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Right-hook Ram set to crash into Australia

Ram raid: For the first time, Ram pick-ups will be sold with full Australian Design Rule certification after a multi-million-dollar right-hand drive development program by Walkinshaw engineers.

Ram pick-up to be crash-tested to prove integrity of right-hand drive engineering


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18 Nov 2015

AUSTRALIA’S newest and instantly biggest right-hand drive vehicle conversion specialist, American Special Vehicles (ASV), will send one of its newly converted Ram pick-ups hurtling into a crash-test wall next week, even though it does not need to go to such extremes to comply with full Australia Design Rule (ADR) certification for this size truck.

The company – a joint venture between Australia’s biggest independent vehicle importer, Ateco Automotive, and Holden Special Vehicles sister company Walkinshaw Automotive Group – wants to do the test to prove the engineering integrity of its multi-million-dollar right-hand-drive conversion program.

The crash test, in Melbourne, will put an exclamation point on the one-year project to engineer and mass produce RHD-converted pick-ups from Ram – formerly Dodge Ram – to OEM (original equipment manufacturer) standards of safety, comfort and build quality.

Speaking at today’s Ram launch, ASV executives, including Ateco chairman Neville Crichton and Walkinshaw director Ryan Walkinshaw, were sharply critical of conversion jobs by myriad small importers who have served the growing Australian market for American pick-ups converted to right-hand drive, saying they are frequently poorly engineered and badly manufactured.

They cited several cases of rough-and-ready vehicle conversion, adding that ASV had spent millions of dollars and more than 30,000 hours on engineering its version of the Ram, using latest techniques such as cad-cam to achieve factory standards while simultaneously developing a new dedicated production facility.

The conversion requires the entire cabin to be lifted off of the frame, the entire dash to be removed, and then reassembled with a mass of new parts, including a specially engineered RHD steering box and new dashboard frame and surface plastics that include a top dash cover produced by the company that supplies a similar part for the Toyota Camry.

Part of the right-hand foot-well is cut away and rebuilt to accommodate the pedals and a footrest.

Because ASV-converted Rams come with full ADR compliance for mass sale, the company is preparing to pump out hundreds of the vehicles a year, for Australia, New Zealand and – potentially – export markets such as South Africa.

While Ram sells about 40,000 of the pick-ups a month in North America, ASV is aiming for about 50 a month in the first year.

The company launched the re-engineered Ram 2500 and 3500 series pick-ups this week just as the first mass-produced vehicles were rolling from the purpose-built production line at Clayton, in Melbourne’s south-east.

Imported directly from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Ram plant in Mexico, both Ram variants are being launched in five-seat crew-cab configuration in the high-end Laramie specification, with just one powertrain choice – the gutsy 6.7-litre Cummins V6 turbo diesel engine producing 276kW of power and 1084Nm of torque.

The engine is hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission and a Borg-Warner 4x4 transfer case, driving either the rear wheels or all four wheels, in high or low range.

Naturally, the big beasts will be aimed squarely at the towing market, for which it comes amply equipped, with a braked towing capacity of more than six tonnes on both variants.

Prices start at $139,500 plus on-road costs for the Ram 2500 and $146,500 for a Ram 3500. This includes a three-year, 100,000km warranty.

One of the main differences between the Ram 2500 and 3500 is the rear suspension, with the 2500 getting a more compliant five-link coil sprung rear end, while the 3500 gets a rugged, truck-style leaf spring set up.

Consequently, the payload for the 2500 is less – 913kg – than that of the 3500, which can lug 1713kg. Curiously, the towing capacity for the 2500 is 6989kg, while the 3500 hauls 6170kg.

Like most American full-sized pick-ups, the Ram pick-ups sit on a steel ladder frame, with eight cross-members.

The large cargo tray has a plastic protective liner but no “Ram box” – the built-in lockable tool box running down one side of the tray on some variants offered in the United States.

And unless things change, there will be no petrol engine versions, including the potent Hemi V8 offered in the home market.

ASV went straight to the top when selecting the specification for the Ram, ticking the box for Laramie’s electric-adjusted, leather-trimmed seats with both heating and ventilation in the front, heated, leather-bound steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, tinted power windows, 7.9-inch touchscreen, 6.7-inch instrument cluster, nine-speaker audio, keyless entry and connectivity of various types, including Bluetooth.

It even has a 240-volt socket to suit Australian plugs right there in the console, under a little flap.

Safety items include full-length curtain airbags, electronic stability control, rear park assist, rearview camera and tyre pressure monitoring.

A separate camera in the high-mounted stop light at the back of the cabin allows drivers to check the load.

ASV joint COO Peter McGeown – an Ateco executive for many years who will now handle the sales and marketing side of the Ram business – said there was significant opportunity to fill the pent up demand for an OEM-quality vehicle of this type.

“Not just the quality of the vehicle either, though that is significant,” he said. “We will offer a nation-wide dealer network with sales, parts and service support commensurate with a brand of this standing.”2015 RAM pricing*
2500 (a)$139,500
3500 (a)$146,500
*Excludes on-road costs

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