Jeep is surely the biggest single feather left in the cap of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles portfolio. Under Sergio Marchionne’s leadership, Jeep went from fewer than 500,000 annual sales in 2008 to 1.4 million in 2016, and is on track for 2 million by 2018. Add in the brand’s legacy, status as one of the most recognizable nameplates in the world, and rabid fan base, and Jeep has extraordinary monetary value to its parent company.
Investors and analysts have certainly noticed Jeep’s inherent value. According to The Detroit Free Press, Morgan Stanley’s Adam Jonas asked FCA chief Sergio Marchionne if he would ever consider spinning Jeep and Ram, FCA’s dedicated truck brand, into a separate corporate entity, and he responded with a simple “Yes.”
Jonas estimated Jeep’s worth in January of this year at $22 billion. Ram was valued at $11.2 billion.
Marchionne has a history of spinning off brands while keeping them part of FCA’s corporate umbrella. The most noteworthy example of this value maximization was with Ferrari, which now trades on the New York Stock Exchange and rakes in $3.4 billion in annual revenue and close to $435 million in net income, reports the Free Press. Marchionne still serves as chairman and CEO of Ferrari, and Fiat heir John Elkann owns 22 percent of the Italian marque’s shares.
Even if the offloading of Jeep and Ram into a separate entity would amount to little more than a profit-driven ownership change on paper, it would be huge news to the brands’ loyal fanbases. In any case, such a move would likely take years to actually happen and probably wouldn’t mean much at all to the products that Jeep and Ram produce. In other words, Jeep fans can keep the pitchforks in the shed … for now.
The execs at Ram are changing their tune about the possibility of a midsize truck in the US. Nothing is certain yet, but the chances now look a little more favorable.
“I think there’s opportunity there in the US if you look at what’s happened in the mid-size segment here – significant growth last year,” Jeep and Ram boss Mike Manley told the Detroit News. “I think that space is big enough, certainly, to have two offerings there.”
The other product that Manley alludes to is the forthcoming Jeep Wrangler-based pickup that’s due in 2017. However, there might not be much customer overlap between the Jeep and those looking for a more traditional Ram-branded model.
Manley admitted the most likely candidate for a midsize Ram would be for the company to use an existing Fiat platform, according to the News. One possibility could be rebranding the Fiat Toro pickup, but it’s rather small at 20-inches shorter than a Chevrolet Colorado.
This greater openness to a midsize Ram is a complete change from the company’s position in the past, though. Last spring, the brand’s CEO for North America said he couldn’t find a strategy to make the model work. FCA boss Sergio Marchionne made the same point in 2014, when he admitted the company showed a Ram 1000 at design clinics, but the response was “lukewarm.”
Over the past couple years, the midsize truck market has a renaissance of fresh products. The Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon are successes both critically and commercially. The latest Tacoma is on sale, and the new Honda Ridgeline is imminent. We know Nissan has a Frontier successor under development, and there are always rumors of Ford reviving the Ranger in the US. With so much development in the segment, it’s easy to see why Ram would want to be at the party.
Selling cars, vans, and trucks one at a time is business good enough to keep most automakers solvent, but fleet sales are where it’s really at. Take this latest order placed by the United States Postal Service from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, for example.
The order calls for a massive fleet of 9,113 units of the 2016 Ram ProMaster 2500 cargo van. That number may only be a drop in the bucket compared to the 190,000 vehicles the Postal Service operates across the country, but it’s still a pretty large order to place all at once.
“While each and every one of our fleet customers is important to us, none command our attention like USPS,” said FCA’sfleet operations director Tim Kuniskis. “I can’t think of another more mission-critical service than literally delivering the goods of our nation on a daily basis, and we are honored that USPS chose the Ram ProMaster to help them meet their challenging duty.”
Naturally, each of the 9,113 Ram vans will be specially equipped for the purpose of collecting and delivering the mail and packages. They’ll also be fitted with 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engines driving 280 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque through six-speed automatic transmissions to the front wheels. It’s the latter feature which the post office may find the most compelling, helping the vans get traction regardless of the weather. You know, given the whole “neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night” thing that the service seeks to uphold.
It’s no surprise that as SUV and truck sales remain strong in the wake of unusually cheap gas, Jeep and Ram sales are taking off. What is a surprise is that FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne thinks that cheap gas will be a “permanent condition,” and feels strongly enough about it to change up North American manufacturing plans.
Jeep appears to be the biggest beneficiary of the product realignment. In addition to increasing the sales estimates for the brand worldwide upwards to 2 million units a year by 2018, the brand will get a flood of investment for new product and powertrains. Consider the Wrangler Pickup to be part of the salvo, as well as the Grand Wagoneer three-row announced in 2014 as part of the original five-year plan.
The Wrangler four-door will get at least two new powertrains, a diesel and mild hybrid version, in its next generation. That mild hybrid powertrain may utilize a 48-volt electrical system like the one that’s being developed by Delphi and Bosch – which the suppliers think will be worth a 10 to 15 percent fuel economy gain at a minimum. Down the road, in the 2020s, the Wrangler could adopt a full hybrid system. The diesel powertrain is planned for 2019 or 2020.
The Ram 1500 is also pegged to receive a mild hybrid system, again potentially based on 48-volt architecture, sometime after 2020.
Lastly, Jeep and Ram will take over some of the production capacity of existing plants. The Sterling Heights, MI, plant that builds the Chrysler 200 will now build the Ram 1500; the Belvidere, IL, facility that produces the Dodge Dart will take over Cherokee output; the big Jeep facility in Toledo, OH, will be used for increased Wrangler demand. In 2015, according to FCA’s numbers, car and van demand went down by 10 percent, but SUV demand went up 8 percent and truck demand 2 percent. Considering that these are high-margin vehicles, FCA can’t ignore the math. FCA also won’t build any new factories to supplement production to meet demand, but instead are reshuffling production priorities.
Think of it this way: FCA is gambling on cheap gas being a permanent part of our lives, at least into the 2020s. By doubling down on SUVs and trucks, the company stands to win big, unless a spike in gas prices changes the landscape. FCA isn’t talking about a Plan B, so they’re all in. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.
While the auto industry’s eyes are fixed on New York for its annual extravaganza at the Javits Center, Ram is making an end-around play. The truck maker is showing a new concept at the 2015 Dallas Auto Show based on the company’s long-running partnership with the Texas Rangers (the lawmen, not the baseball team).
Exterior changes to the 1500 are kept rather light, with badging inspired by the Rangers’ iconic badges fitted to the front fenders and tailgate. The Rangers’ badge is also found at the center of each 20-inch alloy wheel. As for the white/silver color scheme, it “embodies the white hats and silver badges that the good guys always wear.”
Starting with the handsome Canyon Brown and Tan leather of the Laramie Longhorn, Ram designers fitted four, five-peso coins to the door inserts. Texas Rangers’ badges have long been hewn from the limited-issue Mexican currency, hence its inclusion in the 1500. The coins in the front door show “heads” and the back door coins are flipped to “tails.” Adding to the unique touches, a prominent Texas Rangers’ badge sits over the center console and is also embossed in the leather seatbacks. Even the dash cluster’s display shows the Rangers’ badge upon startup.
Ram and the Texas Rangers formed their partnership back in 2014, with the truck maker “aiding the preservation of the history of the renowned law-enforcement organization,” the company said in its press release.
The midsize pickup segment is enjoying a recent boom globally, with updated models like the new Ford Ranger on the way and a revised Toyota Hilux already testing. The next automaker to take the plunge into the market might be FCA with this recently spotted, highly camouflaged truck.
Click through the gallery to see the pickup wearing two different disguises during cold-weather testing. Unfortunately, they keep the truck very well hidden, and even the bed is covered in both of them. Still, it appears that the front end wears a fairly upright design, and the four-door cab is obvious. Also, take a look at the rear to spot coil springs for the suspension, rather than leaf springs. According to our spies, this vehicle’s size is larger than the current front-wheel drive Fiat Strada and is closer in dimensions to models like the Ranger and Hilux.
Of course, the most intriguing question is whether FCA might bring this vehicle to the US as a Ram competitor against the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. The company’s five-year plan makes no mention of such a model here through at least 2018, though. However, Europe and South America are set to receive a midsize pickup in 2016. Perhaps, that’s what we are seeing here.
Mopar is heading to the SEMA show in Las Vegas with a fleet of customized vehicles that appeal to enthusiasts of all stripes. There’s a Dodge Viper ACR concept that follows in the lineage of the supercar’s great road racing past, and a custom Ram ProMaster that might just be the ultimate outdoor party machine.
We got an inside look at Mopar’s cars that will be on display at the show, which also include a Dodge Challenger T/A concept, two crazy Jeeps and a Ram 2500 Outdoorsman that could change the way you camp. While these are some of our favorites, Mopar is bringing plenty to SEMA, so let us know your top choices in the comments section.