When American Expedition Vehicles decides to build something the results are usually quite impressive, typically sending ripples across the auto industry. That's what happened with its long-wheelbase Jeep Wrangler years ago as well as with its Jeep pickup truck.
Now it looks like that could once again happen with its latest creation: the AEV Ram Concept.
Last year we drove one of AEV's Brute Double Cabs, a pickup truck conversion package based on a longer-wheelbase Wrangler Unlimited platform. This is a great solution if you want a Jeep pickup with astounding 4x4 capabilities. Although AEV wouldn't get specific with us, its production numbers for the 2014 Brute Double Cab are better than ever expected, according to David Harriton, president and founder of AEV.
But that's not why we recently traveled to Moab, Utah. We went to test the AEV Ram 2500 concept vehicle because the company has created some interesting 4x4 truck parts for the new Ram heavy duties. Seeing it at the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show was one thing. Our biggest issue was how the truck would perform in a world-class off-road environment, so we met up with the guys from AEV, who brought the truck to Moab so we could get behind the wheel.
Venturing from the traditional heart-of-the-market Jeep 4x4 and into the realm of HD pickups should merit caution. But not if you're Harriton. "We've always had a good relationship with Chrysler products and when jumping into the Ram HD market [it] seems like a perfect fit," he said. "Most of the big trucks you see around Moab are towing their rock crawlers to the trails, but we think we can offer something completely different."
AEV's design and parts specifically made for 2014 Ram 2500 and 3500 single-rear-wheel pickups should be completed later this fall, with several different "staged" option packages available by the end of the year. AEV has always offered customers a chance to order Stage 1, Stage 2 or Stage 3 set-ups with their trucks, as well as a complete set of individual parts so buyers can customize as needed.
Interestingly, the AEV concept we tested was a 2014 Ram 2500 HD 4x4 with a lower-rated Cummins engine and corporate six-speed transmission that towed the newest Brute Double Cab to the 2014 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab without any problems. And once the trailer was unhitched, the tow vehicle was ready for us to take on the some rock-crawling trails.
The test unit had all prototype parts; AEV said it is still fine-tuning the suspension and shocks. Beyond that, the designs are ready to go. To fit the 40-inch tire package (there's also a 37-inch tire package available), AEV designed a heavy-duty 3-inch front suspension lift that relocates the front axle forward about an inch, so the bigger tires don't interfere with the new fender flares during hard cornering. In the rear, to keep the truck level, all AEV needed was a 2-inch lift to keep the stock coil springs (all 2014 Ram 2500s have four-corner coil springs just like Jeep Wranglers) level with the front end.
AEV also designed its own front steering replacement system that essentially keeps all the steering component angles practically identical to stock. This is probably the most impressive aspect of the truck; even with 40-inch-tall tires and the suspension lift, the truck handles and maneuvers like a stock Ram HD on around town and on the highway.
We took the truck on a few 4x4 trails around Moab and found the flexibility of the lifted live axles impressive for an HD truck; with the 40-inch tires aired down, the grip and grab on the rocks was more billy goat than big pickup. The combination of Cummins low-end torque, aggressive trail tires and huge ground clearance was almost unstoppable — and the view was amazing. We were literally looking down on the rooftops of passing Jeeps.
We should note that the dual-reservoir Bilstein shocks were still in the preliminary tuning stages, but the smoothness and control of the ride, especially when off-roading and expecting to get beaten up, was impressive. AEV assured us that nothing in the parts' designs would decrease the truck's factory towing or payload numbers. Our test truck did have about 6 inches of added ride height, which would affect the ball height for towing; AEV would be smart to offer a heavy-duty adjustable trailer hitch.
"We're pretty sure there's a lot of three-quarter-ton guys looking to give their truck more trail capability and still be able to tow any toy they might have," Harriton said. It seems like sales numbers are working in AEV's favor; the three-quarter-ton pickup market was second only to the behemoth half-ton segment for 2013 sales, with 375,000 total units split between four makes. The Ram 2500 totals more than 80,000 units.
Pricing for the AEV Ram Concept parts and pieces will be set closer to release later this fall but if AEV's past pricing structure is any indication, they'll be premiumly priced.
Cars.com photos by Mark Williams
The rear suspension has just a 2-inch suspension lift, but AEV uses the stock springs to keep it as close to stock riding as possible. Whether you choose the 37-inch-tire option or 40-inch-tire option, the lift is the same. No modifications to the rear driveshaft, brakes or 11.5-inch axle are necessary.
The 9.25-inch front axles have a 3-inch suspension lift that also retain the stock springs, but the set-up does move the centerline of the axle forward 1 inch to allow the bigger wheels and tires to clear the fender flares when turning from lock to lock. AEV uses dual-reservoir Bilstein shocks (similar to its Wrangler kit) with completely unique stiffness settings based on the cab, wheelbase and powertrain configuration. Those hoping for a less expensive front swaybar disconnect system like the Power Wagon offers will be disappointed. It's not offered yet.
AEV offers two different tire sizes (37 and 40 inches) and will continue its unique 17-inch rims. This Ram 2500 used 40/14.50R17 BFG Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 tires, which are about 7 inches taller than the tires used on Ram's Power Wagon. To keep all the emissions and gauge cluster info running within acceptable levels, AEV offers a plug-in module, regardless of tire size.
The front bumper is modular to allow customers to prep and paint their truck as they desire. There's a lot of strength here because AEV uses ¼ -inch and ⅜-inch steel for protection and support. Since the factory front bumper system is pretty sturdy, the added weight is nominal. One of the things we like is that AEV kept the area in front of the huge front cooler wide open; that's especially important with the Cummins engine.