Thursday, November 1, 2007

A new hood, fenders and grille highlight the 2008 Dodge Dakota.

A new hood, fenders and grille highlight the 2008 Dodge Dakota.


2009 Dodge Ram pickup may look less menacing

Bradford Wernle
Automotive News
October 22, 2007 - 12:01 am ET


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When a Dodge Ram pickup approaches from behind, there's no mistaking it from any other vehicle.

The Ram's front-end design has an over-the road, semitractor look to it. The design message is clear to those viewing it in their rearview mirrors: "Get out of my way." Other pickups look sedate by comparison.

But sources who have seen the re-engineered, restyled 2009 Ram say Dodge is moving away from the semitruck look toward something closer to the segment-leading Ford F-150. Spy photos have been scarce, but they hint at a look closer in spirit to the current Dodge Nitro or reskinned 2008 Dakota.

The exterior design has been the pickup's signature since the 1994 Ram debuted.

Jim Hall, an analyst at AutoPacific Inc. in suburban Detroit, says Chrysler can ill-afford to relinquish its design edge because the pickup market is the industry's most competitive.

"The current Ram is incredibly polarizing," he said. "If you have a product where half the public hates it and half loves it, that's OK."

With new entries from Toyota and Nissan and expected declines in sales volume in the segment over the next decade, the Ram's unique selling proposition is styling.

"If they lose their styling edge, they have to find another selling proposition, and that's not easy in what has become the most competitive large pickup market on the planet," Hall says.

Interior design is one area in which the Ram has fallen behind the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado pickups.

Ralph Gilles, Chrysler vice president for Jeep, truck, advance interior and component design, says the next-generation Ram will be the first Chrysler vehicle to use a revised design process originating at the automaker's new advanced interior studio.

Chrysler's goal is to involve suppliers earlier in the process so the automaker can dictate what it wants, rather than have the end product be dictated by the suppliers' capabilities.

Getting the interior right in the 2009 Ram is crucial.

Says John Wolkonowicz, an analyst at Global Insight in Lexington, Mass.: "Ford raised the bar in 2004, and GM did in 2007. The Dodge pickup today is really uncompetitive from an interior standpoint."

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