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When people look back at today's automotive industry, what do you think they'll remember us for? The emergence of hybrids? Ever more expensive and exotic supercars? The dawn of the self-driving car? All likely scenarios, but so is the blurring of lines between one bodystyle and another, giving rise to hardtop convertible coupes and crossovers of every shape and size. But one bodystyle the North American auto industry has stayed largely away from in the past couple of decades is a car nose and chassis with a pickup bed.
It's a bodystyle immortalized by the Chevrolet El Camino, but with few exceptions, we haven't seen too many of these automotive platypuses in recent years on our turf. Subaru tried with the Baja and the low-volume Honda Ridgeline soldiers along largely unchanged, but the genre's biggest adherents are still Down Under, where ute versions of the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon live. With a few other examples scattered to the four corners of the earth, that's really about it. But if these spy shots are anything to go by, it looks like Fiat Chrysler Automobiles could be working to bring it back.
Spied undergoing testing in Michigan, what we appear to be looking at is a heavily disguised Fiat Strada being prepared - like the Fiat Ducato-based Ram ProMaster and the smaller Doblo-based ProMaster City - for Stateside duty as a Ram product. The Strada, for those unfamiliar, is a product of Fiat Automóveis in Brazil and is based on the Palio economy car. The nameplate has been around South America since 1996 and was originally designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro (long before Volkswagen monopolized his talents), and takes a more rugged approach in the form of the Strada Adventure.
Chrysler's spate of successful products is about to be marred by a trio of recalls. The Pentastar is recalling 51,477 Ram trucks and Jeep SUVs. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there have been no reported accidents, injuries or deaths related to the affected vehicles.
The largest action covers the Ram 1500, which is seeing 45,961 trucks being recalled. Models built between June 26, 2012 and February 5, 2013 are being recalled due to a potential software issue in the electronic stability control. Apparently, the system can be randomly deactivated upon vehicle startup.
Chrysler is also recalling 4,458 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee models. Covering everything but the SRT models, the potentially defective SUVs were built between January 14 and March 20, 2013. This recall focuses on "premium headlights," which means cars equipped with LED running lights. During the switch from the bright daytime running lamp setting to the low-intensity parking light setting, an electrical spike can cause one of the Jeep's computers to go into a safe mode, turning off the LEDs. This violates Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
The diesel, half-ton pickup has long been a Holy Grail to many truck fans, largely because of its potential to achieve both high payload and great fuel economy. Strange, then, that auto companies have seemingly been slow to react. However, Chrysler is finally wading into the pool for the 2014 model year with a version of its Ram 1500 pickup, and early claimed returns are showing the advantage of being first on the market. The Auburn Hills automaker has just revealed that its initial allocation of 8,000 EcoDiesel trucks has been filled by dealers in just three days.
That flood of orders came from February 7-10, and that strong surge of interest apparently amounts to a new Ram record for the number of customer orders placed for a vehicle in such a short period of time. In fact, EcoDiesel models accounted for over half of Ram 1500 orders over that period, despite the fact that the diesel option costs several thousand dollars more than a comparable gasoline-engined model. That impressive total did not come entirely as a shock to Ram officials, however: "We knew customers have been asking for it," Nick Cappa, Ram Truck communications officer, tells Autoblog.
The 2014 Ram 1500 with its 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 and standard eight-speed TorqueFlight automatic makes 240 horsepower and 420 pound-feet - a combination good for 9,200 pounds of towing. Despite that pulling power, its fuel economy is rated at 28 miles per gallon highway (the best among trucks in its class), 20 mpg city and 23 mpg combined. Four-wheel drive variants gives up a single mpg in all categories.