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Mid-size Dodge pickup to emerge from Jeep plant

Larry Vellequette, Automotive News  /  September 17, 2018

Toledo retooling for body-on-frame truck

Ram's new midsize pickup will be a body-on-frame truck built in the same plant in Toledo, Ohio, as Jeep's upcoming Wrangler-based pickup.

The revelation means the Ram pickup, which will compete against the Chevrolet Colorado and upcoming Ford Ranger, will not be a Fiat-based unibody compact, such as the Ram 750 sold in Latin America.

Mike Manley, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' head of Jeep and Ram, promised the Ram pickup at the automaker's June 1 presentation in Balocco, Italy. But he provided few details about the truck, which is expected to arrive in U.S. dealerships in 2020 as a 2021 model. Manley is now CEO of FCA.

Production of Ram's last midsize pickup, the Dakota, ended in 2011 after a 25-year run.

Roughly half of FCA's sprawling Toledo Assembly Complex has been shut for retooling since late April, when the last JK Wranglers were built there. FCA is scheduled to begin recalling workers there next month. The line regularly built more than 230,000 JK Wranglers per year, well more than its planned capacity of 160,000. But the new Jeep pickup is not expected to sell in those volumes, leaving FCA with an underused plant unless it adds another body-on-frame product.

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To make more Ram trucks, Fiat Chrysler reconsiders Mexico

Nick Carey, Reuters  /  October 29, 2018

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s new CEO is tired of being No. 3 in U.S. pickup truck sales.

With a strategy of loading up its revamped Ram 1500 full-size trucks with new features - ranging from 12-inch touch screens on the dashboard to large battery packs and electric motors to help adjust speed and gears and conserve fuel - the automaker is banking on a sustained surge in demand.

So Chief Executive Mike Manley is now reconsidering a decision announced in January to stop building Ram heavy-duty pickups at a plant in Saltillo, Mexico. That plant, and another in Warren, Michigan, between them would produce other Ram models and free up manufacturing capacity to make even more new trucks to eat into sales of Ford Motor Co’s F-Series or General Motors Co’s Chevrolet Silverado, and its higher-end GMC Sierra.

“We need to get ourselves into second” place, Manley told Reuters exclusively in his first interview since taking over the No. 7 global automaker after Sergio Marchionne died suddenly. “Frankly, I don’t care which of the two I take share from.”

When U.S. President Donald Trump was threatening action that would have imposed a 25 percent tariff on Mexican-made pickup trucks earlier this year, Fiat Chrysler said Saltillo would be “repurposed to produce future commercial vehicles.”

In 2017, Marchionne had raised the possibility his company could move heavy-duty pickup production out of Saltillo, saying U.S. tax and trade policy would influence the decision.

Now, the United States, Mexico and Canada have a tentative trade agreement that imposes no ceiling on shipments of pickups to the United States from Mexico, provided they meet thresholds for the share of parts produced within the region.

“With a combination of Warren and Mexico building what we call the classic truck, we have enough production to increase output next year if it’s required,” Manley said.

“In my opinion it will be required. We are gaining share. Obviously I am looking for that to continue, but it’s an incredibly competitive segment,” he added.

The Ram and Jeep brands underpin the automaker’s North American business - which accounted for nearly 85 percent of Fiat Chrysler’s second-quarter pre-tax profit - and offset the struggles of its legacy Fiat business in Europe and operations in China.

Ford’s F-Series trucks have led the segment for four decades. In 2017, Ford had a 35.6 percent share of U.S. retail truck sales, followed closely by GM at 34.2 percent and FCA with 22.3 percent.

Pickup trucks are the single biggest contributor to the Detroit Big Three automakers’ profits, so there is plenty at stake as they fight for market share.

In the battle for pickup customers, GM launched a new version of its Silverado truck designed with a focus on slashing weight and trimming production costs to compete with market leader Ford.

Fiat Chrysler, which reports third-quarter results on Tuesday, took a different tack with the new Ram. The automaker stuffed more features into the vehicle - including an optional 12-inch touch screen and partial electrification that saves fuel and helps with acceleration and cruise control - on a bet that customers would pay more in return.

So far, the gamble appears to be paying off. The new Ram 1500’s average sale price for the year to date through late October hit $46,856, - higher than the $42,389 average for the Ford F-150, according to industry data.

Hayden Elder, owner of Elder Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram in Athens, Texas, said three times in under a month he has had families trade in nearly-new large SUVs made by FCA’s rivals for a new Ram 1500.

“This new Ram is the biggest leap I’ve ever seen from one version to another,” Elder said. About 70 percent of the 800 vehicles he sells annually are trucks.

“Haven’t found the ceiling yet”

Phil Jansen, Fiat Chrysler’s head of product development, said when his team began redesigning the Ram 1500, they decided a lighter, all-aluminum body - which Ford uses for its trucks - was too expensive. GM executives reached the same conclusion.

But Fiat Chrysler took a chance that GM did not, and added a large battery pack and electric motor that assist with acceleration and shifting, plus deliver a smooth start-stop function that idles the engine when stopped in traffic, boosting fuel economy.

“It can save about this much fuel at an average stop,” said FCA electrification manager Brian Spohn, holding up a small tumbler of water.

The decision to offer a larger dashboard screen than its rivals have came late in the design process. Initially, the big screen was offered in the top three of the truck’s six versions. Fiat Chrysler has since decided to offer it on an additional version.

Demand is so high, the company has pushed the screen’s supplier for as many screens as it can provide, according to a source familiar with production plans.

“We haven’t found the ceiling yet” for what U.S. customers are willing to pay for additional features, said Jim Morrison, head of the Ram brand in North America.

Fiat Chrysler had problems earlier this year accelerating production of the new Ram truck on a highly-automated production line installed at a Detroit-area plant that previously made slow-selling sedans.

Among the problems: Dropped bolts and other debris would shut down automated vehicles that carried truck frames through part of the assembly process. The solution was to put debris-sweeping skirts on the carriers, FCA executives said on a recent tour of the plant.

Now, the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant is cranking out around 65 trucks an hour, 20 hours a day, six days a week - a pace of about 400,000 vehicles per year.

“It is capable, if we wanted to, to push it up more from there,” Manley told Reuters. “Clearly, having the capacity to fulfill our ambitions is important.”

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FCA tops 10% margin in North America, beats Ford profit

Larry Vellequette, Automotive News  /  October 30, 2018

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles outearned Ford Motor Co. in the third quarter, and it fulfilled a prediction from two years ago by then-CEO Sergio Marchionne by posting a record double-digit profit margin in North America.

FCA's global adjusted earnings before interest and taxes rose 13 percent to $2.27 billion, the company said Tuesday. Global revenue rose 9 percent to $32.7 billion, and the company confirmed its operating guidance for the full year. However, the company reduced its forecast for net cash to a range of $1.7 billion to $2.27 billion, from an earlier projection of about $3.4 billion.

The company’s global regions generated mixed results. FCA’s North American profit margin surged to 10.2 percent, the highest level since Fiat S.p.A. took control of bankrupt Chrysler in 2009. That's also more than double the 4.1 percent North American margin in the third quarter of 2014, when FCA began its five-year business plan that will end with the new year.

Ford earned $1.7 billion before interest and taxes last quarter, down 27 percent, with a North American profit margin of 8.8 percent. General Motors reports its earnings Wednesday; its second-quarter North American margin was 9.4 percent.

FCA's profit margins also surged in Latin America to 4.2 percent, up from 2.8 percent a year earlier. Like other automakers, FCA’s operations in the region had previously been hampered by political instability in Brazil and other South American countries. However, the company suffered losses in the Eastern Hemisphere, posting a 93 million euro loss ($106 million) in Asia Pacific because of a dramatic slowdown in China, and a $28 million loss in its Europe/Middle East/Africa region, because of slow Fiat sales and costs related to a new emissions testing regimen.

The automaker promised to pay $2.27 billion in extraordinary dividends using proceeds from the sale of its Magneti Marelli parts unit. FCA last week agreed to sell Magneti Marelli to Japan’s Calsonic Kansei for $7.1 billion. FCA also said it plans to issue regular dividends to its investors of 20 percent of its profits starting next spring.

FCA said it booked $810.9 million as a charge to pay for “U.S. diesel emission matters.” The company has been locked in litigation with federal regulators over emissions software used in about 101,000 2014-16 Ram 1500 and Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles equipped with EcoDiesel engines.

Settlement talks between the automaker and regulators are ongoing, and the matter remains unresolved, but FCA said the charge-off “represents an estimate of the provisions under applicable accounting guidelines based on progress of settlement discussions with counterparties.” The charge is intended to reflect an estimate of all known costs tied to the issue, a spokesman said.

FCA slipped back into a net-debt position in the quarter, just three months after being able to boast that it finally had more cash on hand than debt on its books for the first time since the Chrysler takeover. FCA said it ended the quarter with $215 million more debt than cash on hand, compared with a $519 million net-cash position at the end of June. The backslide resulted from an accelerated discretionary U.S. pension payment of $682 million.

Prescient prediction

FCA achieved its record North American margin in large part because of strong sales from Jeep and Ram, including the redesigned Jeep Wrangler and Ram 1500 and the freshened Jeep Cherokee. Marchionne told analysts in October 2016 that FCA would “be able to achieve double-digit margins" in North America once those products came online. And in the late CEO’s last quarterly conference call in April of this year prior to his July 25 death, the ailing Marchionne predicted FCA’s profit margins in North America would soon best rivals Ford and GM.

“If it doesn’t happen on my watch in ’18, I don’t have a single doubt that my successor will be able to whack the crap out of both of them. The machine is ready to do it. Just let them engage,” Marchionne said then.

Marchionne’s successor as FCA’s CEO, Mike Manley, was scheduled to speak to analysts and journalists on a conference call at 11 a.m. Eastern time Tuesday.

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Mopar introduces 1,000 horsepower crate engine

Larry Vellequette, Automotive News  /  October 31, 2018

Some 2,200 years after Hannibal crossed the Alps to invade Italy using an army of African war elephants, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' Mopar brand is unleashing the Hellephant -- a giant, supercharged 1,000-hp crate engine it intends to sell next year and is capable of generating 950 pound-feet of torque.

The anniversary may be accidental, but the power is not. The Hellephant represents a 41 percent power boost over the 707-hp Hellcrate 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 crate engine Mopar introduced just a year ago.

The brand's latest behemoth-in-a-box harks back to Mopar's 426 Hemi engine, which debuted in 1964 and was known as the Elephant engine because of its size and power. The Elephant racing engine boasted about half the power and torque ratings of the crate engine Mopar revealed Tuesday at the 2018 SEMA show in Las Vegas.

Mopar says the supercharged Hellephant and related installation kits are intended for enthusiasts for use in pre-1976 vehicles, and showed a concept 1968 Dodge Charger upfitted with the Hellephant and other accessories that it called the Super Charger.

"Our enthusiasts crave power and performance and our new 'Hellephant' Mopar Crate HEMI engine and kit deliver huge horsepower and torque in a plug-and-play package that is unique in the industry," Steve Beahm, head of Mopar and passenger car brands for FCA US, said in a statement. "The 1968 Dodge Charger is one of the hottest classic cars, which is why we decided to use it as a starting point for the 'Super Charger' Concept. It's an amazing vehicle and a great showcase for our 'Hellephant' engine."

The Hellephant engine uses enhanced displacement to achieve its four-figure power levels, with 4.0 inches of stroke and bore specs at 4.125 inches. Mopar says an improved supercharger with a high-efficiency rotor is mounted to the lighter weight, all-aluminum block. The block was also used in the Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak race vehicles that achieved drag racing success this year.

The Hellephant's demonic pachyderm logo is a callout to both the Muscle Car-era Elephant 426 HEMI and FCA's more recent success with the Hellcat and Demon performance cars.

The complete engine assembly, which Mopar says is relatively plug-and-play for experienced installers, includes a water pump, flywheel, front sump oil pan, supercharger with throttle body, fuel injectors and coil packs. The available engine kit includes a powertrain control module, power distribution center, engine wiring harness, chassis harness, accelerator pedal, ground jumper, oxygen sensors, charge air temperature sensors, fuel pump control module and cam bus interface device. The powertrain control module is unlocked and tuned to pump out 1,000 hp and 950 pound-feet of torque.

FCA's parts and service brand will also offer what it calls an essential Front End Accessory Drive Kit, including an alternator, power-steering pump, belts, pulleys and other items to ease installation.

Pricing was not released. FCA said the Hellephant 426 HEMI crate engine and kit is expected to be available in the first quarter of 2019.

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Photo 7.jpg

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2 hours ago, gicknordon said:

I'm guessing that thing will easily be in the $20-30,000 range.

Easily!  So a chip set and re flach the controller probaly pick up another two to three hundred horses.

Like the modern Charger body it's in. That I like too. 

Edited by 41chevy

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3 hours ago, gicknordon said:

I'm guessing that thing will easily be in the $20-30,000 range.

I’d guess north of that. The Chevy ls7 427 that is supercharged i believe was in the $30k range. 

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23 hours ago, HeavyGunner said:

I’d guess north of that. The Chevy ls7 427 that is supercharged i believe was in the $30k range. 

I looked into a Lingenfelter Super Charged  LS9 750 h.p. for my 55 , only $36,099 GM Performance Super Charged   LS9 638 h.p. is only $26,998, GM Performance Super Charged LT 5  755 h.p. is only $39,200.  I wouldn't mind the Hellephant in my 55, 1000 h.p. in a 2405 lb car would be nice.  Just would need my mrs guardian angel with me. 

Edited by 41chevy
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Nobody noticed the retro Charger in the front of the photo?

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Yeah. It’s definitely a sweet old charger with a mean big block under the hood. Wonder what running gear did they put under it to hold up to that kind of power. Kinda doubting the ol’ tq727 held up. 😁

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