HAUL THE WAY WITH USA

Jeep and Ram pick-ups head for your boat ramp

Daily Mercury - - FIND YOUR CAR ON FINDA - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

Look out HiLux and Ranger, the Amer­i­cans are com­ing! Ram, the pick-up truck spe­cial­ist brand owned by Fiat Chrysler, plans to launch an all-new one-tonne ute. It will be a direct com­peti­tor for the hugely pop­u­lar Toy­ota and Ford utes.

“It will be for every global mar­ket,” says Fiat Chrysler cars boss Ser­gio Mar­chionne.

Pre­sent­ing the com­pany’s new five-year plan to in­vestors and the me­dia in Italy, he reck­oned “the ma­jor­ity of that vol­ume is go­ing to be non-US”. It will be pro­duced in right-hand drive, an­other source con­firmed.

Boss of Ram and Jeep Michael Man­ley says Jeep also plans to launch a ri­val for the HiLux and Ranger. “We will re-en­ter the mid-size pick-up seg­ment next year,” he says.

Be­ing a Jeep, ex­pect it to be built only as a 4WD. In Aus­tralia 4WD ver­sions of pop­u­lar utes vastly out­sell the 2WD ver­sions.

A spokes­woman for the brand in Aus­tralia says the lo­cal op­er­a­tion would def­i­nitely add the ute to its line-up.

It’s un­likely that cost-con­scious FCA would de­velop two en­tirely dif­fer­ent utes. Shar­ing the same ba­sic chas­sis and driv­e­trains for sim­i­lar­size pick-ups makes pow­er­ful eco­nomic sense.

Boom­ing de­mand around the world, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, makes de­vel­op­ing a one­tonne global ute some­thing FCA sim­ply can’t af­ford to ig­nore.

Man­ley re­gards it as the com­pany’s smartest chance to in­crease sales and profits. “Clearly this re­mains the largest op­por­tu­nity for all of the com­mer­cial di­vi­sions within FCA,” he says.

The Ram ute will be ready for mar­ket within four years. It may reach Aus­tralia wear­ing a dif­fer­ent badge.

“Where ap­pro­pri­ate, we can ac­tu­ally share prod­ucts across the brands we use,” Man­ley says. “This new truck will be used for both our Fiat and our Ram brands.” A spokes­woman says a Fiat-badged ver­sion is un­likely here.

Im­porter Ateco cur­rently sells big, US-style Ram pick-ups in Aus­tralia and New Zealand, af­ter con­vert­ing them from left-hand to right­hand drive. They’re ex­pen­sive — $140,000 to

$150,000 — and sell in low num­bers. Ateco next week launches the full-size Ram

1500, with a 5.7-litre V8. Big and tough, the 1500 looks far from en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly but it has an op­tional 48V mild-hy­brid set-up.

Re­gard­less of the badge it ends up wear­ing in Aus­tralia, the one-ton­ner will need to be com­pet­i­tively priced to suc­ceed. A pro­duc­tion site hasn’t yet been cho­sen but Mar­chionne says low-cost Mex­ico is un­der con­sid­er­a­tion.

Mar­chionne has promised FCA will phase out diesels in pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles from all its brands by 2021 — while they’ll dis­ap­pear from cars and SUVs, they will con­tinue to be used in utes and vans.

Pre­par­ing for a diesel-free fu­ture for its light com­mer­cial ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing utes, FCA also is de­vel­op­ing a range of petrol-elec­tric hy­brid tech­nolo­gies for its work­horses.

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