What Strategy Will FCA Use for Jeep, Ram Midsize Pickups?


With the midsize pickup truck segment enjoying surging popularity — a trend that's expected to continue — Mike Manley, head of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Jeep and Ram brands, thinks there could be an opportunity for two more contenders.

Manley has a deep understanding of and background in global markets, especially Asia Pacific and Europe, which is why it makes sense that he's been working hard to give both FCA brands a higher global profile. To that end, he recently appointed Bob Hegbloom as head of Ram International to coordinate a stronger presence of the pickup-biased lineup in international markets. Jeep has had great success creating "right-sized" products like the Renegade subcompact SUV to gain a stronger foothold in Asian and European markets, while at the same time improving and strengthening stalwart SUVs such as the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler for the U.S.

According to The Detroit News, Manley is looking closely at the U.S. market with the idea of bringing two different FCA midsize pickups to the playing field; they could come from or be shipped to global markets.

Many have speculated that a Jeep pickup likely would be based on a lengthened version of the Wrangler Unlimited frame, giving it a solid off-road personality. A Ram pickup, however, is more likely to use a European-based Fiat or Fiat Professional platform that could work reasonably well in the U.S. and across the globe. We'd guess Ram will avoid previous mistakes by going too large and too heavy to satisfy those looking for a smaller, more efficient choice.

Manley has been a huge advocate of Jeep special-edition trim packages to keep buyers believing their vehicles are unique, thereby offering more value. Think Freedom, Altitude, Backcountry, Black Bear, Willys, Rubicon and others.

Many other truckmakers also offer special editions, catering to smaller demographics or communities. The most recent example of that is the , but Chevrolet offers several special editions in the Silverado and Colorado lineups as well (think Realtree, Midnight, Z71 Trail Boss, Special Ops, Shoreline and more).

Exclusiveness and rugged individualism resonate deeply with Jeep customers and throughout the pickup truck world. The goal of special editions is to feed brand loyalty with new features and options, and to help prevent an aging platform from getting stale.

But it can get out of hand. One example is Chevy teaming up with Costco to offer a limited run (5,000) of Silverado 1500 LTZ crew cabs in a unique package for Costco members.

The exclusivity strategy has worked pretty well for Jeep, and it's likely to work pretty well for Ram, especially with so many Jeep employees now working for Ram. In fact, FCA recently announced that the head of Jeep will now become the head of Ram. And the head designer from Jeep will move to Ram as well.

But what implication does this have for separate, distinct Jeep and Ram pickup trucks? Clearly following GM's practice of using identical platforms between Chevy and GMC products wouldn't work for smaller Jeep and Ram pickups; their personalities, as well as capabilities, are different and more individually defined. Each brand has a built-in customer base that needs and uses their vehicles in different ways. That's why it makes sense for a Ram midsize pickup to be based on an existing Fiat version of a pickup (Fiat and Ram have done on the commercial side with the Ducato and ProMaster, and Doblo and ProMaster City vans).

What might make sense for Ram is to come to the U.S. market with the smallest, most capable and most fuel-efficient compact pickup available. That would allow Ram to start building credibility while not directly competing with the Toyota Tacoma and Chevy Colorado, which are enjoying so much success. And who's to say that Ram couldn't deliver a midsize pickup that's slightly bigger and stronger than current midsizers but still much smaller than a Ram 1500? That would allow Jeep to come to market with the most off-road capable pickup around and still leave room to create a global Ram pickup to compete internationally. That also would let FCA sell both pickups at the same Jeep/Ram/Chrysler dealerships.

No matter what happens, you can bet there will be a clear strategy to keep the Jeep and Ram brands separate and distinct.

Manufacturer image; photos by Mark Williams




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