updated 383-hp, 400-pounds-feet-of-torque, variable-valve-timing version that debuted in the 2009 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500. That Hemi is also carried over unchanged for 2010.
Good news for rock crawlers and wheelers: The Hemi-powered Power Wagon off-road version of the Ram also continues next year. It's the only Ram HD with a 4.56 rear axle and locking front and rear differentials.
What has changed for 2010 is almost everything above the Ram heavy-duty’s carryover frame. The exterior has all-new sheet metal, and the interior is taken directly from the Dodge Ram 1500 half-ton. The front axle and suspension have also been improved.
“This isn’t an all-new truck,” said Scott Kunselman, Chrysler’s vice-president for the Jeep and Truck Product Team. “The 2010 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 are the next steps to improve our heavy-duty pickups. All of the great things in the light-duty (Ram) are here. The driving and towing experience will be much nicer. Our owners will enjoy it more.”
Though they share the aerodynamic styling first seen in the 2009 Ram 1500, the heavy-duty trucks have taller, more-prominent front ends. It’s a case of form following their primary function of towing big loads.
“The light-duty and heavy-duty Rams are significantly separated visually for performance and aesthetic reasons, and for better cooling,” said Ralph Gilles, Chrysler’s vice president of design. “The cooling we’ve gained for the heavy-duty we didn’t have to do for the light-duty, which is why the grille is smaller on the light duty.”
The Ram heavy-duty shares its headlamps and fenders with the 1500. The hood is differentiated to make room for the Cummins diesel. The front bumper has very aggressive stamping. It’s a single-piece chrome bumper that wraps around the front fenders to give it a modern look and help aerodynamics.
Like last year’s heavy-duty Ram, 2010 buyers will have three cab options, but the middle configuration has been changed. A two-door regular cab model remains, while a new four-door Crew Cab, with bigger back doors and more rear passenger space, replaces the previous, smaller four-door Quad Cab. A new 8-foot cargo box option (a 6-foot, 4-inch bed is standard) should make the Crew Cab Ram HD an attractive choice for fifth-wheel towers.
“The Crew Cab has replaced the Quad Cab in the lineup,” Kunselman said. “It gets an 8-foot box -- a key part of the market we weren’t participating in.”
Though Dodge eliminated the Mega Cab option for its half-ton Ram, it’s keeping the Mega Cab heavy-duty model with best-in-class interior space.
The inside features all the high-quality materials and ergonomic and infotainment options the Ram 1500 has, plus it adds a new integrated trailer-brake controller like Ford and GM offer in their HD pickups. The brake controller eliminates the need for an aftermarket kit to control a trailer’s electric brakes for improved towing control.
“The (trailer-brake control) display is the message center, so drivers won’t need to take their eyes off the road to see what’s going on,” Kunselman said.
One objection, though, is the controller's placement. Like GM's trucks, Chrysler has put it on the left side of the driver, near the knee. We think it's more intuitive to place integrated brake controllers on the driver's right side, like Ford does.
The external rearview mirrors have also been revised to better facilitate towing. They can be pivoted horizontally or vertically depending on trailer size, and they have larger convex mirrors for better visibility. Turn signals are integrated.
According to preliminary towing and hauling figures, Dodge has raised the front gross axle weight rating from 5,200 pounds to 5,500 pounds on diesel 4x4 pickups, and from 4,700 pounds to 5,000 pounds on diesel 4x2 pickups. Gross combined weight ratings have been improved from 23,000 pounds to as much as 25,400 pounds on some 3500 models. Accompanying the increase in GCWR, max towing has also improved.
For example, a 2010 Ram 3500 regular cab 2WD long-bed 6.7-liter diesel with a 4.10 rear axle has increased its max towing from 16,200 pounds (goose neck or fifth wheel) in the 2009 model to 18,500 pounds (goose neck or fifth wheel) in the 2010 truck. GCWR also increased from 23,000 pounds to 25,400. However, there is a slight cargo box payload penalty because the truck’s weight has increased. Max payload for 2010 in this configuration is 4,770 pounds, down from 5,070 pounds in the 2009 model.
Conventional trailer towing maxes out at 10,000 pounds.
Also contributing to the improved GCWR are re-tuned suspension components and new fluid-filled hydro-mounts under the cab that help reduce beaming and bounce over rough highways.
The sum of all these changes is a new Dodge Ram heavy-duty pickup that has evolved to better meet the needs of Chrysler’s existing customers, and to take competitive advantage of gains already made meeting 2010’s stricter and more expensive emissions standards. We expect both GM’s and Ford’s responses for 2010 to have significantly more power than the Ram HDs, but they’ll also likely come with higher initial purchase costs relative to the new Ram than their current trucks are to today’s Ram HDs.
The question is: Will next year's heavy-duty buyers want more power or lower up-front cost?
“The new Dodge trucks should allow Chrysler to price them as a lower-cost alternative to the new Ford and GM trucks next year,” said Kent Sundling, owner and editor of MrTruck.com. “Dodge has always played to the lower-cost side of the market, and carrying over the diesel powertrain could enable them to be an even better value.”
The new 2010 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty pickups go on sale in the fourth quarter of 2009.