The Ram pickup truck accomplished a surprising and praiseworthy feat in 2019. It bumped off a rival. The Ram is now the second most popular pickup in America.
That’s saying a lot. For one thing, pickups are abundantly popular vehicles. A company has to sell a lot of trucks to grab the second-place slot, a big accomplishment.
For another, the pickup hierarchy has remained stable and well ordered for a long time. Its been like our solar system, with Mercury closest to the sun, and Venus next in order, followed by balmy Earth in the third position. When’s that ever going to change?
The three leading pickups in America have been the Ford F-Series, with 43 straight years as the top seller, followed by the Chevrolet Silverado in the second position, and the Ram at number three.
Last year, the Ram goosed its sales by 18 percent over the prior 12-month period, closing 2019 with sales of about 633,000 new trucks. During the same time span, sales of the Chevy Silverado dropped by two percent from their 2018 level. Chevy closed 2019 with close to 576,000 Silverado sales.
Those tallies include both standard-duty pickup models, which are the most populous by far, and heavy-duty models, which are more work hardened versions.
In the end, Ram outsold the Silverado by about 10 percent in 2019. The contest wasn’t even close.
What changed? Ram has improved its trucks.
I haven’t seen any ways that Chevrolet pickups have diminished. But I have noticed bounding improvements in Rams that I’ve test driven recently. They’re solidly constructed. They’re thoughtfully designed. They outfitted with useful and appealing details.
“They listened to the customers and they made a better quality vehicle,” summarized Kevin Bihl, manager of the Business Development Center at the DeLuca group of Merrimack Valley dealerships. The company sells Ram pickups at its Bill DeLuca Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram dealership in Haverhill. It carries the Chevy Silverado at both Bill DeLuca Chevrolet Buick GMC in Haverhill and Bill DeLuca Chevrolet Cadillac in Andover.
With Ram trucks, “the times when people had things like transmission problems are long, long gone,” Bihl said. “Today you have a high-quality vehicle with the technology that people want.”
I recently drove a 2020 Ram 1500, the standard-duty version, in the Laramie trim level. That’s a middle level among the Ram’s eight price steps. Before options, the Ram Laramie carries a list price of $45,835 with four-wheel drive and a six-person Quad Cab that has an occasional use-back seat. A four-wheel-drive Laramie with a Crew Cab full back seat lists $2,700 higher, at $48,535.
The full price range for the Ram 1500 starts at $33,840 for a Tradesman level with rear-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive adds $3,500. The pickup’s highest list price is $59,160 for a Limited model with four-wheel-drive, Crew Cab and extended back box.
Of course, there are options. The evaluation model I drove added more than $22,000 worth, which brought its bottom-line price to $68,815 – higher than the starting price for a top-level Limited version. My test truck tacked on a large, eight-cylinder engine to replace the Laramie’s standard six-cylinder motor. It had a dressed-up appearance package that Ram calls the Night Edition. It had additional automatic safety monitors and driving aids, a big sunroof, larger dashboard touchscreen, navigation, and more.
Together they brought the truck some useful and appealing features, and some others that I could have lived without. I thought the Night Edition package was too extravagant, especially at its $3,495 option price. But some drivers who want to display their self-image in their vehicle would appreciate Night Edition extras like the bulging power hood, the black aluminum wheels and black trim pieces outlining the truck.
I also personally would have felt satisfied with the Laramie’s standard 305-horsepower V6 engine, rather than the 395-horsepower V8 that added $1,695 to the model’s bottom line. That’s especially true due to the higher fuel economy rating of the V6, at 22 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway, compared to 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway for the V8 engine. But then, pickup owners who tow heavy loads would understandably prefer the larger V8.
But outside of personal option preferences, I was impressed by the Ram’s underlying character, and by its generous and numerous accommodations.
The truck had a solid and serious shape. It felt solidly constructed and it looked tightly assembled, with an appealing sheen on its surface. It was comfortable. It moved smoothly and responded readily. Its cabin was nicely finished, with tasteful design and appealing materials. It had well sized handles and control buttons that were easy to grasp and operate. I could step through menus on its center-dash control screen with a minimum of thought and fuss. The big middle console between the front bucket seats provided gobs of storage and handy holders. I appreciated useful touches like lockable storage boxes on the top of the bed’s sides, and out-of-sight storage compartments recessed into the back cabin floor.
In the old order among America’s three big pickup brands, Ram filled the role of the low-price alternative. If you wanted a standard American pickup, but if you didn’t want to pay top dollar for a popular Ford, or for a Chevrolet in a strong second-place position, you could get a lower-priced Dodge Ram (Today’s Ram pickup was sold as the Dodge Ram until its parent company formed a separate Ram truck unit in 2009 by splitting pickups away from Dodge, which now sells only passenger vehicles.)
Kevin Bihl of the Deluca dealerships noted that favorable pricing still is a part of a Ram’s strategy, and it played a role in last year’s 18 percent sales jump. But Ram’s price advantage is not as large as it once was.
“They’ve gone up in price. They’re not that much cheaper than a Chevy or a Ford,” he said. “But they’re building a better truck. And they’re still competitively priced.”
Bihl noted that Ram has been particularly aggressive in offering favorable lease terms for the pickup, another factor that contributed to its surge in popularity, he said.
Chevrolet is a division of General Motors. Through its GMC truck division, General Motors also sells a pickup that is a close kin to the Chevy Silverado. The GMC version, called the Sierra, merely wears some fancier trim.
In 2019 the GMC unit of General Motors sold 232,323 Sierras. When you add those to Chevy’s Silverado tally, you can say that General Motors as a whole still tops Ram in pickup popularity.
But the big three in truck popularity has traditionally included the Ford, Chevrolet and Ram brands. They once were as well ordered as our solar system. Now Ram’s position change makes you wonder if maybe even planets can realign.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
Vehicle type: 4-door, 6-passenger, rear- and four-wheel-drive pickup truck
Price range: $33,840 to $59,160
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty
Base engine: 3.6-liter V6
Power: 305 horsepower at 6,400 rpm; 269 lb.-ft. torque at 4,800 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 140 to 153 inches
Length: 233 to 242 inches
Width: 82 inches
Height: 78 inches
Fuel capacity: 23 to 33 gallons