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Aussie Ram conversion ‘just the beginning’

Heavy duty: While the Australian motor vehicle manufacturing business is contracting, American Special Vehicles has launched into the right-hand-drive Ram pick-up business.

Exports and more brands eyed for RHD treatment by American Special Vehicles

18 Nov 2015

AUSTRALIA’S newest motor manufacturer, American Special Vehicles (ASV), is planning to export its locally converted right-hand-drive Ram pick ups to other RHD markets, including South Africa and parts of Southeast Asia.

The joint-venture between Australia’s biggest independent importer, Ateco Automotive, and special vehicle leader Walkinshaw Automotive Group is also looking to add more American built-vehicles to its local conversion portfolio, including vehicles from other manufacturers.

Production of converted Ram 2500 and 3500 pick-ups began today in Walkinshaw’s Clayton factory in Melbourne, with stock set to roll out to a 20-strong national RAM dealer network soon.

The company plans to sell “at least” 500 of the big Yankee trucks in Australia in 2016, with the first 100 already covered by dealer forward orders.

New Zealand will also get the RHD Ram – formerly called Dodge Ram before it was spilt off into its own brand entity – that are imported in left-hand drive form direct from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' (FCA) Saltillo plant in Mexico and converted in Australia on a dedicated production line at Clayton, separate from Walkinshaw’s Holden Special Vehicles line.

The project has the blessing of FCA, which not only helped with compliance paperwork but also appointed ASV its authorised importer for Australasia.

The arrangement between the factory and ASV effectively derails several independent vehicle conversion companies selling Rams in Australia. Until now, these vehicles have been bought from North American dealers, frequently from used car yards.

With prices starting from $139,500 for a Ram 2500 and $146,500 for Ram 3500, the full-sized dual-cab pick-ups are being offered only in luxurious Laramie specification with a single powertrain – a 6.7-litre Cummins V6 turbo-diesel engine producing 276kW and – wait for it – 1084Nm of torqueLaunching the new line in Melbourne today, executives of both Ateco and Walkinshaw indicated that success for the Ram project was crucial, as it was laying the groundwork for a potentially much bigger business.

Walkinshaw Group director Ryan Walkinshaw said other manufacturers were looking at how the Ram project turned out, potentially offering the chance for similar RHD conversion projects.

“If we do a good job, hopefully they will come,” he said.

Mr Walkinshaw said he estimated it cost a major motor manufacturer about $50 million to engineer a RHD vehicle for markets such as Australia.

He said that while ASV had spent millions of dollars and more than 30,000 hours of engineering and design work on readying the pick-up for both RHD and full-volume Australian Design Rule (ADR) certification, it had been able to achieve the task for considerably less cost than an OEM (original equipment manufacturer).

“Hopefully, that is a no-brainer for them,” he said.

ASV executives said the joint-venture parties had spent about a year bringing the project to fruition, with all engineering and design work at OEM standards – unlike the independent converters who, they said, frequently cut corners.

ASV joint chief operating officer and engineer in charge of the Ram development project, John DiBerardino, said ASV had made a commitment to the factory to produce a right-hand-drive Ram that was close as possible to the LHD original.

Mr Crichton said the potential for RHD vehicles such as ASV’s Ram pick-up was massive.

“Think of a number,” he said. “That’s the potential.”

The production line apparently has the capability of producing up to 1500 a year, but will start with three or four vehicles a day.

After Australia and New Zealand, South Africa appears to be next cab off the rank for Ram sales, with Mr Crichton pointing out that Ateco now has a presence in South Africa, via its Maserati operation there.

ASV says that if it manages to secure other vehicles for conversion in Australia, it would need to build further production lines for those specific products, as the Ram line caters specifically for the Ram range.

Mr Crichton said ASV’s arrangement with Ram had been done direct with FCA in Detroit, and had not involved former FCA Australia CEO Clyde Campbell, who is currently fighting a law suit against his former employer over misuse of funds.

Mr Campbell left FCA Australia to set up Fiat Chrysler New Zealand (FCNZ) with Mr Crichton, but the latter said Mr Campbell was not longer associated with FCNZ and had nothing to do with ASV.

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