Fiat Chrysler’s Australian arm remains keenly interested in a slice of the local ute market, where just about every participating brand is experiencing ongoing growth.
The big Ram 2500 and 3500 pickup trucks are already confirmed for Australia, but it is Sydney-based distributor Ateco Automotive – through its Fiat Chrysler New Zealand operation – that will manage that deal, struck independently with Fiat Chrysler’s overseas headquarters.
There remains one other option for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Australia to pursue, however: the Ram 1500. Local CEO Pat Dougherty has made no secret of the fact that he wants it.
Speaking with CarAdvice at this week’s Australian launch of the 2016 Chrysler 300, Dougherty highlighted the huge sales potential presented by the ute market.
“We want to be in that [the ute segment],” Dougherty said. “It’s the biggest segment in the Australian market and we’re not there.
“We make great utes in other markets around the world and right now we have a couple of different business cases for opportunities to bring a ute to this market.”
Although still larger than most, the ‘kid’ of the Ram family would compete more directly with local high-riding utes than the extrovert 2500 and 3500 models, which will really only be challenged by other converted American trucks.
Still, at 5816mm long in ‘quad-cab’ form, and 2016mm wide, the 1500 is markedly bigger than Toyota’s dominant HiLux, which measures 5335mm long and 1855mm wide for the crew-cab variant of the new 2016 model.
As with Australia’s various ute ranges, the 1500 is available in dozens of configurations with single- and quad-cab bodies – both with styleside tubs – along with rear- and four-wheel-drive layouts.
Engine options likewise vary, ranging from a 3.0-litre diesel that produces 180kW of power and a 3.6-litre petrol V6 that produces 227kW of power to a flagship 5.7-litre V8 that produces 295kW of power.
That big petrol V8, the same unit offered at the top of the US market’s Chrysler 300 range, could find more than a few friends among fans of Holden’s SS ute.
But, while Dougherty is keen to get the 1500 here, its exact configuration for Australia is still up in the air.
“A lot of different markets want the Ram product, but right now it’s a battle of the configuration. How do you make it meet your market’s needs, that sort of thing. We’ve put together some proposals and we’re in the conversation phase at the moment,” he said.
“To make the product right for our market, it’s millions of dollars in investment. But we think it’s a good long-term investment and we know that the segment’s big enough to support it. The volume will be there.”
And although final approval for a local Ram 1500 program is still to come, there’s a very real appreciation within Fiat Chrysler’s international operations for the popularity of utes in Australia.
“We had Steve Bartoli, head of international product development, here recently,” Dougherty said. “We drove him to the Essendon auto dealer precinct [in Melbourne] to see the range of models offered here.
“Within an hour of him being in the country, seeing what’s on offer, he said ‘yeah, I get it’, so that was pretty good.”
As with FCA Australia’s hopes for a local Dodge Charger and Challenger launch, Ram fans shouldn’t expect to see a factory-run 1500 launch here anytime soon.
Although a local program for converting the 1500 to right-hand-drive is a possibility, the company is more likely to wait until the next-generation model appears in 2017.