Since the release of the Ram 1500 Ramcharger, there has been a good deal of unfounded criticism of the engineering choices—even before such key figures as the fuel economy on an empty battery have been released.
The Ramcharger is almost unique as a hybrid in that the engine is used both to recharge the battery and to power the motors when needed, but has no physical way to drive the wheels.
The genius of the Ramcharger is providing the advantages of an electric car—stunning acceleration (0-60 in 4.4 seconds in a fully capable full size pickup), renegerative braking, and gasoline-free driving for a range that fits most people’s everyday needs—with freedom from “range anxiety.”
Consider arguments against electric cars that have, reasonably or not, been put forward.
- Towing cuts range in half (as it does for many gasoline-powered vehicles as well), for example. With the Ramcharger that isn’t an issue; drivers still get 340 miles.
- You may want to go on a long trip and be unable to find chargers. The Ramcharger can run on gasoline alone, unlike the range-extended Chevrolet Volt (not to be confused with the Bolt).
- A hurricane may suddenly come after terrorists have cut the power lines. With the Ramcharger, gasoline will work.
- You may run out of power in the desert. Now you can walk down the highway, Mr. Magoo-style, with your gasoline can to get things going again.
One respected vintage car expert slammed the Ramcharger for being too complicated because its engine doesn’t even connect physically to the wheels. This is the opposite of the real case—it is less complicated to have the gasoline engine acting only as a power source for the battery and wheels. There’s no need for an expensive automatic transmission; and there is no need to coordinate the two types of motive power.
Some aspects of this type of powertrain have been in use for roughly a century, in diesel locomotives. In trains, diesels are not strong enough to get a full train moving, so they act as generators for electric motors. The latest move in locomotives is adding batteries, or replacing the diesel with batteries (for switching yards, not long distance runs).
Generally locomotives have eight power levels; the engine stays at one of these to reduce fuel use. In the Ramcharger, keeping the engine at a steady speed as much as possible should also help to reduce emissions and fuel use. However, when maximum acceleration is needed, the engine goes into play as a generator and adds to the output of the batteries for more power.
What’s more, including the engine means the battery can be much, much smaller, providing just 120 miles of range. That is enough for a typical mowing-and-blowing firm to tow around their equipment and crews all day; or for a typical person to do more than their usual daily commute. Someone could run a Ramcharger all year long without burning any gasoline, though they’d better use fuel stabilizer if they do.
On the other hand, if that person wants to travel a long distance, perhaps towing a trailer or boat, they can do that too, relying on the gasoline engine to stretch their trip as much as they want—perhaps letting them stop and rest every four hours while the engine recharges, gaining another 120 miles of gasoline-free driving.
The other handy thing about the Ramcharger powertrain is that it will be a real boon to the luxury buyers who use trucks to move horse trailers absurdly long distances—when it’s in the high-end Wagoneer. That’s coming in a year or two, too, and may be the real target for the Ramcharger. That said, Ram clearly expects a great deal of demand for the pickup; it has a full range of trim levels for it already.
Using the Pentastar V6 instead of a four-cylinder makes sense, too, in many ways. The Pentastar is reliable, well-proven, available in unlimited quantities, and cheap. It has also already been adapted to the more efficient timing system needed for this application, in the Pacifica PHEV. Finally, the Pentastar is quiet and efficient, capable of a great deal of power without making a great deal of noise. The four-cylinder turbo used in the 4xe is in short supply, in contrast; might produce too much heat; requires space for the turbocharger plumbing; can be noisy under load; and may even cost more in the end, without providing greater economy.
Ram engineers have rarely been off course before; and there’s really no reason to think they are now. The EPA figures and durability will be the real proof, though, regardless of any speculation from outsiders.