The suspense is over for doubters of the new Dodge Ram’s radical rear suspension.
“If I get someone to drive it, and they’ve driven aor a Chevy, they’re blown away,” says Brad Johnson, general sales manager at Bob Hoss Dodge Jeep in Kansas City, KS.
“I’ve never had anyone that didn’t come away pretty amazed at how it rides and handles.”
If only the ’09 truck’s breakthrough coil-spring setup could smooth out the model’s bumpy debut.
The pitfall, by consensus agreement, was the initial absence of Rambox.
For weeks, not a single Ram was assembled with the revolutionary storage feature, considered a key differentiator in one of the market’s most bitterly contested segments.
“It’s just been a nightmare launch,” one dealer tells Ward’s. “() really stumbled.”
Says Johnson: “I go to ride-and-drives and all they talk about is all the cool stuff. And when (the truck) comes out, you can’t get the cool stuff.”
The launch cadence was dictated by manufacturing constraints. Rambox – a dry, lockable storage compartment located in the walls of the truck’s cargo bed – can only be installed at the auto maker’s St. Louis assembly site. But Chrysler’s plant in Warren, MI, was first to launch production of the redesigned Ram.
Mike Accavitti, director-Dodge marketing, admits the cadence was flawed. While he expects December sales totals will be weak, Accavitti tells Ward’s Chrysler may enjoy some bounce as would-be customers who waited for the feature resume shopping.
And there is evidence this is happening as Rambox-equipped trucks begin trickling into dealerships.
“We just got a couple of them in,” says Z.Z. Young, sales manager at Lone Star Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Dallas. “We’re still working on the deals.”
But Johnson suggests the depressed market makes it impossible to determine if Rambox availability would have changed anything.
“It’s tough for me to gauge,” he says. “I don’t have many people coming in right now and asking for anything, much less a big truck.”
Through November, light-truck sales were 23.4% below like-2007.
However, Accavitti notes the ’09 Ram, which he describes as Chrysler’s “bread and butter,” is grabbing more market share than its ’08 predecessor.
Since the October sales launch to mark the ’09 model year, the Ram owned 4.1% of the light-duty truck market, an increase of 0.2 share points over the ’08 model year, according to Ward’s data.
Chrysler insiders point to “Ram Challenge,” an aggressive marketing campaign anchored by a unique online serial drama that matched four teams – two firefighters, two cowboys, two contractors and a pair of military personnel – in a race that highlighted the Ram’s ruggedness.
Just 10 days after the “webisode” made its Oct. 19 debut, the auto maker counted 2.7 million visitors to its main Ram website, along with 70,000 hand-raisers.
Product placement efforts involving the Fox network’s “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and NBC’s “Toughest Jobs,” generated an additional 44,000 hand-raisers.
Still, through November, Ram sales trailed like-2007 levels by 31.2%.
“It’s the unfortunate luck of putting a great truck out during a financial apocalypse,” Johnson says.