When bigger can mean better
In creating a niche market for professionally converted right hand drive American pick-ups, RAM Trucks has become an Australian success story even while local passenger vehicle manufacturing continues its decline.
There is little doubt Australians love their utes, from the iconic Holden utes of days past to the ubiquitous Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger models that dominate the current new vehicle market. Well-known vehicle distributor Ateco Group recognised the strong demand for larger US-style ‘pick-ups’ locally and set about initiating the necessary processes to be able to bring to market right hand drive versions which have the same factory quality as those available in countries where left hand drive is the norm. The brand of choice is the RAM, although sometimes referred to as a ‘Dodge’ RAM which is not technically correct as parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) dropped the Dodge nomenclature for anything other than passenger vehicles back in 2009 and set up the RAM brand as a stand-alone operation. Success has followed with around 50,000 RAM trucks now sold each month in the USA.
The Australian market is well catered for with Ateco as the local distributor utilising the capabilities of the Walkinshaw Group to perform the right hand drive conversions. Walkinshaw is able to draw upon its extensive experience and expertise in modifying new Holdens to the level of them delivering supercar performance with outstanding luxury. It is evident the same level of no-compromise engineering execution has been focused on the RAM vehicles. The local operation employs more than 250 people directly with additional flow on via local suppliers.
The Ateco Group has since invested over $100m in tools, equipment, inventory, and stock to enable product development, quality and conformity with the requirements of the parent company, the stringent local ADR regulations, and high consumer expectations.
Much more than utes on steroids, RAM Trucks have been carving out their own sizable local market niche by offering size, power, comfort and safety.
There are currently three models in the local line-up: the RAM 1500, 2500 and 3500. RAM Trucks Australia began converting left-hand drive heavy duty 2500 and 3500 models into right-hand drive vehicles in late 2015. With potential for greater volumes the RAM 1500 range was launched here in July 2018 and is powered by a petrol 5.7-litre Hemi V8 producing 291kW and 556Nm of torque connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
Power for the 2500 and 3500 variants comes in the form of a Cummins 6.7 litre turbo diesel which produces 276kW of power and an impressive 1,084Nm of torque. Each is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, while the four wheel drive capabilities are provided by a Borg-Warner transfer case with electronic ‘shift on the fly’ operation. Towing capacities range from 3.5 tonnes up to 6.9 tonnes, adding to the versatility of the RAM range.
Projected RAM Truck sales for 2020 are almost 3,000 units in Australia and New Zealand. Demand is such that the remanufacturing operation has commenced 24 hour operations with three shifts per day.
RAM Trucks are covered by a three year/100,000km warranty including roadside assistance and are available via a local dealer network which has grown to currently number 50 outlets nationwide.
While the RAM 2500 and 3500 share many things in design, engineering and performance, there are a few critical differences that define the purposes to which their owners plan to put them. Basically the 2500 is designed for owners who will use the towing capabilities on an occasional basis and will be running the vehicle less often fully laden. For this reason, it has coil springs at the rear providing a softer ride. The RAM 3500 is designed for owners for whom towing and carry major payloads for the majority of the time will be their main use and it is fitted with a Hotchkiss leaf spring rear suspension to meet these demands. To maximise this ability, the RAM 3500 is available in two versions, one rated for a car driving licence and a second version rated for light rigid truck licence which allows a higher payload as well as the 6.9 tonne towing capability.
Two tub lengths are available on the 2500 and 3500 models: 1.92 metres and 2.43 metres. Also available is the ‘Rambox’ cargo management system which incorporates illuminated, lockable, durable and drainable storage areas incorporated into the side rails of the cargo tub providing an ideal secure location for expensive tools and sporting equipment. The ‘Rambox’, when filled with ice, can also be used as a drinks cooler and has a capacity of up to 243 litres on each side.
The Australian vehicle manufacturing landscape has appeared somewhat bleak for the past few years, other than the stoic truck manufacturers such as IVECO, PACCAR and Volvo Group. It was, however, cause for celebration when the 5,000th RAM truck rolled off its production line in Melbourne just prior to last Christmas.