Fiat Chrysler may build big SUV and compact pickup – USA TODAY
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles may build a large SUV based on the same platform as its Ram 1500 pickup to compete with big SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe.
It also might add a smaller pickup to its truck lineup so it can jump into the hot midsize pickup market.
Developing a large SUV based on the Ram platform would give Fiat Chrysler a large, profitable SUV and give the automaker a vehicle that could go head to head with General Motors’ and Ford’s large SUVs. A smaller Ram pickup would expand the Ram brand and give it a truck that would likely appeal to lifestyle buyers.
The platform that underpins the current Ram pickup is well-suited to for a body-on-frame SUV, Mike Manley, head of Fiat Chrysler’s Jeep and Ram brands, said last month.
The automaker is developing the next-generation version of its Ram pickup, which is scheduled to go on sale in January 2018. Fiat Chrysler also is planning to move production from its plant in Warren to its plant in Sterling Heights, a move that will increase the automaker’s production capacity.
“You have the opportunity with a new frame for the next-generation Ram,” Manley said. “You have the opportunity to take a large SUV off of it because we already have a very, very capable frame today that is going to be upgraded.”
The Ram’s coil-spring suspension makes it “one of the best handling pickup trucks,” Manley said.
Large, body-on-frame SUVs are cash cows for automakers.
But even with a lineup heavily weighted towards trucks and crossovers, the Auburn Hills automaker has been missing out on the cash flow because it lacks a large SUV based on a truck frame.
Meanwhile, GM sold a total of more than 200,000 Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade SUVs in the U.S. last year. All four vehicles are that are all built off of the same platform and analysts estimate GM makes a profit of $10,000 or more for each large SUV sold.
“While crossovers are all anyone wants to talk about, the money is still in pickups and SUVs,” said Dave Sullivan, an automotive analyst for manager of product analysis for Auto Pacific. “FCA needs to enter this segment. Fiat Chrysler “is chasing profit-driving vehicles and they are missing out on a major one, just as Ford is getting ready to launch an all-aluminum Expedition.”
But while it would be based on the Ram, the SUV would not join the Ram lineup, Manley said. Instead, it would be produced for one of FCA’s other brands, Jeep, Dodge or Chrysler.
Fiat Chrysler also is planning to bring back the Jeep Wagoneer nameplate in 2018 as a three-row SUV that, according to various media reports, will be built off of the Grand Cherokee platform.
Fiat Chrysler has studied the market for a midsize pickup several times in recent years and has always held back on developing a midsized truck either because the timing for such a vehicle was bad or because the company didn’t have the financial muscle to develop one.
Chrysler ended production of the midsize Ram Dakota in 2011. The automaker was thinking about developing a midsize “lifestyle” pickup back in 2012 that would have been similar in function to Honda’s Ridgeline but didn’t move forward with the project.
Now, Manley said, Fiat Chrysler is taking another look.
The timing makes sense. General Motors brought back its Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon nameplates after a several-year hiatus in 2014 and they have both been a hit, Honda just launched a redesigned version of its Ridgeline pickup and Ford, which discontinued its midsize Ranger in 2011, is widely believed to be bringing the nameplate back in 2018.
Finally, U.S. sales of the Toyota Tacoma have increased 7% so far this year and sales of the Nissan Frontier are up 29.3%.
“In terms of midsize pickup for Ram I very much believe that that’s an opportunity for the brand,” Manley said. “Not just because of the success of the few competitors that have been playing in that field, but I …have been part of the history of the brand, I think it remains a great opportunity for us. But I have no definitive plans for that to announce today.”