Chrysler LLC does not expect the sagging economy will short-circuit the September showroom arrival of the redesigned-for-’09 Dodge Ram pickup.

“We actually think the timing might be perfect,” says Steve Landry, executive vice president-North American sales. “There may be some pent-up demand.”

Landry draws this conclusion, in part, because consumers are not buying the outgoing model now. Compared with April 2007, last month’s Ram sales declined 30.5%, according to Ward’s data, which is adjusted for selling days.

There were 26 selling days last month compared with 24 in April 2007.

Ram’s poor performance contributed to Chrysler’s overall 31% decline in an economic climate described this week by a Treasury Dept. official as “an ongoing crisis in confidence.”

Consumers are retrenching as gasoline and food prices escalate in the wake of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco, observers say.

None of Chrysler’s three brands recorded sales growth in April, neither in cars nor light trucks.

“The overall decrease in April sales, particularly of pickup trucks, demonstrates that the auto industry continues to be under pressure from the national economy,” Vice Chairman and President Jim Press says in a statement. “Our plan is to continue to focus on meeting customers’ needs and managing our overall inventory to best weather this slowdown.”

Inventory levels, which have plagued Chrysler previously, fell a total of 13% compared with year-ago. As of Wednesday, the auto maker had 422,353 vehicles on hand, which translates to a 74-day supply, Landry tells journalists and analysts during a teleconference.

Of the economic crisis, he adds: “We’re going to muscle through it one month at a time.”

The Dodge Charger fullsize sedan was one of the few bright spots on Chrysler’s ledger. Retail- and fleet-delivery hikes contributed to a 19.5% sales increase.

“We’re having a lot of success with our Dodge Charger police vehicles,” Landry adds.

But the anticipated rush for the auto maker’s redesigned minivans – the ‘08 Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan – has not materialized. Sales of these models fell 37% and 41.4%, respectively.

An optimistic Landry suggests better times are ahead, adding these vehicles will be “a main focus of our May-June promotion.”

Details of May’s incentive plans are expected next week.

On the upside, however, minivan sales seem to be benefiting from the mix shift caused by volatile gasoline prices.

“We’re actually seeing some competitive SUVs trading into our minivans,” Landry says.

But the harsh economic realities are never too far away.

Consumers, he adds, seem “less concerned with the sheet metal and more concerned with getting their monthly payment lined up with what they can afford.”

This attitude contributed to another trend toward smaller, lower-priced models such as the Jeep Patriot cross/utility vehicle. Its sales more than doubled to 6,348 units.