Dodge introduces new, bigger pickup

/ Source: The Associated Press

Seeking to capitalize on Americans’ love for super-sized vehicles, Dodge on Wednesday introduced an even larger model of its full-size Ram Pickup, which the automaker hopes will reverse a sales decline in the highly competitive and profitable category.

Chrysler Group, which unveiled the 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab at the media preview for the Chicago Auto Show, said the pickup offers the industry’s largest cab, which is big enough for six adult passengers and stretches more than a foot longer than Ford Motor Co.’s 2005 F-250 Crew Cab.

The Ram Mega Cab, which will offer amenities ranging from a full-screen navigation radio and rear-seat DVD entertainment system to heated front bucket seats, is slated to go on sale in the fall. The company did not say what kind of gas mileage the new pickup would get.

It is the latest competitor in an increasingly crowded field. The full-size pickup category has grown from five to 12 entries since 1995, and its sales have increased more than 50 percent during the same period, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

Despite higher fuel prices, full-size pickup sales accounted for roughly 2.5 million of the 17 million vehicles sold in the United States in 2004, marking the highest level in a decade for full-size pickups. The jump was due in part to Ford’s revamped F-Series lineup and Nissan Motor Co.’s first such offering, the Titan.

Still, sales of Dodge’s Ram pickup fell 5 percent last year, hurt in part by F-Series sales. That’s significant for the American arm of DaimlerChrysler AG because Ram trucks accounted for about 20 percent of all Chrysler Group vehicles sold in the United States in 2004, Autodata figures show.

J.D. Power analyst Jeff Brodoski said overall full-size pickup sales may taper off a bit in 2005 because of fewer new entries, but he predicts continued growth, though slight, for the next several years.

General Motors Corp., the world’s largest automaker, is scheduled to retool its extensive full-size lineup next year, and Toyota Motor Corp. will increase production capacity for its full-size pickup, the Tundra, when it opens a new plant in San Antonio in late 2006.

“There’s such a large core customer for this segment — small business, commercial use, fleet,” Brodoski said. “It’s going to lose some customers here and there to big SUVs and expensive crossovers, but this market has a strong base.”