Big and beefy American pickups converted locally to RHD are selling by the boatload, in a rare good news story for the local manufacturing industry
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The Australian company responsible for the right-hand drive conversion and distribution of America’s Ram pickup trucks is demonstrating astonishing growth and battling to satisfy demand in a flat market.

American Special Vehicles (ASV), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sydney’s Ateco Group that contracts conversions to the Walkinshaw Group, has sold 1378 Ram trucks this year through its network of 47 dealer partners. That’s growth of more than 900 per cent.

This figure can be ascribed to the addition of the Ram 1500 petrol V8 range in mid-2018, sold alongside the larger Ram 2500 and 3500 diesel workhorses that hit the market in late 2015.

This year-to-date tally means ASV has outsold the likes of Peugeot (1297), Great Wall (788), and interestingly enough Fiat (1202 passenger cars, SUVs and vans).

To give further context, the 1234 Ram 1500s sold (710 of the $99,950 Laramie variant and 524 of the $79,950 Express) equates to 1.2 per cent market share in the 4x4 ute segment.

While that might not sound impressive, it’s greater than the 1183 units year-to-date the Mercedes-Benz X-Class has managed (1183).

The Ram 2500 and 3500 have managed 144 units combined. When you consider these behemoths are priced between $139,950 and $144,350, that figure becomes more telling.

Local appetites for these monster utes has exceeded market expectations, prompting the Melbourne production line to triple output to fill back orders.

As reported in April, the Melbourne production line that remanufactures Ram pick-ups to right-hand drive has switched to three shifts – running 24 hours a day, five days a week – following an investment by the distributors of more than $10 million.

The increase to three shifts created new jobs in Australia’s automotive sector, bringing the total number of employees from 110 to 160 at the facility in Clayton, south-east of Melbourne – the same site where Walkinshaw subsidiary Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) converts Chevrolets Camaros and Silverados to RHD.

Despite this, Ram Trucks Australia’s general manager Alex Stewart told us the company is still holding backorders despite the production boost, something delighting Fiat Chrysler in the US, which sells LHD Rams to ASV for conversion and aligns itself as an offical partner.

“We deal directly with Detroit [as well as FCA Australia],” said Stewart. “The guys there are just over the moon with the obvious success and the quality of the product produced.”

Each Ram truck gets up to 400 new parts in the RHD conversion process, which now takes less than 24 hours. The new production line is 130 metres long and 21 vehicles can be worked on simultaneously.

The facility uses suppliers that were previously working with Australia’s three manufacturers – Holden, Ford and Toyota – before their factory shutdowns. For example, the same company that makes the dashboards for the right-hand drive Rams previously made dashboards for Melbourne-made Toyota Camrys.

The next big step for ASV will be to introduce the new-generation ‘DT’ 1500 pickup in 2020.

It’s currently working through the relevant compliance, homologation and engineering challenges in converting this much-more high-tech, ‘premium’ offering, which is being sold concurrently with the older 1500 Stateside in a two-tiered approach.

As a footnote, Australia’s love for full-size US pickups doesn’t stop at the Ram, though it’s not sufficient for the big US companies that make them to spend tens of millions establishing their own RHD production lines.

HSV converts Chevrolet Silverados (a Ram 2500 competitor) at the same Clayton production line, though rather than serving as an ASV client (it was once a joint-venture partner), it sells the Chevys through its own dealer network, priced between $114,990 and $147,990.

While it doesn’t share numbers, we know its annual plan factors in somewhere between 500 and 1000 units, and we also know it’s committed to continuing the project to convert these beasts for years to come.