Posted by: Jerry Garrett | March 7, 2018

Dodge Trucks: A Hundred Years Old? Or Dead?

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A “Centennial” Model? 2019 Ram 1500 (Photos By Jerry Garrett)

One hundred years ago, the Dodge Brothers started selling purpose-built trucks. A centennial celebration would seem to be in order. But Dodge Trucks are dead. Or are they?

When the Italian automaker Fiat acquired the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands in 2009, it was announced the truck division of Dodge would be spun off into a new, separate brand christened Ram Trucks. It wasn’t just a name pulled from thin air; the Ram’s head has been a Dodge symbol on radiator cap mascots dating to the 1930s, and since the 1970s, Ram has been a perennial Dodge model designation. But the 2009 spin-off was a jolt for the brand faithful.

In many ways, not much has changed since that decision was made. Ram executives still work in the same building with their Dodge brethren, Dodge dealers still sell trucks, and most importantly, the public still seems to identify Ram trucks with the Dodge brand.

fullsizeoutput_19a7In fact, when a 2018 Super Bowl television ad placed by Ram stirred controversy, Dodge got tarred with most of the critical blowback. (The ad was criticized for allegedly commercializing a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King.) Both companies were quick to note the ad was presented by Ram Trucks, and that Dodge had nothing to do with it.

“But it was understandable in the sense that there’s a lot of history there, with our customers, that goes back decades, associating the Dodge name with our trucks,” said Rick Deneau, a spokesman for FCA Group, the parent of today’s Dodge and Ram brands. “Of course, we’ve done a lot of work in recent years to differentiate the two brands, and we’re going to be working even harder to do that, going forward.”

But the problem goes deeper than name association. Consider this: In 1994, Dodge completely re-made its trucks with a signature “big rig” look. Even though the nameplate changed from Dodge to Ram in 2009, the big rig look carried over. So, please forgive buyers if they considered a Ram truck that looked like a Dodge to still be a Dodge.

But for the 2019 model year, virtually every one of the many old Dodge styling cues – that distinctive broad-shouldered look and “outta my way” attitude that has endured over the past 25 model years – are finally gone. Crucially, even the Dodge-style “crosshair” grille has been ditched.

fullsizeoutput_19a8Despite the bold new design language, the 2019 Ram 1500 still bears a strong family resemblance. In fact, in introducing the new Ram to news media at an event in Scottsdale, Arizona, this week, Joe Dehner, the chief exterior designer, acknowledged, “The DNA on this truck still goes back to the 1994 model.”

And with a nod to the notion of a centennial celebration being in order, he reminded everyone, “We have been building trucks for over a hundred years.” In fact, after considerable research, he has decided this new Ram model is rightfully the “15th generation” descendant of the original Dodge Brothers pickup.

While historians note that Dodge Brothers Company passenger cars first appeared in 1915, and commercial versions (probably conversions) date from that period, the company’s first purpose-built truck arrived later.

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1918 Dodge Truck (“Oozlfinch” from Flickr)

In 1918, the United States Army ordered an exclusive military-spec truck based on the fledgling company’s sturdy, well-regarded and hot-selling Model 30-35 sedans. The army ended up purchasing 3,500 of those trucks, from 1918 to 1923. It wasn’t until 1924, after the army contract expired, that a “civilian” version finally went on sale.

(Collectors claim, despite its rugged reputation, only one running example of Dodge’s original military-spec truck – pictured above – is still in existence.)

So, back to our original question: Is a centennial celebration in order? Were Dodge Trucks born a century ago, and do they endure to this day? Or did they die in 2009? Maybe former Ram brand president Fred Diaz can clear that up, for the record: “Ram Trucks will always and forever be Dodges. Ram will always have the Dodge emblem inside and outside and they will be ‘vinned’ as a Dodge. We need to continue to market as Ram so Dodge can have a different brand identity: hip, cool, young, energetic. That will not fit the campaign for truck buyers. The two should have distinct themes.”

Champagne, anyone?

Jerry Garrett

March 6, 2018

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