Dodge Rampage Explores Possible Future Trucks
Rampage Concept Takes On Chicago
One of the most interesting concepts at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show was the Dodge Rampage pickup truck. As an increase in trucks for personal use, versus commercial or work use, caused a boom in truck sales this century, some are looking to where the future is for these nontraditional truck buyers. Though Ford’s Explorer Sport Trac was ahead of GM’s midgate-equipped full-size Chevrolet Avalanche and Cadillac Escalade EXT and Hummer H2 SUT, the Ford was effectively an Explorer with an open cargo area, while the GM system truly expanded functionality. Subaru‘s Baja fits in there somewhere, though too small and lightweight to really play well with trucks. Then the Honda Ridgeline arrived for 2006, winning both Truck of the Year and honors from both Motor_Trend and a group of North American automotive journalists, though sales have not quite met expectations. There are now six products of this type on market, competing in several different truck segments (or in SUV segments, depending on your perspective). But in the final analysis, think of Rampage as a Honda Ridgeline with a HEMI.
Dodge took a crack a developing their own truck-plus-SUV concept for the 2006 Chicago auto show, and AutoPacific and VehicleVoice correspondents were on hand to see it. We left before the public got a chance to see the concept, but industry buzz around the show was positive. We think the truck looked terrific, and appreciate Dodge’s ability to keep its clear personality and flavor in varied vehicle types. Alongside the Rampage in Chicago were the Dodge Nitro and Caliber SRT-4, both with aggressive and strong Dodge personalities as well.
Pickup Truck + SUV = Niche Bodystyle?
Though it might seem easy to brush off the pickup-meets-SUV concept, there may also be some momentum here. In the new world of finding niche success with vehicles that sell well below 100,000 units annually, there may be a home for vehicles like this one. In 2005, according to AutoPacific’s Sales Forecast Service, more than 155,000 buyers took home one of the seven previously mentioned pickup/SUVs.
To put some perspective on this number, only 169,000 economy cars were sold in 2005, and no one dreams of abandoning that segment despite the difficulty of turning a profit on small cars. Even though cars like Mazda MX-5, Nissan 350Z, Pontiac Solstice, and Porsche Boxster are far more aspirational than trucks, SUVs, or any combination thereof, the Standard Sports Car segment only accounted for 122,100 purchases last year.
Particularly noting that vehicles like Rampage are chameleons, competing in various truck-based segments, the 155,000 sold in 2005 indicates there is a market for these jack-of-all-trades entries, even if limited to being niche players in a variety of segments. These entries compete against other trucks and SUVs and not always against one another, but there are some buyers for whom this formula is just right.
HEMI, Sto-N-Go, Dodge Attitude
The Dodge Rampage was introduced with all the flair we’ve come to expect from the Chrysler Group, as well as starring a HEMI engine. Introduced at the same show where Toyota gave us the first look at their next Tundra, very much aimed at the traditional truck market, the Rampage goes another truck direction entirely. Dodge’s Rampage looks at modern, or “nontraditional” pickup truck users. It offers a five-passenger cabin, a truck cargo bed, and creative solutions for using both the interior space and the cargo bed.
The Rampage is about the same overall length as a Dodge Dakota and as wide as a Ram, but takes the front-wheel-drive, unitbody platform and independent suspension of the Grand Caravan. The result is a truck with Stow-N-Go second-row seats. Rampage even borrows the idea of sliding rear doors from the minivan family, though without a B-pillar for excellent access to the interior.
Most of its overall size was dedicated to the passenger compartment, with only a five-foot bed, but managed to keep enough room in its short nose for the company’s star 5.7L HEMI V8. The face offers a fresh interpretation of a truck grille, notably shorter than say, the nose of a Ram Mega Cab, but still deep with Dodge personality and attitude. Exterior lamps, including rectangular wraparound headlamps, are LED lighting.
Exposing structural elements in the interior, though clearly a mockup for the show, contributed to a function-oriented look. The center stack, which appeared to float above the instrument panel, could be pulled out and turned toward the driver or the passenger, for easier access to navigation, HVAC, and entertainment controls, and the instrument cluster moved with the adjustable steering column. Rampage gets skylights is a similar layout to Nissan’s SkyView roof, with two long, parallel glass roofs running lengthwise. The Dodge concept included an overhead ladder-type console between the skylights that also went from front to rear. Along the console edges, Dodge installed mood lighting as well.
Sto-N-Go for a Truck: Five Passengers or Lots of Cargo
The Sto-N-Go system displayed on the Rampage allowed both the rear seats and the front passenger’s seat to be folded into the floor and its specially designed seats got taller-than-normal seat backs with headrests the flipped down into the seat for easier stowing. Armrests on front and rear doors could also be folded out of the way when using the space for cargo instead of people. As with the Sto-N-Go in the production minivans, when the seats are up, the space below can be used for storage.
Midgate System and Cargo Bed Tricks
Dodge gives the Rampage a midgate system, complete with the back window storing into a foldable gate. With the back and front passenger seats down, longer items can be carried without lowering the tailgate, making the trip to Home Depot to pickup eight-foot-long boards possible even with the five-foot bed. This particular feature is not new to the market, as Avalanche/Escalade EXT is going into its second generation with the feature.
Though the Rampage didn’t get Honda Ridgeline’s lockable in-bed storage or dual-hinged tailgate, Rampage does come with retractable cargo hooks and built-in formations to secure boards. The tailgate can be opened in three positions, the lowest of which allows a slide-out ramp to be used for loading ATVs or motorcycles. Not forgetting the constant measurement all trucks “must” live up to, the Rampage has an underfloor storage area large enough to swallow a stack of 4 x 8 plywood sheets. The door to this storage area is in the rear bumper fascia, and seats must be up to actually slide in plywood that long.
The Chrysler Group is known for dramatic concepts, as well as for getting many of them into production. As with other Chrysler Group concepts, production could happen if the auto show response is strong enough and a profitable business case can be developed.
The Rampage takes several tools that Chrysler has in its arsenal and develops them further, though some of the interior tricks were not fully developed. The passenger-area solutions seen on Rampage are certainly feasible and may be closer to reality than one might think. Chrysler engineers are hard at work on the next generation of minivan and it wouldn’t surprise us to see some of these elements on these next minivans, regardless of Rampage production.
While some concepts (think Jeep Hurricane or Dodge Tomahawk motorcycle) are eyewash and all about having outlandish fun, the basics are there for developing it into a real product. With Ridgeline getting so much critical attention, the Rampage’s uniquely American Dodge look could and Dodge’s reputation in the truck arena could pave the way for solid consumer demand.