First Look: 2009 Dodge Ram
Dodge Emphasizes Usability Over Capability

By: Mike Levine Posted: 01-12-08 00:35 ET
Photography: Chrysler LLC
© 2008

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A good friend of mine says that good design isn’t about making something that can handle extraordinary situations well. It’s about designing something that makes day-to-day activities enjoyable.

It appears that Chrysler’s design team subscribed to a similar philosophy creating the all new 2009 Dodge Ram, because while the rest of the half-ton truck makers seem engaged in a zero sum game over who has the most towing capability, Dodge has focused on improving usability for the majority of light duty trucking needs.

The result: the new Dodge Ram is the most user-friendly half-ton pickup on the planet.

Pickup Truck Anthropology

Before we get to the technical details, it’s important to know how Chrysler conducted its research redesigning the Ram.

A cross functional group of engineers, marketers, and designers went into the field to observe veteran and first time light duty truck buyers first-hand, like pickup truck anthropologists. They psychographically studied these buyers’ lifestyles and how they used their current vehicles, and then they sifted through all the verbal and non-verbal clues to find out what they wanted in a half-ton truck.

In one case, Ram team members spent half a day riding as passengers with a Dodge truck owner, who’d rigged a bike rack to the back of his pickup. They watched as he performed an intricate routine to get past the bike to gain access to the bed. What the owner said (and thought) was easy was really an arduous process. How could they make it better?

In another case, Chrysler funded a game night for ten non-traditional truck buyers. They watched, listened, and recorded what the players said about pictures of different vehicles. What were these buyers asking for through their comments and opinions?

The general understanding the Ram team came away with was that many half-ton truck owners, particularly first-time buyers, weren’t using their trucks for their intended purpose. These owners weren’t hauling gravel and rock or towing big trailers but they still liked the utility of a big pickup and were solving usability issues in different ways – like buying plastic storage containers to keep items dry and in place in the bed.

The biggest lessons learned were distilled into the new truck.

Still Looks Like a Big Rig

Chrysler accidentally let the cat out of the bag when a beauty shot of the Ram was prematurely posted on a Mopar website in December. The styling may no longer be revolutionary but it remains iconic. It’s the most refined version to date of the Ram’s ‘big rig’ looks.

According to Chrysler design chief Trevor Creed, two vehicles influenced the Ram’s exterior surfaces, the Dodge Charger sedan and Ford F-150.

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