Dodge Introduces Four-Door Pickup

A NEW four-door pickup and a sport utility vehicle based on the Dakota pickup were part of the news from the Dodge portion of the Truck Product Conference.

Vowing to win "Door Wars," Dodge has answered rival three-door pickups by introducing a line of four-door extended cab pickups.

The four-door extended cab and the new Dakota sport utility vehicle were the two product introductions that Dodge Truck offered at this year's truck product conference. However, Dodge engineers also made presentations on changes that have been made to the Ram frames and electrical systems.

Mike Coughlin, the national truck field marketing manager at Dodge, shared some of the sales forecasts. Dodge built 333,000 Rams in the 1997 model year, down 52,000 trucks. The decline, Coughlin said, was a result of a transmission strike. The forecast, however, is for extended growth through 2001. By that point, Ram production is expected to reach almost 500,000 units per year.

The Dodge "Quad Cab" will be offered on all three series of vehicles: the 1500, 2500, and 3500. A chassis cab version of the Quad Cab will not be available. However, Dodge will permit the pickup box to be removed and a secondary body mounted to it, provided that the installation meets Dodge guidelines.

A choice of two wheelbases will be offered in the two lighter series (138.7" and 154.7"), while the 3500 models will be available only with the 154.7" wheelbase.

In an effort to eliminate anything that can block egress, Dodge is equipping the front seats of the Quad Cab with integral seat belts and shoulder harnesses. To increase storage, Dodge is offering optional under-seat storage for both the two-door Club Cab and the four-door Quad Cab for 1998.

The Ram platform team has identified more than 100 improvements that have been implemented between the 1994 model year and 1997, according to Rich Fernandez, Ram pickup platform team, Dodge Truck Engineering. Some of these, which apply to the Quad Cab, are new offerings on the established lineup of Ram pickups. Among them:

* Both driver and passenger air bags are part of the redesigned dash. A switch that deactivates the passenger air bag comes standard on all Ram pickups. In addition, the air bags have been depowered in 1998.

* Diesel engines and the V-10 gasoline engines are now available in the 2500 short wheelbase Quad and Club cabs.

Mounting Equipment Two areas that affect truck body and equipment installations are relatively unchanged for the 1998 model year, said Larry Williams, Dodge Truck engineering.

Snowplow installation on Dodge trucks is carryover from the 1997 model year with a few exceptions. The company allows snowplows on the 2500 standard, Club, and Quad Cab models with the 5.9-liter gasoline engines. Chassis cab installations must be based on appropriate calculations, Williams observed.

Dodge does not recommend snowplow installations on the Dakota. Williams says Dodge considers the Dakota to be a personal use vehicle.

Pickup box removal also remains virtually unchanged for 1998. The box may be removed on the Dodge Ram pickup, including the Quad Cab. It is not recommended for the Dakota. All pickup box removals must be in accordance with Dodge guidelines.

More Room in Ram

The 1998 Ram Van Wagon has more interior space than previous models, Williams reported. Dodge moved the engine forward 4_", reducing the intrusion of the doghouse and enhancing crash performance.

The molded composite fuel tank has been repositioned in 1998. The tank will be located forward of the rear axle. This has enabled Dodge to mount the spare tire beneath the floor for additional storage space inside.

Williams also announced that Dodge is making available computer drawings of its trucks to members of NTEA and other trade associations. The wire-frame drawings can be read by AutoCAD on a personal computer. To receive the drawings, companies must have a completed confidentiality agreement on file with the Chrysler legal office and the Modified Vehicle Engineering department.

New Sport Utility Vehicle Dodge also presented NTEA members with a look at its new Durango sport utility vehicle. Production started in September. The Durango initially will be offered only as a 4 x 4 model. Dodge plans to introduce a 4 x 2 version next year.

The Durango is built off the Dakota platform. In terms of size, it fits between the compact sport utility vehicles such as the Chevrolet Blazer and full-size models such as the Ford Expedition.

It is powered by the Magnum line of engines, including the 3.9-liter V-6, the 5.2-liter V-8, and 5.9-liter V-8. Maximum towing capacity is 7,300 lb. A four-speed manual transmission is standard.

Standard front and rear stabilizer bars provide 93% greater stiffness than the Dakota pickup. Fifteen-inch by 7-in forged aluminum wheels will be standard.

Changes to the Ram Frame Herb White, frame engineer, listed the changes that Dodge has made to the Ram pickup frames for 1998. Among them:

* The front crossmember is now a boxed section.

* The front outer siderail doubler plates have been deleted.

* Snowplow mounting holes have been moved.

* The steering damper bracket has been deleted from 4x4 frames.

* The front spring tower bracket is being revised.

* The crossmember that supports the heavy-duty transmission has been modified.

* The vapor canister has been relocated to the right side of the frame on those vehicles powered with gasoline engines. The old hole pattern, however, remains at the previous location.

* The front hanger bracket reinforcement for the rear spring has been upgraded.

* The rear axle brake line bracket is welded to the frame siderail on Dodge chassis cabs.

Electrical System Changes Ray Rathore, senior electrical engineer, touched on some of the changes that have been made to the Ram electrical system.

One of the most useful changes for truck body and equipment installers is the new auxiliary circuit for powering the center high-mounted stoplamp (CHMSL). Installers can plug into this circuit found at the back of the truck on the rear crossmember. Other electrical changes for the body and chassis include a new eight-way trailer tow connector and an improved ground system.

In the engine compartment, Dodge has installed a new power distribution center (PDC), improved the ground system, relocated the PTO circuit, and has added new stamped battery terminals for trucks equipped with gasoline engines. For aftermarket applications, the company has added fuse protection and is offering a 40-amp fuse on its power distribution center.

Under the hood, a number of connectors have been upgraded, including ones for the automatic transmission, the ambient temperature sensor, and the ABS/rear-wheel lockup module.

Changes in the electrical system also can be found on the instrument panel. Perhaps most significant is the new switch that allows the passenger air bag to be disabled. The ground system has been improved, and a new junction block has been installed. Dodge has upgraded connectors for the airbag module, the fog lamp switch, the cigar lighter, and the power outlet.

Van Electrical System Dodge provided advice for working on the electrical systems of the Ram van and wagon.

A 30-amp cartridge fuse shared with the power outlet protects the battery feed circuit on the conversion van. A 40-amp cartridge fuse protects the ignition feed. Dodge recommends a current load of 20 amps for the battery feed and 25 amps for the ignition feed. Both feeds are located at the driver side B pillar.

Among the miscellaneous instructions Dodge had for working with electrical systems:

* The rear HEVAC connection provides grounds that are controlled by the rear blower switch in the instrument panel. For body builders working with this connection, Dodge recommends using a ground-side switch system with a relay. This is designed to protect the rear switch in the instrument panel from the high blower speed.

* When wiring vehicles to pull trailers, Dodge points out that the stoplamp circuit is protected by a 20-amp fuse. Total continuous power with the stoplamps on is seven amps. However, the fuse is derated 80% (to 16 amps) for continuous current, which means that nine amps is available to the trailer.

* MOPAR supplies a trailer tow harness with instructions on how to connect the harness and the electric brake circuit.

* Ground blocks located on the left and right center of the instrument panel should be used instead of splicing into the wiring. Four open cavities on the left center ground block can be used for low- and high-current grounds. Eight cavities in the right center ground block accept low-current grounds.

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