Keep an eye out for the one ram at Fieldays that presumably won’t be in a livestock pen.
THE annual rural showcase that has become the nearest thing to a national car show – and, in particular, has become the country’s key ute muster – has been chosen for the public debut of a new RAM model that sets out to convert Kiwis from the usual one-tonne fare.
Importer Ateco Group has rushed the first example of its right-hand drive RAM 1500 – a petrol V8 baby brother to the extra-large turbodiesel 2500 and 3500 editions it has been shipping in for around 18 months – from Australia, where the conversion takes place, in time for Fieldays and the obvious promotional benefit.
It will offer details about when the model is available, and for what price, when Fieldays opens on Wednesday.
Conjecture is that it will be the first full-size pick-up to be offered in New Zealand for around the same price as a top-shelf mid-size ute; meaning anything from $75,000 to around $90k. That’s almost half the sticker price that generally attaches to the larger RAMs.
Sharp-eyed enthusiasts for heavy duty American product will note the model coming on sale here is not the 2019 edition about to circulate in its home market but is the preceding fourth-generation vehicle.
Ateco has yet to make clear if it can lay hands on the very latest edition; an all-new model that updates to driver and safety assists plus a 48 volt mild hybrid boost of the engine to take the edge off its thirst.
However, a spokesman makes the point that the MY18 RAM 1500 we see is staying in production for the foreseeable future and slots into the range under the new MY19 vehicle.
The spokesman says this was made clear at the MY19 launch and in an address by Fiat Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne presentation just a few weeks ago, where it was referred to as the ‘Classic Truck’ and shown as remaining in production. This means Ateco has not had to stockpile the model - as it would with an outgoing model - but can place orders as per normal.
"The MY19 will not be available for markets outside North America for at least another 18 months, so if we had waited for it, the whole project would be delayed by around 18 to 24 months," the spokesman said.
RAM product only comes from the United States and is factory-only produced in left-hand-drive.
The editions sold here are shipped straight from the plant to Australia in their original state then converted by American Special Vehicles (ASV), which was originally a joint-venture between the Walkinshaw Group and Ateco but as of a week ago became wholly part of the latter’s authority.
That does not mean any change on the factory floor per se – the daily assembly operation is still undertaken by Walkinshaw employees – yet is important in that it creates a clear separation between the operations.
Because? Walkinshaw is also the parent of Holden Special Vehicles, which is now producing a RAM rival – in the form of Australasian versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and will also begin re-engineering of the Camaro sports car as well.
Walkinshaw Group has created a separate facility, albeit also in Melbourne, for the Chevrolet programme and insists two programmes, though identical in general nature, are wholly separated.
Ateco says the conversion to RHD is a full remanufacturing process.
The chassis and body are first separated before a re-engineered RHD specific steering system is fitted, then a new dashboard which was designed, developed and produced in Australia is installed along with a RHD-specific heating and ventilation system before the body and chassis are re-married to produce the final product.
The work is so substantial that it requires production line levels of quality, fit and finish, and a height of engineering excellence that means it is officially classed as a remanufactured vehicle, not a conversion.
The example at Fieldays was driven off the line by Ateco managing director Roger Zagorski, who described Fieldays as being the perfect location to reveal the truck.
“The RAM 2500 and 3500 have paved the way for RAM 1500, but the new truck takes RAM into the heart of the premium ute market in New Zealand,” he said in comment provided by Ateco’s publicist.
“It has major advantages over its rivals and so the volume expectations are on quite a different scale to those of the RAM 2500 and 3500. This is why we have a new purpose-built production line in Melbourne that is producing RAM Trucks that are without a doubt full production quality.”
While Ateco is talking up the bravura and brawn – with ability to tow up to 4.5 tonnes - of the 1500’s 5.7 litre HEMI V8 petrol engine, they are not being so loud about its thirst.