Fiat-Chrysler Thinks People Want a $70,000 Pickup

(Bloomberg) -- The pickup game is not short on superlatives. Truck manufacturers alternately claim the “most powerful,” the “most efficient” and “the toughest” (whatever that means). Ram, however, is staking its strategy on a new claim: the longest.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US LLC stretched its full-size pickup by four inches during its first overhaul in nine years. What it did with that extra space says a lot about how the company plans to compete in the $90 billion U.S. truck market. The 2019 Ram 1500 features an additional inch in the front seats, three inches in the back seats and a bed of the exact same size. This rig is as much about the ride as it is the job site. 

Ram isn’t worried about losing the blue-collar crowd; it claims to have the most loyal customers in the segment. Now, it wants the Costco moms and lacrosse dads—the demographic that’s usually searching for the perfect SUV. 

“This is the most luxurious and technologically advanced truck in the market,” Ram brand chief Jim Morrison said Tuesday. 

Fiat-Chrysler Thinks People Want a $70,000 Pickup

Had he been in a Detroit bar, Morrison might have had some explaining to do, but he was in the heart of Manhattan, where the company was letting journalists drive the truck for the first time. Usually, such pickup junkets are hosted near stream beds and scree-covered hillsides. This time, those assembled were encouraged to paw the buttery leather seats, nibble on fancy asparagus and go try to find some potholes. 

Tuning the proletariat pickup into a luxury good is not a new strategy, but for Ram it’s probably a good one. Despite its age, the Fiat-Chrysler whip has stubbornly hung on to third place in the pickup race, even as Chevrolet and Ford rolled out major redesigns of their marquee pickups. 

Fiat-Chrysler Thinks People Want a $70,000 Pickup

Where Ram has lagged most notably is on transaction prices. As rivals wrestle over tow-ratings and payload specs, Ram dealers will be trying to steer buyers to the back seat, which it claims will be the only one in the segment that is both cooled and reclining. There’s also a storage compartment underneath for tools—or other things. “Honestly, it’s the best place to put milk and groceries,” Morrison said.

Choosing the most opulent of the six trims and checking every box on additional goodies—from the dual-panel sunroof to the 22-inch wheels—brings the sticker price to $69,000 and change. “I was really trying to hit ($70,000),” Morrison said. “I just couldn’t quite get there.”

Fiat-Chrysler also focused on smoothing the ride. The new model gets active dampers in and underneath the grill to make it more aerodynamic, air suspension that will lower the vehicle at highway speeds and new springs to better handle the bumps of a Tribeca commute. 

Fiat-Chrysler Thinks People Want a $70,000 Pickup

The interior does a good imitation of a Texas walk-in closet. There’s leather everywhere and no shortage of storage space. All told, Ram has engineered 150 liters’ worth of nooks, crannies and bins. The high-dollar trims come with a 19-speaker system with active noise cancellation and a 12-inch, Tesla-esque touchscreen. Ram reworked the entire dash to nudge the center stack closer to the driver. 

The rig is available only with a big, four-door cab. Ram has a work-around for budget-minded buyers who want just two doors: Buy the 2018 model. 

To contact the author of this story: Kyle Stock in Skillman at kstock6@bloomberg.net.

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