Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s surging Ram truck brand had a monster month in June, carrying the Italian-American carmaker to a surprise total sales gain as rivals struggled with shrinking demand.
Ram’s pickup model deliveries soared 56% to 68,098 units, approaching the level of monthly sales typically reached only by Ford Motor Co.’s F-Series, the top-selling vehicle line in America for almost four decades. Ram powered a 1.9% increase in total deliveries for Fiat Chrysler, which is the only major automaker thus far to boost sales and beat estimates.
Ram’s standout June puts the truck further ahead of General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Silverado, which has long been the No. 2 model line in the highly lucrative full-size pickup segment. Trucks have become even more crucial to Fiat Chrysler, GM and Ford’s bottom lines as consumers have thumbed their nose at passenger cars and taken some wind out of the broader U.S. auto market’s sails. The industry is headed for the second annual sales decline in three years.
Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. reported steeper sales declines for June than analysts estimated. GM said its quarterly deliveries dropped 1.5% as the Detroit-based automaker slowly ramps up production of redesigned Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.
Ram’s June sales were only about 3,400 units behind the roughly 71,500 pickup deliveries that Ford averaged per month in the first quarter of the year. Ford will release second-quarter results on Wednesday.
The story behind the Ram pickup’s emergence is more than just 12-inch touch screens and fancier leather seats. Fiat Chrysler has been flooring it with a two-pronged approach to winning market share. It’s continuing to manufacture the cheaper Ram Classic -- a bare-bones version of its truck built on an older platform -- through at least the end of this year, while it produces 2019 model year pickups decked out with new features.
Fiat Chrysler also has been heaping healthy discounts on both models. Poaching truck buyers with big incentives are a down payment on future sales, and the hefty profit margins on pickups give automakers more room to offer substantial deals.
By Gabrielle Coppola and Keith Naughton