One of the newest brands on the market today, Ram is also (indirectly) one of the oldest. The truck division of Dodge was split off as a separate brand in 2010 to become the Ram division of the Chrysler Group LLC.
Thus the history of Ram is, in many ways, the history of Dodge.
Active since the early days of the automotive industry, Dodge got its start as one of the first suppliers to auto manufacturers. Two of its biggest clients were Ford and Oldsmobile. Ultimately though, the hugely successful Dodge brothers, Horace and John, decided to put their name on a car of their own.
The story of the Dodge brand goes all the way back to 1900, the brothers built bicycles in addition to automotive parts under the auspices of the Dodge Brothers Company. In 1914 Horace and John offered their first car, the Dodge Model 30. Positioned as a nicer Ford Model T, the Model 30 featured all-steel construction (most of its contemporaries used wood frames), a more robust 12-volt electrical system, 35 horsepower (to the Model T’s 20), and a sliding gear transmission (rather than the dated planetary design favored by Ford). A truck was built off of this platform as well.
As the Dodge brothers already had a reputation for precise engineering, the Model 30 was well received and the Dodge boys were off and running. By 1916, they were second only to Ford (who had a huge head start in the industry over practically everyone else) in terms of sales. Interestingly, Horace and John had acquired a great deal of stock in Ford over the years. When Henry Ford suspended dividend payments to build his gargantuan River Rouge assembly plant, the Dodges lead a lawsuit, which ultimately resulted in Henry Ford being forced to buy out his shareholders. This netted the Dodge brothers a $25 million windfall. That same year, their vehicles gained renown for durability because of their employment by the U.S. Army.
Sitting on a nice pile of cash, their vehicles getting great press, and with a legion of satisfied customers, the Dodge brothers had it going pretty good—until January of 1920 when John succumbed to a case of pneumonia. Horace followed 12 months later from cirrhosis. Their widows inherited the company and elevated Frederick Haynes to the presidency. Unfortunately, without the brothers driving innovation, the momentum was broken and sales started to slip. Model stagnation set in and by 1925, Dodge had slid to number five. Cutting their losses, the Dodge sisters sold the company for $146 million, the largest cash transaction in the history of American business at the time.
The investment concern known as Dillon, Read & Co. bought Dodge and took it public, netting $160 million. Essentially flipping the company and booking a tidy $14 million profit in the process, they retained control of Dodge, keeping the company alive with minimal changes to the cars.
Walter P. Chrysler showed up with a bag full of cash in 1928, and Dodge became a division of the Chrysler Corporation. Flash forward to World War II—Dodge trucks with four-wheel drive were an instrumental part of the war effort. After the war, Dodge converted them to civilian use and coined the name “Power Wagon” for them. Well received, the Dodge Power Wagon trucks were renowned for their durability and strength. By the 1960s, Dodge was also adding more carlike features to its trucks to make them more comfortable in day-to-day usage.
The 1970s were a tough decade for Dodge trucks. Sales were off, so the company got out of the medium and heavy-duty market—focusing its resources on its light-duty pickup trucks. Money problems kept development to a minimum well into the 1980s, so the marketing team had to take up the slack. They came up with “Adult Toys”; producing limited edition trucks sporting features like big rig exhaust stacks.
The “Ram” name, first coined in 1981, was instituted to lend an air of toughness and attract attention to the mildly restyled product. One bright spot during this period was the introduction of Cummins turbodiesel engines to the lineup. This attracted the attention of buyers who needed to tow equipment and haul heavy loads. By the way, the Ram was picked up from the hood ornament the Dodge brothers had used on their cars.
What turned it around for the Dodge Ram pickups was the application of “big rig” styling l in 1994. For the first time, a pickup truck adopted the long-nose styling of the Peterbilt tractors. This, combined with a new interior treatment and a prominent placement on the TV show “Walker, Texas Ranger” drew considerable attention to the revised Dodge Ram vehicles.
The 2002 redesign of the Ram trucks refined the big rig look and folded in more creature comforts. These trucks were smooth riding, powerful and good-looking. They were also sized to slot in between full and medium-sized pickups, which gave them a unique position in the marketplace. The powerful 5.7-liter Hemi engine fitted to the 2002 Ram trucks helped a lot too. Model year 2009 saw the advent of a coil spring rear suspension system, which greatly improved both ride and handling.
For model year 2010, Ram was split off from Dodge to stand alone as its own brand, ostensibly to focus on “real truck buyers”. Chrysler had been purchased by the Italian automaker Fiat. Part of the new marketing strategy for Dodge was to reposition it with young, hip, urban buyers. There was concern having a line of trucks badged “Dodge” would be counterproductive to this.
The change also gave the truck division an opportunity to market itself as rugged, rural, and Middle American. According to former Ram Division president Fred Diaz; "We need to market as Ram so Dodge can have a different brand identity: hip, cool, young, and energetic. That will not fit the campaign for truck buyers. The two should have distinct themes."
There are also rumors Fiat has plans to get Chrysler back into the heavy truck business under the Ram nameplate. Splitting the pickup trucks off and branding them Ram, could well be the first step in a much grander plan.