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A sport edition of the Fiat Strada pickup available in Europe, South America, and elsewhere

Ram ʺLukewarmʺ On Future Compact Pickup

Published September 24, 2012

A sport edition of the Fiat Strada pickup available in Europe, South America, and elsewhere

The Fiat Strada might be a great platform on which to base a new compact pickup for America, but Ram officials are reportedly “lukewarm” to the idea of a smaller truck. (Fiat photo courtesy PickupTrucks.com)

I said in a previous post that Ram should consider building a version of the Fiat Strada for the United States market. Chances of that are looking slim.

According to a report from Automobile, the Ram bosses at Chrysler are anything but bullish on their ability to build a smaller pickup truck that will (1) get good enough fuel mileage and (2) be available at a low enough sticker price to lure buyers away from the brand’s full-size trucks. As reported in this previous GH article, the 2013 Ram 1500 pickup is rated at 25 mpg highway if you opt for the V6 and the new eight-speed automatic transmission. According to Automobile, the Ram 1500 is available at a starting price of $23,585. The article fails to mention the “Torqueflite8” transmission required to see 25 mpg is a $1,000 option.

“That means a smaller Ram pickup would have to exceed 25 mpg and cost less than $20,000 in  order to remain relevant — ambitious goals, to say the least,” said the Automobile editorial, which notably quoted no person directly, instead attributing the “lukewarm” reception to the idea of building a compact pickup to anonymous “Ram officials.”

Why are those goals so “ambitious?” I don’t think they are. But you’ve got to make like Cool Hand Luke and “get your mind right” about what a small pickup is– and what a small pickup isn’t– before you can make a small pickup that achieves those parameters.

Steps to getting your mind right:

1. Realize small pickups are not going to blow anyone away in terms of interior space. Therefore, don’t saddle a new small pickup with the baggage of offering only extended and crew cabs in an effort to make the interior seem larger (I’m looking at you, Nissan Frontier.) Some of us want a regular cab. That will of course offer the lowest MSRP possible.

2. Realize most small pickup owners have been perfectly happy with 10-second 0-to-60 times for the last 20 years– it’s the fuel economy that has left something to be desired. Manufacturers have poured all their research and development funds into making full-size trucks more fuel-efficient, ignoring small trucks. No level-headed person ever bought a Ford Ranger of Chevy S-10 because it could keep up with a Mustang or Camaro stoplight-to-stoplight.

3. Realize engine technology and aerodynamic engineering have come a long way in the last 20 years, both of which will help you meet the concerns outlined in Step 2. If today’s mammoth full-size pickups can get 25 mpg with a little engineering know-how, imagine what you can do when you apply that to a smaller, lighter, more-aerodynamic vehicle.

4. Realize a small pickup will rarely carry more than 1,200 lbs of load in its cargo bed or more than three people– perhaps four, if it’s a crew cab– in its cabin. It probably won’t be asked to tow more than 2,500 lbs. Therefore, outfit it with engines and transmissions designed for such loads. No need for powerful V6 engines or complex turbocharging. Simple, small-displacement engines can handle the work and will be good for both fuel economy and base price.

5. Realize small pickups need to be maneuverable and more sporty-feeling than their big brothers. That’s half the appeal to folks who must daily drive a pickup because they can’t afford to own both a truck and a car. Therefore, keep the size in check. Again, this will pay dividends in fuel economy and pricing. Are you seeing a pattern here?

The 2013 Ram 1500 pickup truck

Chiefs at Chrysler’s Ram brand don’t think they can build an appealing small pickup that gets appreciably better mileage than this, the Ram 1500 full-size pickup, at a big enough discount below the Ram 1500’s $23,500 base price. (Photo courtesy AutomobileMag.com)

If Ram would keep those things in mind, then it could see that the Strada pickup, based on compact car underpinnings and available with a range of small engines that get in the neighborhood of 40 mpg combined on the European cycle, would make a perfect platform upon which to base a new baby Ram. If a Ram 1500 can be priced at $23,000, then surely a Strada-based pickup could start at $16,000.

Those of us who could never bring ourselves to drive a full-size Ram 1500 (not to mention the horrific thought of paying to keep gas in the tank of one of those monsters) will be waiting with baited breath.

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Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. GearHeads.org gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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