SAN FRANCISCO – Chrysler has separated Ram from the herd, but stakeholders concede the brand must evolve in the minds of customers before it can thrive in the marketplace.

“Nobody in our company expected we were going to be able to separate Ram immediately and have (a) tremendous amount of recognition,” says Peter Grady, vice president-network development and fleet. “It’s going to take time.”

Mirroring the structure of alliance-partner Fiat, which showcases its work trucks through the Fiat Commercial channel, Chrysler in late 2009 established Ram by carving pickups from its Dodge vehicle family.

To define its brand strategy and accelerate Ram’s maturation, Chrysler has asked dealers to apportion showroom territory accordingly, ranging from signage to physical separation. For those who have earned the right to sell the new Fiat 500 A-car, that can mean accommodations for five brands, factoring in Jeep and the core Chrysler marque.

“Each brand has its own studio,” Grady says, adding the goal is to “create the environment that the customer would experience the brand in.”

Cornerstones of these studios are kiosk-like “brand towers” that house interactive displays.

The deadline for compliance? “As soon as possible,” he tells Ward’s here. “We’re working with them as much as we can.”

Compliance will be determined through a certification process, Grady adds.

Dealers are encouraged by the prospect of showcasing Ram.

“Ram buyers are very different from Dodge buyers,” says Brent Ravelle, managing partner of Bustard Bros., which has two Chrysler stores in Ontario, Canada. “One of our stores is out in the country. It’s nothing but truck. And the Ram brand is well-received. As we add products like the vans they’re speaking of, it’s great.”

Chrysler’s product plan calls for the introduction in 2012 of two commercial vans, one large and one small. Fiat’s Iveco-brand Daily and the Fiat Ducato have been mentioned as possible inspirations for the former.

The latter is expected to be based on the Fiat Doblo, which competes in Europe with the Ford Transit Connect.

The Transit Connect, launched in North America in 2009, saw its sales more than double last year to 27,405.

Chrysler also has discussed the possibility of an all-electric Doblo-based van. Fred Diaz, Ram president and CEO, claims an ad campaign featuring tough-guy actor Sam Elliott has literally given the brand a unique voice in the marketplace.

Elliott lends his gravelly pipes to voice-overs. Visuals include Ram trucks in action.

“Sam Elliott being the voice of Ram has definitely put a distinctive personality on where we’re going,” Diaz says. “That creates a persona that a trucker wants to hear, in a way a trucker wants to be marketed to.”

Ram’s ads feature blunt, meat-and-potatoes messages that would not resonate with Dodge customers, he adds. “Conversely, (Dodge-brand) advertising – hip, young, cool, energetic – doesn’t work with the trucker.”

Sales trends suggest dividing Dodge has not hurt either brand. Ram deliveries for 2010, the first full year it was marketed separately, jumped 14% over prior-year, while Dodge sales climbed 17.1% .

Both performances outpaced the total U.S. light-vehicle market, which enjoyed an 11.1% year-over-year sales increase in 2010. January Ram sales were tracking 22.4% ahead of like-2010.

But Ram won’t stand on its own overnight, warns Bill Kelly, owner of two Chrysler franchises in Pennsylvania. “(Consumers) still look at it as Dodge. That’s going to take them a few years to separate.

Says Ravelle: “It’s like anything else. When you’ve done one thing for 40 years, the change is going to take time.”

emayne@wardsauto.com