RAM 1500 pick-up replacement has been again delayed, this time until the 2021 model year, with the current DS series model (2017MY pictured) to be facelifted again and remain in production for a time as a less expensive alternative to the next generation DT trucks

RAM 1500 pick-up replacement has been again delayed, this time until the 2021 model year, with the current DS series model (2017MY pictured) to be facelifted again and remain in production for a time as a less expensive alternative to the next generation DT trucks

The seventh and final feature in the series concerning the future model plans of FCA Italy's and FCA US' brands is an analysis of what's coming for Chrysler, Dodge and RAM.

Chrysler

There are now only a few Chrysler brand models, production of the 200, a compact sedan, having been wound up on 2 December. Two years ago there was an announcement from FCA that a 200-based crossover would be developed but since then, there has been only silence on this topic. No plant was ever mentioned so it is presumed that this model has been shelved if indeed it ever got to the project development stage.

The Chrysler 300 is now the brand's only sedan. It has been in production for exactly six years, build being at FCA Canada's Brampton plant. This facility is where the group's largest rear- and all-wheel drive sedans and coupes are made.

The car is a rebodying of the former 300, albeit on a slightly longer wheelbase. Developed with the LY41 project code, it was launched at the Detroit auto show in January 2011 and went on sale soon after.

Chrysler launched the 300 in North America with 3.6-litre V6 and 5.7-litre V8 engines but a 465hp V8 followed in July 2011 for North America's 2012 model year. This variant, the 300 SRT8, debuted at the New York auto show in April 2011.

A 300 Hybrid would be launched in the US in 2013, the company's CEO Sergio Marchionne told the media in January 2011 at the Detroit auto show. This project now appears to have been cancelled. The 300 was also to be the basis for a new big, European-built sedan for Lancia. This model would also have been exported to North America as a Chrysler, Fiat Group stated in April 2010. The Chrysler '400' was then cancelled too. However, there was a briefly marketed Lancia-badged version of the Chrysler 300, the Thema. It was discontinued during 2014.

A specially modified version of the 300C for the Chinese market debuted at the Beijing motor show in April 2012. This marked the return of the model as well as the Chrysler brand to that country.

A facelifted 300 range was revealed at the LA auto show in November 2014. These 2015 model year cars began to reach US dealerships during the first quarter of 2015. 

The 2016 model year 300 was announced in September 2015. There were only minor changes. The same applies for the 2017 model year 300.

There is some uncertainty surrounding the future of the 300. It may gain one more facelift for the 2018 model year and remain in production until 2020. Or, it might continue unchanged until CY2018 at which time it could be replaced by a front- and all-wheel drive model.

In May 2016, Sergio Marchionne aired his thoughts that the next 300 might share the architecture of the Pacifica and be produced alongside the big minivan at Windsor in Ontario. The company is yet to state where it will build replacements for the 300 and its other LX platform vehicles, which for a time led to rumours that it might close Brampton. Alternatively, it had been speculated that these replacement models might still be RWD/AWD but instead use the Giorgio platform and be manufactured at Toluca in Mexico.

The October 2016 announcement of plans to give the Brampton plant a new paint shop appears to have increased chances that the factory which presently makes Chrysler and Dodge's large sedans would be used for the next generation model Dodges at least. Later in October, speaking to analysts on the topic of FCA's third quarter financials, Marchionne failed to mention the Chrysler 300 in the context of having a RWD/AWD successor: "The important thing for us was to preserve the uniqueness of the rear-wheel drive offering that we have across four brands: Alfa, Maserati, Dodge and potentially Jeep. And that solution has been nailed down internally by focusing on the Giorgio architecture".

What FCA's CEO said is taken to mean that either the car will not be replaced or else it will shift to a FWD/AWD architecture. The latter outcome seems most likely, as the existing and fairly aged 300 still managed almost 50,000 combined sales in its two main markets during the first three quarters of CY2016. A fresh model could theoretically sell at an average rate of 70,000-80,000 over a 5-7 year lifecycle. It might be that the 300 replacement becomes a hatchback in the style of the next Buick Regal. The platform and plant would likely be CUSW and Windsor.

Building a FWD/AWD 300 on the same line as the Pacifica (project code: RU) would be a logical move, as the big minivan not only uses a stretched version of the CUSW platform, but has a PHEV derivative. There might also be a Pacifica EV, as a prototype of just such a vehicle is to be shown at CES in January.

Chrysler's latest generation minivan, which is a whopping 5.2m long, was first seen at the Detroit auto show in January 2016, with production commencing during the following month. FCA did run the risk of alienating Chrysler Town & Country owners with the decision to drop that name for the replacement. Also, 'Pacifica ' has been used before on a minivan but that model was discontinued after five years of disappointing sales numbers.

Despite the reservations which many had about this more expensive replacement for the T&C, Pacifica sales have been brisk and the model is outselling the cheaper Dodge Grand Caravan full-sized minivan, which continues to be built. These total an impressive 52,083 and 2,299 in Canada for the year to the end of November (registrations for Mexico are too small for FCA US to list, with a combined 208 Chrysler brand vehicles sold in November).

The development of what became the Pacifica had a long and complicated history. The company announced at the Detroit auto show in January 2011 that it might not replace both the Town & Country and its twin, the Dodge Grand Caravan, when the then current models ended their production runs. In October 2011 came news that the Grand Caravan would not be directly replaced at the end of its lifecycle, though this would not apply in Canada, where the big Dodge minivan had always been especially popular. Instead, both it and the Dodge Avenger would supposedly be replaced by a new crossover.

In May 2012, there was a new twist in the saga of how Chrysler would reportedly replace its big minivans: it was claimed that the Town & Country/Voyager successor would, in 2016, move upscale and become a crossover and this proved to be true, which was a risky move.

All the speculation was supposedly settled in May 2014 when FCA made the announcement that the Town & Country would be replaced, but not the Grand Caravan.

The Pacifica can be ordered in seven- or eight-seat formats (the T&C had a maximum of seven seats) and there are six model grades in the USA. Like its Honda Odyssey rival, a vacuum cleaner can be specified for some trims. And while the largest wheels on the T&C were 17-inchers, the Pacifica can be optionally fitted with sizes up to 20 inches.

The sole engine is a 287hp version of FCA's Pentastar 3.6-litre V6, and the standard transmission is a nine-speed ZF-supplied automatic.

The so-called Stow 'n Go seating works better than in the T&C. If child seats are fitted to the second row, these no longer have to be removed to gain access to the third row, as they will tilt. They are also easier to fold onto the floor as the front seats do not have to be shifted fully forwards to do this, as had been the case with the Town & Country. The seating system is supplied by Magna.

Speaking to the media at the Paris motor show in October 2014, FCA's CEO Sergio Marchionne said a plug-in hybrid version of the Town & Country replacement would be launched in late 2015. This contradicted what had been announced at an Investors' Briefing only five months previously. Production commenced in November 2016.

The Pacifica Hybrid was announced in January 2016 on the eve of the Detroit motor show and appeared there. It would go into production during the second half of 2016, FCA stated. Despite it being a plug-in hybrid, this is not reflected in the model name.

An equivalent of 80mpg in the City cycle and a range on electric power of up to 30 miles are official numbers for this PHEV. The Pacifica Hybrid has no direct rivals as neither Toyota nor Honda offers plug-in hybrid versions of their Sienna and Odyssey minivans respectively.

The engine in the Pacifica with a cord is a 248hp version of the 3.6-litre Chrysler Pentastar petrol V6, linked to a 16kWh lithium ion battery pack. The latter is located under the second row of seats and supplied by LG Chem. The Korean firm makes the packs at a factory in Michigan. The same plant produces battery packs for the Chevrolet Bolt and Ford Focus Electric. The charging socket is under a flap on the driver's side front fender/wing.

For the moment, there is no official news on a production version of the Pacifica EV prototype but this should come very soon: the press preview days for the CES are 3 and 4 January.

Dodge

In contrast to Chrysler, the Dodge brand still has some small cars, though these are now limited to the Mexican market. The smallest of its models is the Attitude and it is supplied by Mitsubishi Motors as a lightly altered version of that company's Attrage sedan.

FCA and MMC inked the supply deal in 2014 and this is for five years. Mitsubishi has three Thai plants located in Laem Chabang, with its own Space Star/Mirage hatchback and Attrage sedan made in Factory #3. This same facility builds the little Dodge.

The Attitude was new in Mexico for the 2015 model year, carried over for 2016 and facelifted for the country's 2017 model year. No further changes are expected. A next generation Attitude arrives in CY2019 for the 2020 model year.

One size up from the sub-compact sedan is the Neon. The car is a restyled Fiat Egea/Tipo sedan powered by a 110hp 1.6-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine. New for the local market's 2017 model year, the Neon went on sale early in the fourth quarter of 2016. It replaced another compact sedan, the Hyundai-based Vision.

A facelifted Neon should appear in Mexico for the 2020 model year, with the successor due in the fourth quarter of CY2023. It should again be manufactured by TOFAS at a plant in the Turkish city of Bursa. The current car's architecture is to be updated and will become CUSW Evo.

The next size up when it comes to Dodge vehicles is the Journey. This model started life as a minivan positioned in what was a small segment between vehicles such as the Mazda5/Premacy and the full-sized Dodge Voyager. Now, it is a crossover and despite being quite aged, sales remain brisk.

The Journey has been around since early 2008 yet FCA somehow managed to deliver 96,991 units of this model to buyers in the USA over the eleven months to the end of November, as well as a further 15,580 to customers in Canada. No wonder its replacement has been put back several times. The company also exports a variant for Fiat, the Freemont. Most of these go to European countries and both Dodge and Fiat models are manufactured at Toluca in Mexico.

The Journey's public debut was unusual in that was outside North America. The model had its world premiere at the Frankfurt motor show in September 2007, going on sale worldwide six months later.

In Europe, the Journey effectively replaced the Chrysler Voyager and competed with the Ford S-MAX until the Dodge brand was withdrawn. In North America, the Journey is hard to categorise but many buyers would no doubt cross-shop similarly sized crossovers and SUVs such as the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorrento.

While some markets outside North America once saw a Volkswagen-supplied 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel variant offered, only 2.4-litre four-cylinder and 3.5-litre V6 gasoline engines were available in North America until Q4, 2010.

Following a facelift in November 2010 for North America's 2011 model year, the Journey now comes with the choice of a 173hp 2.4-litre four-cylinder or else Chrysler's 283hp  3.6-litre Pentastar V6. No further changes are expected before the third quarter of 2018, which is when the successor model should go into production.

The JD series Journey as well as replacement for the Freemont are said to be switching plants from Toluca to FCA Italy's Cassino facility. This plant is in the town of Piedimonte San Germano, three kilometres from Cassino, in the province of Frosinone, roughly 130km southeast of Rome.

Insiders say that the new model will look more like a crossover than the current model does, and also that there will be an SRT variant, which there isn't with the existing JC series Journey.

Production should last until 2026 with a facelift in 2022. And the platform? This is the big news: JD will use Giorgio, which of course means rear- and all-wheel drive. Cassino is where the Giorgio-based Alfa Romeo Giulia is made, and it will gain the Alfa Stelvio SUV in 2017, as well as a Giulia wagon.

Dodge has something of a mixed history with its sole supercar, the Viper. The current model has been a major disappointment and some of that can be laid at the door of those who thought creating an SRT brand for it would be a good idea. This strategy was subsequently abandoned but the damage was sadly done, and the slithering snake is now not long for this world.

The third generation Viper would be launched in North America in late 2012, Chrysler stated in April 2011. Production of this ZD-codenamed model then began in January 2013 as the 2013 SRT Viper. The car uses an update of the platform from the previous generation built between 2002 and 2010.

The Viper is powered by a 640hp version of Chrysler's long-running 8.4-litre V10. The sole transmission is a six-speed manual gearbox. Production is at the Conner Avenue plant in suburban Detroit, a facility which had been mothballed after build of the previous car ceased at the end of an eight-year lifecycle.

In May 2014 Fiat Chrysler announced that SRT would return to being a sub-brand. At this point, the current Viper became a Dodge. This was as of the 2015 model year. There were also refinements to the Tremec six-speed manual transmission, as well as an additional 5 horsepower – now 645 – and an additional mile per gallon (mpg) on the highway cycle to 20mpg. A US$15,000 price cut seemed like a dramatic move to lift sales but alas, this did not work.

Chrysler said it had wanted to keep annual Viper build below 2,000 units so as to maintain the model's exclusivity but the car became too exclusive. Production was cut in October 2013 from nine a day to six. Build was then suspended in March 2014 for several months due to disappointing sales. US dealers sold only 591 cars in 2013. Production of 2014 model year cars resumed briefly in July 2014. Build was restarted in mid-November 2014 after a glut of 2013 and 2014 model year cars was cleared.

FCA announced the 2016 Viper ACR in May 2015. This track racer has aerodynamic and suspension upgrades, carbon ceramic brakes with six-piston calipers and high-performance Kuhmo tyres. Production of the 2016 Dodge Viper American Club Racer began in the third quarter of 2015.

Disappointing sales mean the Viper will be axed in CY2017 and the plant which builds it will likely be closed. FCA is yet to make a clear statement about the future of the Conner Avenue factory.

Sergio Marchionne told reporters at the 2016 Detroit auto show that there might well be a fourth generation Viper. Such a car would potentially be very different to the current model, he noted. It is presumed this means the use of the Giorgio architecture and the end of the V10 engine. The 2017 model year Viper was announced in June 2016. The last Vipers should be made in August 2017.

On a happier note, two big Dodge muscle cars continue to sell very well, in spite of being anything but fresh designs. The LD series Charger was first seen at the Los Angeles auto show in November 2010, It is a rebodied and re-engineered version of the previous shape car and uses the Chrysler Corporation's LX platform.

The base engine is a 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 (rear-wheel drive only, for SE and Rallye trims), with a 5.7-litre Hemi V8 optional (standard all-wheel drive for R/T trim). A 465hp 6.4-litre V8 became available in the 2012MY Charger SRT8 from September 2011. The SRT8 had its debut at the Chicago auto show in February 2011. Dodge then premiered the 470hp Charger SRT8 Super Bee at the Los Angeles auto show in November 2011.

The 300 sedan is the Chrysler brand's equivalent model of the Dodge Charger. These two cars, along with the Dodge Challenger, a large coupe, are built on the same line.

As well as the addition of the SRT8 derivative, the other news for the 2012 model year Charger was the arrival of an eight-speed automatic gearbox. This became standard for all rear- and all-wheel drive V6 variants but V8 versions retained the old transmission.

The 2015 model year Charger was revealed at April 2014's New York auto show. There was a major facelift and ZF's HP90 eight-speed transmission became standard for all variants, rebranded as a TorqueFlite, a name from Chrysler's past. In North America, model grades became as follows: SE, SXT, R/T, R/T Road & Track & SRT Hellcat. The last of these is powered by a 707hp 6.2-litre V8. There were some minor changes for the 2016 model year. For the 2017 model year, there are also only minor updates.

The five-year lifecycles which Chrysler vehicles used to have are now a distant memory and the Charger is one of the more extreme examples of that. A new model has been delayed and delayed again, and the car will now instead have yet another facelift. That will be for the 2018 model year.

The Charger replacement will not be available until late 2020. That car will likely use FCA's Giorgio rear- and all-wheel drive platform. FCA is yet to state where it will build the successors for its LX platform vehicles, leading to rumours that it might close its Brampton plant and shift the next generation of big RWD/AWD sedans and coupes to Toluca in Mexico.

The October 2016 announcement of plans to give Brampton a new paint shop appears to have increased chances that the factory which makes the existing car would be used for the next generation model.

LF, the future Charger, was revealed in prototype form to dealers attending an FCA event in Las Vegas in August 2015. That car was said to resemble the 1999 Charger R/T concept.

Due to the sales potential in Australia, FCA is said to be considering building the 2021 model year Charger with right-hand drive.

The other large RWD/AWD car made at Brampton is a rival for the Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang. The current Challenger (LX27) had its debut as a concept at the Detroit motor show in January 2006. The production model rolled out of the Ontario factory two years later.

A facelifted car appeared for the 2015 model year at April 2014's New York auto show. There was a new grille, a larger power bulge, projector fog lights, split LED taillights and a reshaped rear valence. An optional 'Scat Pack Shaker', brought with it a 362kW (485hp) 6.4-litre V8. The 707hp 6.2-litre V8 was another addition for the 2015 model year. Chrysler developed this supercharged engine under the 'Hellcat' project code.

There were only minor changes for the 2016 model year. For the 2017 model year, there are some updates but none of them major. The main news is the addition of T/A variants and an all-wheel drive GT.

FCA has again delayed project LA, the replacement for the Challenger. This means that by the time the new model is available, the existing car will have been in production for almost 13 years.

Unlike the current model, the successor will be available as a convertible too. FCA US may either keep the Challenger name for the coupe or change it to Barracuda, thus reviving an historic nameplate. A prototype of the Barracuda, a big RWD convertible, was shown to dealers in August 2015 at the same time as  the next Charger was revealed to them.

Production of the 2021 model year Barracuda and Barracuda Convertible should commence in October 2020, and like the next Charger, there may be RHD build of these Giorgio platform models for Australia and a handful of other countries.

The final two Dodge models are also large vehicles. The Grand Caravan had been due for the axe around now but it has had a reprieve. A lot of that is to do with how well it continues to perform. It is especially popular in Canada, where it always outsold its Chrysler Town & Country twin by a large margin. During the year to the end of November, GC registrations numbered 15,580, and in the US, the total was 120,991 which represented a YoY gain of 35 per cent.

FCA shareholders were no doubt alarmed and astonished by the impetuous decision to simply kill off such a successful and lucrative vehicle. By contrast, Toyota Motor Sales USA and American Honda must have been mystified but thrilled that the segment leader would be defenestrated, leaving their Sienna and Odyssey models to potentially scoop up 60,000-70,000 additional customers annually each.

The RT Grand Caravan had its debut almost a decade ago at the Detroit show in January 2007. For some years, there was a rebadged version for Volkswagen, the Routan, with a further variant for Lancia, the Voyager. The second of these was sold in certain LHD European markets between October 2011 and 2015.

Production of the Grand Caravan started in July 2007 in both the US and Canada but the Fenton plant in Missouri stopped building this model in October 2008 with that plant subsequently shuttered.

A facelift and a then-new 3.6-litre V6 engine were part of a mid-life update. This, North America's 2011MYGrand Caravan, debuted at the Los Angeles motor show in November 2010.

Chrysler Group used the launches of the 2011 model year Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country to try to prise the vehicles apart in buyers' perceptions. To that end, the T&C was priced higher and had more upscale features in the US market. However, this idea did not work and was soon changed.

In May 2014, FCA told the media that the Grand Caravan would be axed in 2016 with no direct replacement. Ergo, the Pacifica, the Chrysler Town & Country replacement (Grand Voyager in some markets), would become FCA's sole full-size minivan.

For the 2017 model year the range was cut to four trim levels and GT replaced R/T. FCA will continue to build the Grand Caravan until July 2019 as a cheaper model than the Pacifica. Its lifecycle was extended by more than two years as part of an agreement with the CAW, the union which represents workers at Windsor, the factory in Ontario where the GC is built.

Officially, there will not be a direct replacement for the Grand Caravan. Instead, FCA hopes that sales of the higher-priced Pacifica will rise towards a level which would make that model as profitable as the GC has been. Should the Pacifica fail to deliver, FCA would be mad not to engineer a successor for the big Dodge minivan and bring it to market by the second half of 2019. It may already be working on just such a vehicle. The theoretical 2020 Grand Caravan would be made at Windsor.

FCA US' only large seven-seater SUV (yes, there really is no three-row Jeep) is the Durango, which uses an outdated Mercedes-Benz platform. Production commenced in December 2010, a few weeks after its global debut at the Los Angeles auto show.

This vehicle shares its platform and many components with the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Both are manufactured at JNAP (Jefferson North Assembly Plant), which is the only vehicle plant within the city limits of Detroit. JNAP was erected for the ZJ generation of the largest Jeep, the first vehicles being built there 15 years ago.

Both 3.6-litre V6 and 5.7-litre V8 engines were available for the Durango at launch in early 2011. A facelifted model premiered at the New York auto show in March 2013. This 2014 model year Durango also brought with it an eight-speed automatic gearbox.

Speculation had suggested that FCA would phase out the Durango in calendar 2016, with no direct replacement planned. However, in May 2014, the company stated that the Durango would have a second facelift in 2017 - it is presumed it will carry on until 2020. There were only minor changes for the 2017 model year.

Will there be a next generation Durango? This is the subject of much speculation but with 62,678 units of the current not exactly fresh or state of the art model sold during the eleven months to the end of November, FCA would be mad to axe this vehicle. Some say that the company might be intending to make Dodge a muscle car brand but this makes little sense, given the success of not just the Durango but the Grand Caravan.

In all likelihood, there will be a new Durango and it will be built in the same plant as the fifth generation of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Will this be on an evolution of the Mercedes-Benz W164 architecture which is the modules matrix of the existing big Jeep and Dodge SUVs? Or will JNAP in Detroit be retooled for production of Giorgio platform models? FCA isn't saying so we will have to see what insiders at Tier 1 vendors report in 2017 after tenders are put out for the supply of components to these future vehicle programmes. 

RAM

The 700 is easily the smallest model in the global RAM line-up. This small pick-up was launched in Mexico, its main market, in October 2014. It is an import from Brazil and is more or less the Fiat Adventure Sporting with different badges.

Fiat's 178 world car platform is the basis of the 700 so this aged platform model is way overdue for a successor. Such a vehicle should appear in the third or fourth quarters of 2017. The architecture will most likely be SUSW with production probably at Betim in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.

Of course RAM and FCA US' biggest seller is the far, far larger 1500 pick-up. Some say the current generation was was introduced in 2010 but in fact it can trace its roots to an introduction in September 2001 for the 2002 model year. The RAM 1500 was more or less unchanged until a range facelift in September 2005. Other derivatives had, however, been added, such as the Viper-engined SRT-10 Regular Cab which arrived in dealerships in late 2003, the four-door SRT-10 Quad Cab in June 2004 and the roomy Mega Cab, which had its debut at the Chicago show in February 2005.

The facelifted 'DS' Ram debuted at the Detroit show in January 2008 replacing the DR series. It went on sale in October 2008 for the 2009 model year. A crew cab was added to the light-duty stable, replacing the mega cab, which accounted for less than 10 percent of Ram sales in '07.

The 2008MY mega cab, 20 inches longer than the 2009 crew cab and too big to fit in most garages, continues to be available on the heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 truck frames (see below). The major engineering change with the 2009 Ram 1500 was a coil-sprung rear end, while the only engine to be updated was the 5.7-litre Hemi V8 which gained extra power for a new output of 390hp (291kW).

The gasoline-electric and (Cummins-supplied) diesel variants that had been expected for the 2010 model year were delayed, and in the case of the latter, cancelled.

In May 2009, Chrysler revealed that it would shut its St Louis North plant in Q3, 2009 and then, a month later, announced that the facility would be idled from 10 July. Rambox production was transferred to the Warren Truck plant. The St Louis South plant was shuttered in October 2008.

In October 2009, Fiat Group created the 'Dodge RAM Brand', a new division, separating it from the 'Dodge Car Brand'. Dodge RAM then become, simply, RAM.

Chrysler launched a facelifted line-up at the New York auto show in April 2012. This update, for North America's 2013 model year, also included the first appearance of the group's 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 in the 1500.

In the US market, the truck is offered in these models/packages: ST, Tradesman, Express, SLT, Big Horn, Lone Star, Outdoorsman, Rebel, Sport, R/T, Laramie and Laramie Longhorn. The Rebel was added for the 2015 model year and had its debut at the Detroit auto show in January 2015. Regular Cab configured vehicles are produced at the Saltillo Truck Assembly Plant in Mexico; Quad and Crew Cab configured vehicles are manufactured at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant in Michigan.

A 1500 diesel was announced by Chrysler in February 2013. Deliveries followed from February 2014 for North America's 2014 model year. The 240hp 'EcoDiesel' engine, supplied by VM Motori, is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. There were only minor changes for the 2017 model year.

FCA confirmed in April 2016 that it would move production of the next generation RAM 1500 out of the current locations of Warren Truck in Michigan and Saltillo in Mexico, and into SHAP (Sterling Heights Assembly Plant) in Michigan. Sources have indicated that this is not the full story, however.

Warren Truck and Saltillo will supposedly continue building the outgoing Ram 1500 and this will be sold as a cheaper model. Combined production capacity of 200,000 units is reportedly planned for CY2018 before dropping to 65,000 in 2019. Production would cease by 2020 as those plants are retooled for other vehicles. SHAP is said to have planned capacity of 325,000 units a year of the new RAM 1500 in 2018, rising to 400,000 in 2019.

The next 1500 itself is expected to have a new frame but to retain its mainly steel construction. As is the case with the current 1500, the hood/Bonnet should be made of aluminium, however. Production is due to commence in January 2018.

A RAM 1500-based SUV to compete with the Chevrolet Suburban is said to be in the planning stages. Few other details of this proposed model are known, though the market release date is said to be CY2019 for the 2020 model year. Like the Suburban, it will be a body-on-frame model but will likely have aluminium panels. The lifecycle would be eight to ten years.

The largest models in the RAM line-up are, fittingly, the biggest money makers for FCA. Obviously these are the HD2500 & HD3500. The current shape Heavy Duty trucks were introduced in 2002 for North America's 2003 model year. For the 2009 model year, there was a major update, with the same styling influences which distinguished the 2009 RAM 1500. Chrysler claimed that these trucks were new in 2008 but they were instead overhauled versions of the ones introduced in 2002.

Though the standard engine is a 5.7-litre V8, Chrysler noted that some 80% of buyers of the '08 Ram Heavy Duty trucks specified a diesel engine. This is still a 6.7-litre Cummins turbo diesel. A new gasoline engine, a 410hp (306kW) 6.4-litre Hemi V8, was added for the 2014 model year. Body configurations consist of regular cab, Quad Cab, Mega Cab or Power Wagon.The rear suspension of the chassis cabs and heavy duties is via leaf springs and a live axle rather than the more car-like independent set up of the RAM 1500 trucks.

Since the launch of the 2013 model year trucks, the 5.7-litre V8 has produced 383hp, while the 6.7-litre Cummins diesel became available with three outputs: 350hp, 370hp or 385hp. For the 2016 model year, the 6.7-litre Cummins six-cylinder diesel had a new output of 287kW and a whopping 900 lb-ft (1,218Nm) of torque - an increase of 35 lb-ft (47Nm). In other changes, the 3500 gained a stronger differential case and 16 bolt rear axle ring gear for those variants which have the 11.8-inch axle. This means maximum towing capacity increased by 1,210 lbs (548.8 kg) to a claimed class-leading 31,210 lbs (14,156.6 kg). There was also new Laramie Limited variant. This has a unique grille and RAM in large letters on the tailgate.

The HDs are due to have a facelift for North America's 2018 model year, with replacements due in calendar 2020. The Power Wagon has had an early update, its minor facelift premiering at February 2016's Chicago auto show.

The next generation model range had been expected in CY2017. Analysts were told in 2014 that this would be when the trucks would be released. However, earlier in December there was a media report which FCA did not deny, which claimed that the division had delayed the new models by more than two years, until early 2020. The current HDs are made at Saltillo Truck in Mexico but FCA is yet to state where the replacement DK series models will be manufactured.

Summary

This year has an especially bountiful one for RAM. Mike Manley, who oversees this brand as well as what must be FCA's other most profitable division, will be especially pleased. Nothing is official as yet, but John Elkann must surely have him marked as the favourite to become Group CEO when Sergio Marchionne retires from that role in 2018. Still, as the global car industry has a habit of proving, anything may happen between now and then.

A sudden and sustained spike in the price of oil would not be the most helpful thing for FCA's two main makes which build mostly gas guzzling pick-ups and SUVs. We all remember what happened to this company as the price of oil crept up and up from mid-2008: sales of heavy SUVs and pick-ups spiralled downwards and the Great Recession took hold of the US economy after the packaged mortgages pass-the-parcel time bomb detonated. Nobody wants those days to return but FCA US' two most lucrative brands are still building the same sorts of overly thirsty vehicles which had to be pushed out to dealers at fire sale prices throughout 2009.

For now, at least, things are looking mostly good: Jeep sold a stunning 843,217 vehicles in the USA during the year to 30 November (up 8%), while RAM delivered 492,254 (up 11%) trucks. Meanwhile, Chrysler, Dodge, Alfa Romeo and Fiat all saw YoY declines, with Dodge the only one in single figures (-2% to 470,529).

If FCA is lucky, next year will be another record one for its big-earning brands. That will mean that the firm's determination to eliminate its structural debt by 2018 will have been realised thanks mostly to the income from these high-margin models. As Fiat's collapse in Europe and Brazil have shown, the danger of not investing in future models is real. To get market share back, if that becomes a desire, a costly process begins which almost always involves deep discounting and that's what sent Chrysler bankrupt. What FCA needs more than anything, is stability, and the end of big comebacks and then inevitable new busts.

This company must find a way to avoid future extended stoppages at plants which make RAM trucks, Jeep SUVs as well as V6 and V8 Dodge sedans and sports cars, plus six-cylinder Chrysler cars and minivans. Such fixed cost operations were an enormous burden to be carried through the last steep downturn and it must be hoped that FCA will have enough of a war chest and credit lines to survive and then thrive during and after the inevitable next crash of the US economy. Being ready with far more fuel efficient versions of the pick-ups, SUVs and cars which US buyers always come back to will be crucial.

Whether or not the Agnelli family's unstated plan has been or is to get the FCA combine into a place of sustainable profits and then sell or merge the group is irrelevant. All that matters is that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles becomes a properly sustainable, self-funding business. Only then will it be strong enough to weather whatever tests come its way in the 2020s or possibly, well before then.

Future model plan reports for other manufacturers can be viewed in the OEM product strategy summaries section of just-auto.com.

Future product program intelligence

More data on vehicle lifetime and future product plans is available in PLDB from QUBE.

The last OEM to have its future model plans examined by just-auto.com in 2016 will be HMG. Hyundai Motor, Genesis and Kia Motors will be explored in a three-feature series to be published next week.