The all-new 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup, which is being formally introduced this month, certainly has striking good looks. The issue for the commercial truck market, though, is whether it backs up those good looks with functionality.

"The commercial market is a huge part of our future," says Ray Fisher, vp of fleet and remarketing at DaimlerChrysler Corp.'s Chrysler Group. "The (2002) Ram pickup certainly has bold looks, but it also has the power and capability needed in a commercial market."

Three new "Magnum" gasoline engines--a 3.9L v6, 4.7L V8 and 5.9L V8--and the popular Cummins turbodiesel option supply the power for the 2002 Ram. Improved functionality can be seen in features such as the largest disk brakes in the market, a full complement of power points, back seats that fold flat and provide a level steel floor for in-cab storage, as well as a catalog's worth of racks and other accessories from DaimlerChrysler's Mopar Parts Div.

While Fisher can't talk in detail about future plans, he acknowledges that the Ram 1500 is just the first in what will be a complete Ram family update. The pickup redesign will be extended to the heavier Ram 2500 and 3500 models next year, which will also see the introduction of a new V10 gasoline engine in 2003 and perhaps a new diesel. As for even higher GVW versions of the pickup, Fisher says it's too early "to tip our hand yet."

As for light commercial vans, DaimlerChrysler has already announced that it will discontinue the current Ram van. Fisher says he isn't able to discuss a replacement, but adds, "DaimlerChrysler will be well represented in that segment. We understand that you have to be a fullline producer to be in the (light-truck) commercial market."

Recognizing that "fleets in the commercial market don't buy a vehicle, they buy a relationship," Fisher says his group is also moving ahead to strengthen and expand fleet services. "Our Service Net management program has been very successful because it streamlines fleet billing for all parts and services," he says.

Also under development is a new service called Business Link that will provide commercial fleet customers with priority service, no-charge loaner vehicles, and other services through a network of 275 dealers.

"We're also offering commercial buyers secured access over the web to wholesale prices and a vehicle configurator," Fisher says. Links to DaimlerChrysler's financial services also allow the fleet group to offer financing options specifically tailored to the business environments of commercial users.

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