DETROIT – Chrysler’s Ram brand won’t be using aluminum bodies for its fullsize pickups anytime soon, in contrast with Ford’s announcement that the next-generation F-150 will utilize the lightweight material, a top executive says.

“Based on our analysis, we feel steel is stronger, safer and more durable than aluminum,” Reid Bigland, president and CEO of Chrysler Group’s Ram truck brand, tells WardsAuto in an interview at the North American International Auto Show here. “The difficult thing with lightweighting is what the tradeoff is.”

Rather than turn to a full-aluminum body, Bigland says Ram is integrating the material where it makes sense, such as the hood, and is achieving class-leading fuel economy by developing innovative powertrains, such as the upcoming 3.0L turbodiesel DOHC V-6 that will be offered in the Ram half-ton pickup.

“We want to be able to achieve the highest fuel-economy standards, which we have, without compromising,” he says. “You just have to work a little harder to get there. That’s the key.”

Bigland says the automaker does not know how accepting consumers will be of the new diesel, but says it’s projected to have a 10% take rate out of the gate. But based on third-party accolades, including a 2014 Ward’s 10 Best Engines award, volume could go higher.

“It’s a complete crapshoot,” he says. “This (new diesel) is cleaning up in all of the third-party competitions it’s being entered in, but we’ll see when it gets out there. I’m itching to get a read on it in the marketplace.”

The executive says the diesel-powered Ram pickup should achieve about 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) and be able to tow 9,200 lbs. (4,173 kg).

Ram sales should increase this year over 2013, Bigland says, without providing an estimate. However, new products such as the upcoming ProMaster City small commercial van, based on the Fiat Doblo, should help fuel sales.

He admits winning over customers in the pickup segment, where buyers are fiercely loyal, is a difficult task. But he points to Ram’s 7% sales gain last year as evidence it can be achieved.

“There is a tremendous amount of loyalty in the pickup market, which is a good thing and bad thing,” Bigland says. “It’s a good thing if you can keep your customers loyal, but it’s a bad thing because conquesting is very difficult, and you need to offer a superior value proposition in order to get people to switch.”

He also says the recent acquisition of the remainder of Chrysler by Fiat should allow for more seamless integration of technologies and components between the two automakers.

In the past, the two automakers were considered separate legal entities, which created a lot of “administrative hassle,” when they wished to share components, Bigland says. “Under the new agreement, over time, that will go away, and we’ll be better able to cross-pollinate between the two companies.”

bpope@wardsauto.com