Yank tank to take on Toyota HiLux
It's billed as "the truck that eats utes for breakfast" but buyers might have trouble swallowing the hefty prices being asked for this massive, born-in-the-USA pick-up.
Local vehicle distributor Ateco this week launched two versions of the V8-powered RAM 1500, with prices starting from $79,950 drive-away and climbing into six figures for the top of the range RAM 1500 Laramie.
The price puts the new arrival at the top end of the ute market, eclipsing the recently released Mercedes-Benz X-Class.
But RAM Trucks Australia general manager Alex Stewart says the company expects to eventually take about 10 per cent of the market for high-end utes, competing head to head with the Mercedes-Benz, as well as the most expensive versions of the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.
"With a maximum towing capacity of up to 4.5 tonnes, it is a clear full tonne ahead of its rivals," he says.
"And with the legendary Hemi V8 under the bonnet, it has both power and a chassis designed by the world's leading experts to safely tow that extra weight."
Stewart says the RAM 1500 resets the bar for ability, value and style at the top end of the local ute market.
The new RAM is huge: almost six metres long and more than two metres wide, with space for a full-size pallet in the tub. Its has the only petrol V8 available in the class, pumping out 291kW of power and 556Nm of torque through an eight-speed automatic.
Thanks to the latest cylinder-deactivation technology, it can run on just four cylinders when cruising on the highway, enabling it to claim a respectable 9.9L/100km on the official combined fuel cycle.
There will be two versions of the 1500 initially: the cheaper Express has a smaller cab, cloth seats, a longer tray and a 4500kg towing capacity courtesy of a lower axle ratio. It is likely to appeal more to the tradie and big boat or caravan tower.
The Laramie has a more spacious rear cabin but a smaller tray and 3500kg standard towing capacity. Inside there's leather trim, a larger infotainment screen, sunroof and other luxuries. It's aimed more at the recreational buyer and starts at $99,950 plus on-road costs.
Stewart says RAM expects to sell about 2100 utes in its first year of operation, rising to 3700 in the second year on sale and 4500 in the third year.
The vehicles are shipped from the United States in left-hand drive and re-manufactured in right-hand drive by Walkinshaw Automotive Group for importer and distributor American Special Vehicles. It is the only factory authorised, full-volume supplier of right-hand drive RAM trucks in the world.
But the operation's growth aspirations will come under pressure over the next year or two. Fiat-Chrysler - owner of both the RAM and Jeep brands - recently announced plans to build a one-tonne ute to compete with the HiLux and Ranger.
Stewart is unperturbed by the potential competition. "It's not designed yet, is it?" he says.
A diesel version of the 1500 will arrive towards the end of the year.