Ram Tough Choices: Other Designs Chrysler Considered for the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500
By: Mike Levine Posted: 04-17-08 03:30 PT
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Redesigning any truck is challenging, but probably none more so than the Dodge Ram. Its dropped headlights and raised hood are iconic. When those traits first appeared in 1994 they opened the modern era of pickup truck style and created what’s arguably the most recognizable rig of any brand. Veteran Chrysler execs still talk about the positive impact the 1994 Dodge Ram had on the company and industry.
So you can imagine how much pressure and enthusiasm top auto designer Ralph Gilles and his team must have felt when they were tapped in 2005 to design the all new 2009 Dodge Ram. They had the responsibility to reinvent a legend, but how were they going to maintain what made it legendary in the first place?
"The Ram was a daunting project," says Mr. Gilles. "We wanted to remain true to what originally made the Ram popular but still bring it forward (in design)."
For inspiration, Mr. Gilles and company looked at the current Ram and Dodge’s concept trucks from the past decade.
The Dodge Power Wagon Concept debuted at the 1999 North American International Auto Show. Its edgy design combined the crosshair grille from the 1994 Ram with exterior cues and proportions taken from the historic 1946 Dodge Power Wagon heavy hauler. The Power Wagon Concept instantly became another styling win for Chrysler but its shape was never realized in a production truck. The name was eventually attached to an off-road version of the Dodge Ram 2500 in 2005, that’s still made today.
In 2000 Dodge unveiled its MAXXcab Concept. The four door snub-nosed pickup with cab forward styling was at the opposite end of the design spectrum from the retro Power Wagon. The MAXXcab prioritized moving people over cargo. For a time it was rumored that the MAXXcab would appear in production as a next-generation Dodge Dakota mid-size truck, which never happened.
Big truck concepts got attention but small rigs didn't have to be boring either. The Dodge M80 made a big splash in 2002. Its retro style was also influenced by the 1946 Power Wagon. But instead of being sleek like the 1999 Concept, the M80 was squared off and looked like a bulldog. It didn't reach production but major portions of its design were reused in the 2007 Dodge Nitro SUV.
In 2006, while work on the 2009 Dodge Ram was well underway, the Dodge Rampage Concept appeared at the Chicago Auto Show. It offered a sneak peak at one of the major themes the designers were considering. The Rampage evolved the MAXXcab Concept into a bigger, more functional yet decidedly unconventional half-ton pickup. The Rampage didn't surrender as much utility as the MAXXcab had to give its passengers extra space and comfort. And the Rampage broke full size truck tradition by using unibody construction instead of body-on-frame, front wheel drive instead of rear wheel drive and an independent rear suspension instead of leaf springs.
From Chrysler's deep heritage in production and concept trucks, many designs for the 2009 Dodge Ram began to be considered. Each design was digitally sketched and translated into scale clay models (like in the picture above) before the choices were narrowed down to the finalists.
"With designers, the temptation is to change the game. We looked at several versions – actually up to twelve different models. Then it became eleven. Then we were down to three that were wildly different (from each other)," describes Mr. Gilles.
As the team brainstormed and competed with one another, each of the ideas for the Ram’s exterior was identified not by its style but by the designers’ last names. "For example, we had the Pizzuti, the Williams theme, the Krugger - named after Scott Krugger, who we picked to do the exterior of (the final) truck, and others," says Mr. Gilles.
You can see the designers' names in the corners of many of the pictures that accompany this story.
But as the major exterior styling directions were firmed up and the models narrowed down, parts of designs that weren't carried forward still had an impact on the finalists. Describing that process, Mr. Gilles says, "What we did was mix and match. There were parts and research that people liked in each. So we did things like, grab the headlamps off the Williams, the nose off the Krugger, the body side off the Surel, and then the rest of it evolved as we developed the final design."
The first of the final three themes was based heavily on the Power Wagon. Renderings and drawings show a truck with an extremely strong front end presence and the Power Wagon’s trademark bowed grille.
The second theme focused around the Dodge Rampage. In one of the renderings it’s identified as the Rhino SUT, or sport utility truck, a reference to its radically different proportions and shape. One illustration even shows a cargo box with a pass through door into the cabin, similar to the Midgate on the Chevrolet Avalanche SUT.
The last theme was derivative of the current Ram’s iconic shape, closely linking the exterior of the new truck with the shape of Chrysler’s best selling vehicle. This was the shape that Mr. Gilles and his lead designer Mark Allen chose as the theme for the production truck. Mr. Allen had also been involved styling the current Ram before joining the effort on the 2009 model.
The total time to review and determine the final theme took about two years.
Then, based on the iconic design, more clay models were created as rolling prototypes. This time they were full-size to compare against each other and the current Dodge Ram. Each had subtle variations to test different style headlamps, grilles, and body lines. They also tested the new exterior look with different cab configurations and even with dual rear wheels, according to Mr. Gilles.
Finally, the production design was determined. "We went with the one we felt was the most provocative, sporty, and luxurious," says Mr. Gilles.
But the design process didn't stop there. Style and aesthetics started to give way to practical considerations, like aerodynamics. "We don’t concern ourselves with aero too much when we’re doing theme searching. The thing that concerned senior management most was the grille. I wanted the cant-forward grille but management looked at it and thought it wouldn't work. So we went and built a second version with the grille leaning back but it didn't make a difference (in aerodynamics). By the time we were done we beat the aerodynamic stretch goal for (the new Ram)," recounts Mr. Gilles. Even though it’s prominent, the new Ram actually has less frontal grille area exposed to the wind than the exiting truck.
In contrast to the exterior design, the interior design was limited to only two themes and was locked down very early in the 2009 Ram’s design process, according to Mr. Gilles. "We did that to allow ourselves a lot of time to execute on the interior. We found in the past this had been our downfall because we didn't give ourselves enough time to understand all of the interior joins and how to have materials coexist," he says. A great deal of attention was also paid to ergonomics, like button sizes and controls placement moved closer to the driver.
The selected interior theme is truck-like while the other theme that was considered was more car-like, with softer organic shapes. "We wanted an interior that told the story of power and substance," says Mr. Gilles.
After three years of work and many tough choices, the end result is the next-generation 2009 Dodge Ram that carries forward the truck’s big rig looks but with a design that’s the most subtle and refined since its iconic shaped first appeared almost fifteen years ago.