The very week that the latest Ram Rebel 1500 Crew Cab came for a visit in a very military-looking Mojave Sand and Black paint scheme, Great Wall Motors of China announced interest in purchasing Ram’s stablemate brand, Jeep, from FCA.
FCA/Chrysler has had the “for sale” sign out for over two years. Boss Sergio Marchionne thought that FCA would be a great fit for General Motors, but GM has Chevy and Buick cars and doesn’t need Dodge, plus it has Chevy and GMC trucks, so why would it want Ram. And GM certainly wouldn’t want Fiat — since it has sold all pretenses of being in the European theater when it sold Saab and now Opel.
Then Marchionne approached Volkswagen AG for a marriage. Embroiled in a couple of minor legal issues that you might have heard about, VW shied away from spending any badly needed capital for poor-selling Fiat, although there might have been interest in Alfa-Romeo or Ferrari before FCA spun off both of these brands. And VW probably could use both Jeep and Ram in the North American market, as the carmaker is quite thin on profitable trucks.
But since China-based Geely Motors bought Volvo only seven years ago and recreated the brand into an innovative powerhouse in Sweden, Europe and China, the Chinese have been paying attention to opportunities to crack into the lucrative North American marketplace. And since Geely took all of the appropriate steps to acquire Volvo and meet regulatory approval, the template has been set for a similar acquisition of Jeep.
This corner always thought that an Asian automaker would consume FCA/Chrysler. But I thought it would be Hyundai/Kia instead of the Chinese. Also starved for a significant truck/SUV lineup, Hyundai/Kia would benefit a great deal from owning Jeep and Ram — and maybe the new Pacifica minivan. Unfortunately, the aging Dodge lineup would disappear in any sale — Chinese buyer or not. (Note to gearheads: buy your Hellcat now.)
It remains to be seen if Great Wall Motors can pull off a Jeep purchase without having to buy Ram too. Realistically, how valuable is the rest of FCA in America without Jeep — one of the most popular automotive brands worldwide. And what about Fiat and Alfa? Pundits expect to see those two brands combined with another Euro-specific automaker, yet the recent Nissan, Opel and Peugeot marriage leaves little room for a collection of Italian cars.
Meanwhile, Ram has been on fire in America. Through seven months this year, Ram sales are a very close third on the sales charts to Chevy’s number two selling Silverado. An ever-expanding lineup, aggressive sales and incentives, plus content and styling that are becoming more popular, Ram is the second shining star in FCA’s portfolio.
Starting at $47,195, our 4X4 Crew Cab Rebel mixes off-roading emphasis with on-roading comfort and style. Heavy-lug off-road oriented BF Goodrich tires are complemented by an anti-spin rear differential, electric-shift transfer case, plus an adjustable air suspension that raises or lowers the chassis as driving needs dictate. The tire-tread pattern is featured on the floor mats and textile seat upholstery too, in case you forget that this is a four-wheel drive machine.
Powered by a familiar 5.7-liter 395-hp Hemi V-8, now backed by an eight-speed automatic that employs a rotary shifter on the dash, the Ram Rebel produces robust thrust, smooth shifting and competitive fuel economy — 15/21 EPA estimates, 18.5 mpg in real life use despite a stout 3.92-rear axle ratio meant to help the truck’s tow rating.
Rebel trim includes heated steering wheel and seats, a power sliding rear window portal, plus storage pockets under the folding rear seat. Push-button start is standard, as are keyless access, 8.4-inch U-Connect screen, Parkview rear camera, SiriusXM, plus power front seats.
Check a few options — Luxury Group, (LED bed lighting, upgraded mirrors, more interior lights), Off-road Protection group (skid plates, hooks, etc.), folding tonneau cover, RamBox cargo boxes, side steps, navigation, nine-speaker Alpine audio and a few other conveniences and appearance pieces — and the price climbs to $56,775 as shown. Ram 1500 trucks are built in Warren, Mich.
Jeep may be getting all of the media attention right now, yet the Ram brand is more than consequential in any breakup, sale or merger of FCA/Chrysler. The trucks are hot right now; they are popular in more places than ever, and they are making FCA a lot of money. Elevated income makes many products more relevant than ever before in today’s economy, a bargaining chip that Chrysler — and Marchionne — will need if any sale of the company’s brands is to be completed.