5 minutes with Dodge Ram’s CEO

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“The DNA of the Ram brand will always have Dodge DNA in it,” said the new President and CEO of the Dodge Ram brand, Fred Diaz Jr.

Diaz has been in his role as president and CEO of Chrysler’s for less than two weeks. He's on the hook to chart a new course for the company’s pickup trucks and commercial vans, which make up just under 40 percent of 2009’s year-to-date Dodge car and truck sales.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure that I nurture the brand so it’s distinct and all about trucks,” he said. “At the end of the day, the Ram [pickup] will still have some Dodge DNA to it. Anything that’s a real, true truck is part of Ram and the Ram brand going forward.”

From Chrysler’s perspective, it’s easy to see why Diaz is probably the best candidate for the job. He’s a native Texan who’s been with the company since 1989. Diaz worked his way up from handling Chrysler’s West Texas dealers and marketing activities to managing its 14-state Denver region. He was also director of marketing, communications and advertising for the entire Dodge brand in 1999.

“I’m going to draw upon the wealth of experience that I have to try to define exactly where we’re going as the new Ram brand,” Diaz said. “I’m going to define the vision and say, ‘Let’s go get it guys’.”

Already, there’s been keen interest and debate from Dodge truck owners and enthusiasts about what the new brand means to those who proudly say they drive a Dodge Ram pickup. Is the ”Dodge” part going away? Diaz won’t say for sure, but listening to him speak, Diaz draws a line between Dodge cars and Ram trucks.

“I don’t know. I can’t speculate but it’s one of my priorities to figure that out,” Diaz said. “The car side is definitely going to be marketed and branded different than the Ram brand, which is all about trucks and their capabilities.”

Diaz said this doesn’t mean that Ram trucks will immediately shift away from their longtime Dodge heritage, but Diaz does have to figure out what elevating the Ram name means to Ram-brand pickups.

“That’s another area I need to delve into and figure out,” Diaz said. “I certainly can’t see us marketing a Ram Ram.”

He’ll also need to figure out what the future holds for the Ram’s mid-size brother, the Dakota pickup. Earlier this year, there were official plans to replace the Dakota’s body-on-frame platform for a unibody architecture that would support a “lifestyle pickup.” Those plans have changed.

"I don’t want to speculate about the Dakota,” Diaz said. “Check back on Nov. 4” when Chrysler holds an executive-level meeting to reveal more details about the future of all the Chrysler brands.

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