We recently had a chance to spend the day at the Chrysler Proving Grounds near Chelsea, Mich., to drive a good selection of 2012 and 2013 models and to talk to a few executives and engineers.
We have to say there is something different about driving a specific manufacturer’s truck on the same track or course that it most likely did some of its durability testing or suspension fine-tuning, as opposed to driving it on regular roads. Seeing a new vehicle on the home field and getting a chance to speak to those responsible for its creation is special.
We signed all sorts of legal documents requiring us not to take any pictures when the vehicles were moved from the parking lot to the middle of the proving grounds or take any pictures of the camouflaged vehicles running around the test tracks. It wouldn’t surprise us at all if the Chrysler folks kept a very close eye on each one of the attendees, and I imagine they could track any inappropriate photo to a specific shooter.
For at least two decades, Chrysler has offered journalists access to the proving grounds for the company’s annual “Product Day” event. But over the past few years, they haven’t been able to hold the event for various reasons. It felt good to be back.
Hundreds of journalists gad access to vehicles and engineers, and they saw the one-off concepts that recently debuted in Moab, Utah, for Easter Jeep Safari. In all, there must have been 50 or so vehicles available on several different road and off-road courses. The only thing we couldn’t drive at the event was the coming SRT Viper and 2013 Ram 1500 — several were on display, but none to drive. Still, we caught up with colleagues from other magazines and websites, and we spoke with vehicle reps and engineers, both on and off the record.
We’ve all been hearing about a small turbo-diesel scheduled to debut in the Jeep Grand Cherokee for next year and then work its way over to the new Ram 1500 shortly thereafter (likely to be a 3.0-liter VM Mortori V-6), but Truck Trend is reporting that Chrysler applied to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the name “EcoDiesel.” Could there be a name-change in the works? We did hear from one source that the name is designed to help bridge the gap in the general consumer’s mind that diesel engines are dirty and otherwise environmentally unfriendly. The strategy sounds like it could work; Ford is still riding a wave of success with the EcoBoost name, so we’re sure the same naming strategy (assuming the performance is there) for a smaller and more efficient diesel engine could work just as well.
As to the continuing issue of an eventual Jeep pickup truck, there was a lockdown on any discussion of anything coming. That would make sense, since a few high-level future product executives were caught talking about the possibility of another shot at a small, affordable pickup truck somewhere in Chrysler. The logical spot is with Ram Truck, but if they try something and the sales prove moderately successful, we have to believe that the Jeep leaders would be first in line to create a strong, global Toyota Hilux fighter that could do substantial U.S. sales and still sell well in South America, Asia and especially in Thailand, which is the world’s biggest midsize-truck marketplace. Even a moderate sales success for the first vehicle into the U.S. market could mean good things for those looking for a midsize Jeep pickup.
Fuel economy ratings are not out yet, nor were they even discussed. The vehicle reps would only reiterate that the new 2013 Ram 1500 will have class-leading fuel economy. The current full-size V-6 half-ton truck segment is right around 18/23 mpg city/highway. We’d assume the new Ram — with the Pentastar V-6, new eight-speed transmission and 3.15:1 gear ratio — would do quite well in EPA testing.
Here are some of the trucks we saw, drove and asked about. You can find more detailed photos of the trucks here by going to our Facebook page.
2012 Ram 1500 Police Special Service
This package, specifically designed for law enforcement, offers all sorts of features such as red and white interior lighting for better night visibility (both inside and out), red backlighting for gauges and a customizable Havis center console. This one has 12 different siren sounds. The package comes with a bigger battery and alternator, long-life spark plugs and heavy-duty cooling. One option we wish Ram would offer to the general public is the cloth front seats and vinyl rear seats with rubber floormats everywhere.
2012 Ram 1500 Laramie Limited
We haven’t seen too many of these. In fact, this one was parked in the executive parking lot for Chrysler employees. The only odd thing about it is that it has Laramie Longhorn rims all around.
2013 Ram 1500 R/T
This one stopped us in our tracks. We certainly hope no one got in trouble for bringing this out during the event — it was there for only a few hours before being hustled off the press site. If you missed the quick story we posted with a few more photos, click here.
2013 Ram 1500 Laramie
Not any of the 2013 models were available for the media to drive, though this videographer seemed to have gotten permission to move the truck in front of a nicer background. This is the first live 2013 model we’ve seen, and although you can tell the interior materials are pre-production, the layout and perceived quality still impress us each time we see it.
2013 Ram 2500 HD CNG
This was our first time behind the wheel of the new 2500 Quad Cab long bed with the compressed-natural-gas engine. If you look closely, you can see the extra set of fuel rails, but other than that, the Hemi looks normal. Inside, changes are made only to the valves and valve seats. The bi-fuel system uses a capless gas-tank filler to make room for the CNG filler nipple, which sits under the same fuel door. The dual tank setup, located in the bed, holds about 18 (gas-equivalent) gallons. To prevent the gasoline stored in the eight-gallon gas tank from going stale, there is software that makes the truck consume a full tank of gas over a set period of time.
2012 Ram 1500 Tradesman Regular Cab
Although designed to be a no-nonsense work truck, the Tradesman Regular Cab was in high demand on the short-track drive loop. This setup was the low-buck hot rod of the event.
2012 Ram 3500 HD Laramie Longhorn
The last time we drove something this big and brawny, it was called the Laramie Long Hauler. No official word at the event about the Long Hauler, but if consumer and general public interest are any indication, it should be a no-brainer. We love the Longhorn interior and will have to do a Super Duty Platinum Shootout real soon.
2012 Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn
The Western theme will likely continue to be Ram’s go-to option package, especially with recent sales numbers doing so well in Texas. This is the 2012 model, but we have no doubt the 2013 will be showing off the saddle leather and elaborate stitching accents.
This may have been our favorite truck at the event. Clearly used as a tool around the proving grounds, this Dodge Ram (complete with the Dodge name over the Ram’s head on the tailgate) is set up for pushing stalled concept prototypes, as well as yanking stuck trucks or Jeeps out of the deep woods.