Between the GMC Hummer EV, the Ford F-150 Electric, the Lordstown Endurance, and the Rivian R1T, there’s a whole lot of excitement about American-made electric pickups. And that’s before picking up the wildcard of the bunch, the Tesla Cybertruck.
Amid this hive of battery-electric truck activity, one other longtime American truck heavyweight, Ram, has remained relatively mum about the niche so far. But the company’s CEO, Mike Manley, made a comment Wednesday that was interpreted in some reporting as a fully electric truck.
In FCA’s third-quarter financial call, Jefferies analyst Philippe Houchois, who tracks electric vehicles and Tesla, asked Manley for an update or clarified statement on the company’s intent to electrify its Ram pickups, in light of recent GMC Hummer EV and Lordstown Endurance introductions.
2021 Ram 1500
“I do see that there will be an electrified Ram pickup in the marketplace, and I would ask you just to stay tuned for a little while and we’ll tell you exactly when that will be,” Manley said, providing a more specific answer than he had the previous quarter.
FCA might have a fully electric pickup in the works, but Manley did not confirm that.
A big part of the industry—three years after mass media widely and wildly misinterpreted Volvo’s use of “electrified” to mean it was banishing gasoline engines—has trouble parsing out the difference between electric and electrified. Earlier in the same call, Manley himself had clarified electrified vehicles as including plug-in hybrids and mild hybrids.
In the careful parlance of company updates—especially seeing this was the second quarter in a row Manley had answered a version of this question—it’s hard to believe that the choice of not saying “electric” wasn’t a deliberate one.
Fiat 500 - Euro version, fully electric
FCA communications wouldn’t go on record to confirm the intent of the statement, but agreed the term “electrification” has a wide range of meanings to the company. As a follow-up to the call, it issued the following: “FCA has a long-term strategy for electrification that includes Ram and we have the talent to put it into motion. As for the comments made on today's earnings call, we have nothing to add.”
Connecting the dots—to a plug-in hybrid pickup?
The automaker has previously balked at the idea of fully electric trucks, but it’s stated that some larger, American-market plug-in hybrids—such as versions of the Wagoneer or Grand Wagoneer and others—are in development.
FCA propulsion chief Micky Bly told Green Car Reports last month that the company had put about 1.5 million miles on development versions of the Jeep Wrangler 4xe plug-in hybrid so that they could cover every possible surface and capability.
2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe
To speculate for a moment: Yes, it’s great that the company has put this much development effort on a special version of the Wrangler. But doesn’t that sound like the system is headed into something else: the Gladiator pickup, likely, and perhaps also a Ram product?
Bly hinted to us that the Wrangler 4xe’s system, focused around an 8-speed automatic transmission, is going to go into a lot more trucks. “We’re going to expand this further into the portfolio,” Bly said about with product announcements due next year. The system internally is termed FCA’s Gen2 hybrid system, after the Gen1 hybrid system in the Pacifica Hybrid.
The automaker is—already, in a stealth manner—a hybrid powerhouse. According to the 2019 EPA Trends Automotive Report, FCA put hybrids in 16% of its U.S. vehicles for 2019—a higher percentage than Toyota. However the vast majority of those vehicles is the eTorque mild-hybrid system that’s widely installed in the Ram 1500 (and one of the building blocks for the new PHEV system.
eTorque system in 2019 Ram 1500
While neither Bly nor Manley said as much, this leads to an important question: What if FCA doesn’t go with a fully electric truck, but instead aims for a plug-in hybrid version, with something like 30 or 40 miles of all-electric range, then full hybrid operation for hauling and long trips? And if that in turn allows the Ram PHEV to be a significant part of sales rather than a tiny niche, is that better for the greening of the fleet? At the very least, it would be peerless.
“What’s really nice about it is that we can pick it up and move it very quickly because it actually is not super intrusive to the vehicles,” Bly said, noting that it fit easily under the hood of the Wrangler and, potentially, other trucks. “We’re committed and what’s nice is we’ve got the Legos and it’s time to start picking and placing.”
Jeep Renegade 4xe and Compass 4xe plug-in hybrids
With the deployment in Europe of a wide range of plug-in hybrid vehicles, including versions of the Jeep Compass and Renegade, as well as a new Fiat 500e focused for the Continent, FCA—or Stellantis, as the company will soon be known, with PSA—will be able to shed its dependence on Tesla CO2 credits in the EU.
Next up? A fully electric Jeep would add to the global appeal and not be soured by the realities of payloads and towing.
And if FCA deploys “electrified” trucks—even plug-in hybrids, with their greater potential acceptance—across a wider part of their range, it could end up with a solution that makes more of a difference in the first few years than those other trucks.