Commentary: Because They Can

There is a principle that is not taught in any collegiate-level business course that states the following: If any entity wants to do something that seems out of the norm or beyond anyone’s comprehension, it is because they can. 

This falls into a lot of automotive products we have seen over the past 134 years. Both Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler built their own self-propelled vehicle separately because they can – and done so. Henry Ford sped up the assembly process to build more Model Ts because he can – and done so

The list is long of these feats of absolute gumption in this industry. Among several entries on this are list are the ones accomplished by the companies that eventually make up today's Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Even that list alone is too long to parse out on here. 

The latest entry on that list comes from a single idea to "Hellcat all things." This time, it is. Ram pickup truck that has been given the Hellcat treatment.

In case you have been living under a rock, a Hellcat refers to an engine originally devised by FCA's SRT brand that puts a supercharger on top of a HEMI V8 engine. The result is an engine putting out something north of 700 horsepower – a figure that only a few people can master. 

First, FCA created a concept of a Ram 1500 pickup with a Hellcat engine. The fans ate it up! It was a perfect piece of steak for a world full of carnivores. 

After many calls, e-mails and social media posts prodding FCA to build it, the Ram 1500 TRX was unveiled on August 17. And, the world rejoiced!

It is never easy to translate a concept into production. FCA put in the work to ensure that it takes more than just dropping a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V8 underneath a Ram 1500's hood. Engineers had to create a stronger frame to handle the extra power and capability of the TRX. They had to match the performance with components and add more air flow into the engine bay to maintain performance when you can do 0-60 MPH in just 4.5 seconds. 

Because the TRX was designed for off-road performance, stronger suspension components were needed to accomplish performance benchmarks for its intended use. That also included increasing the brake rotor size, larger shocks, and programming specific drive modes for optimal off-road use. 

The result is a truck that enthusiasts are salivating to get their hands on. Something that can go faster than a Ford F-150 Raptor. Something that is truly beyond comprehension. 

Several years ago, FCA's current Head of Passenger Cars for North America, Tim Kuniskis, stated when he unveiled the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat that there was "no business case" for introducing a 707-horsepower large sedan. If you read between the lines, the reasoning for dropping the Hellcat into the Charger’s engine bay was simple: "because they can."

Over time, FCA had dropped the Hellcat engine into a Dodge Challenger, Charger, Durango, and Jeep Grand Cherokee. They have even pushed the envelope of performance with this engine – including the Dodge Challenger Demon. It yielded well over 800 horsepower – enough to get it banned by the National Hot Rod Association. 

In some eyes, it made sense to drop the Hellcat into a Ram 1500 pickup truck. But, does it?

By explaining the rationale for putting a 702-horsepower supercharged V8 into a half-ton pickup truck, you have to look back a decade or so. High performance pickup trucks have always been with us. General Motors and Ford had their share of street-cred runners with pickup beds in the back. The F-150 Raptor took it to another level, by giving pickup truck owners a very expensive toy to play with in the desert or in the woods. 

There is a flip side to this. Trailering and payload will be limited compared to the maxed out versions of the rest of the pickup truck line. FCA stated that the Ram 1500 TRX will tow up to 8,100 pounds and can haul up to 1,310 pounds in the bed. A “normal” Ram 1500 is capable of towing up to 12,100 pounds – if equipped and specified accordingly. 

The overarching question I have is whether you can still justify the production of the Ram 1500 TRX? Let’s face it: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you can actually do it, right?

Not if you're FCA. 

If I learned anything from my interactions with Kuniskis, FCA's Head of Design Ralph Gilles, and all of the professionals I interfaced with at the company, they can and will do anything their imaginations will let them do. That is why they have the personnel they employ. That is why they have the enthusiast base they cultivated through their brands – at both the North American and European sides of the company. That is why they have customer loyalty that rivals other OEMs across the business. 

And, that is a business lesson we all should learn. 

Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

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