Just as a bullet relies on its shape, measured as a ballistic coefficient, to minimize air resistance during its flight, a pickup truck relies on its shape, measured as a coefficient of drag (cd), to minimize air resistance during its travel down the road, thereby maximizing its fuel-efficiency. That may explain why Dodge engineers invested so much time fine-tuning the New Dodge Ram in a wind tunnel. They knew that in order to design a fuel-sipping standard-duty pickup they would have to optimize its aerodynamic efficiency.
The new Ram, with a cd of .387, appears to have achieved those goals admirably, offering an estimated highway gas mileage that is squarely competitive for a full-size, standard-duty model: 20 m.p.g. And it gives up nothing to the previous Ram with regard to hauling or towing. What's more, the truck has a much "fitter" appearance with an aggressive stance borrowed from the marque's performance sedans.
Dodge has gone far beyond appearances, however, to design a truck that company executives hope will reignite the buzz that its head-turning, big-rig-styled Ram pickup did in 1994.
"We're coming at [the truck market] head-on with what we believe is the best truck ever," Joe Veltri, director of Truck Product Marketing for Dodge, announced at the vehicle's press rollout in Santa Barbara, Calif., last summer. Veltri acknowledged that the auto industry was in a "down market," but insisted that when it comes to pickups-which comprise the third-largest market segment with 11 percent of overall sales-Dodge product developers are bullish. The company employed extensive market analysis in its latest bid to address the needs of all pickup users, identifying five different categories of users-families, casual truckers, recreational riders, traditional truckers (the core group) and "work-first" users-all of whom demand different things from their rigs.
The results can be seen in several new firsts for Dodge standard pickups, including a crew-size cab to go with its Regular Cab and Quad Cab, a configuration that addresses the needs of half of all new-truck buyers, and an innovative "cargo management system" Dodge calls RamBox. Also included are a completely redesigned, fully boxed frame and a suspension system that includes coil springs all the way around. That's right, the new Dodge has coil springs front and rear.
Loyal Dodge fans, or anyone looking for a fully capable, full-size pickup needn't worry though, because they will find comfort not only in the coils' compliant ride but also in the knowledge that the new suspension system gives up nothing in terms of load ratings, hauling capacities and off-road capabilities to earlier models. It includes a five-link design with track and stabilizer bars and twin-tube shock absorbers in the rear and A-arms in front.
Dodge has even developed specifically rated coils for the various bed/cab configurations of its trucks-all of which are built in Warren, Mich., or St. Louis, Mo.-through testing of the new suspension that engineers claim equaled 9 million customer-equivalent miles of use.
It's exactly such efforts to ensure that the core capabilities of Dodge trucks were retained, and improved, that kept the company's engineers continually busy on a journey that, according to Veltri, was years in the making. "We started marketing research in the spring of 2004, putting engineers and designers together with research teams to mine data from magazine articles, warranty usage and more," he said. During the course of the year-long project, Dodge even hired anthropologists to perform ethnographic research by following participating drivers around for days on end with video cameras to learn what they could about how they used their trucks.
Among other considerations, customers said they wanted: improved gas mileage, a crew cab, improved refinement, better ride quality and full towing capabilities. Dodge wanted to not only satisfy those requests, but to shake up the market with a truck that veered off the well-beaten path created by other manufacturers.
"We brought a design guy over three years ago from Mercedes," Veltri said. That guy, Klaus Busse, director of interior and component design, was a key part of the team that gave the new Ram more than a hint of the Charger's panache inside along with exterior styling cues such as a grille that raked forward at the top but still sports massive crossbars and the largest Ram's head emblem ever.