Ram Execs: “Aluminum is the Best Material to Use for Beer Cans” [2014 Detroit Auto Show]

We sat down with Ram’s director of marketing, Robert Hegbloom, and vehicle line executive Michael Cairns, to talk about branding, diesels, and mid-size trucks. Oh, and the subject of the new aluminum-intensive F-150 came up, too.

Car and Driver: It’s been four years since the switch from Dodge to Ram, and it seems the public is finally acclimated to the name. How has the change affected internal operations?

Michael Cairns: At the time of the change, we were undergoing a lot of organizational changes, and Sergio Marchionne wanted to establish clear brand identities. Until then, Dodge was tasked with managing car and truck lines, and the truck side was starting to dominate. So ultimately it helped Dodge strengthen its identity as a car maker as much as it did Ram as a truck Brand.

Robert Hegbloom: It really let us build our own image. Actor Sam Elliot does the voice-over work in our commercials, and his voice has become the image and persona of the brand, which probably wouldn’t work for a Dodge car commercial. On the other hand, I can’t really see Will Ferrell doing a Ram commercial.

MC: It’s great for me, because as an engineer, I’m dealing with truck people full time, and in addition to separate marketing, we’ve got dedicated resources and a consistent strategy.

C/D: Is the Cummins diesel getting long in the tooth?

MC: We just redesigned it for 2013!

C/D: Yes, but I’m referring to the Cummins’ basic inline-six architecture. In many markets, diesel powertrains are evolving as fast as gasoline powertrains.

MC: We’ve found that in the heavy-duty segment, it’s the most recognized and respected name in the market. Guys want reliable, durable, powerful, and fuel-efficient powertrains. It absolutely kicks ass.

RH: We looked at it, but the HD customer thinks, “This thing has to deliver.” And the Cummins does. The 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6 is a perfect fit for the half-ton truck, and mated with the eight-speed transmission it covers customers with lighter needs. As a side note, early tests indicate that fuel economy with the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6 suffers very little drop off in trailering situations, unlike a gas engine, say, like a twin-turbo V-6.

C/D: We drove the 3500 with the 30,000-pound trailer; what is the take rate on a beast like that?

MC: Higher than we expected. We’ve actually surpassed Chevy as the number-two HD truck in sales, and there are certain markets where we are outselling Ford.

C/D: One word: Aluminum. Any comments?

MC: It’s the best material to use for beer cans. Seriously, we’re all looking at weight reduction and fuel improvements. We utilize aluminum in hoods, control arms, and steering knuckles, so it can be effectively used. But it’s expensive. And we worry about dent-resistance and longevity. It’s good, but we’re getting a much bigger return in economy through powertrain efficiencies and aerodynamics. Widespread use of aluminum at this point may be a little premature.

C/D: Is Ram ready to return to the mid-size pickup segment?

RH: In the late 80’s and early 90’s, mid-size trucks were actually a bigger market for us than full-size trucks. But at the time, they were smaller, offered significantly better fuel economy, were less capable, and, most of all, less expensive. Since then, they [the mid-size segment as a whole] have grown larger, more expensive, and more capable. We can deliver any three of those things, but so far no one has shown that they can deliver on all four of the original qualities. And really, the Ram 1500 4

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