As Detroit feels the noose around its neck, everyone says it's getting what it deserves for years of crappy cars. And it is. But you wouldn't know it by looking at the new Dodge Ram, which is replete with more tech toys than most luxury sedans. The crowning feature: the truck can serve as a mobile WiFi hotspot and link multiple computers or phones to the Internet.
It's not just the mobile WiFi that makes the Ram technologically drool-worthy. Satellite TV, an MP3 music system, a rear backup camera -- if Dodge can put all this stuff in a lowly pickup truck, maybe there is hope for the American sedan after all.
Get close the Ram's dash and you'll find a USB interface right there on the button panel. That USB port allows you to rip music from a device or hard drive onto a 30GB hard drive embedded in the Ram's music system (you can also rip music from the CD player onto the hard drive too.) Though the Ram doesn't allow you to rip and play simultaneously, the way a PC might, it's still a great system.
The trucks' rear DVD entertainment system, played over one of those flip-down flatscreens, also gets Sirius [SIRI ] satellite TV (called "Backseat TV" by Sirius) in addition to satellite radio. There are only three TV channels available now, but presumably more will come. You can watch TV on the in-dash screen too, when the truck is in park.
Squirreled away inside the truck's guts is a wireless router, which can connect to Chrysler's UConnect mobile Internet service and dole out a broadband connection to computers, smartphones, and whatever other WiFi device you can think of. It essentially turns your truck into a hotspot that can broadcast in a 100-foot radius using a 3G wireless EVDO connection that shouldn't be interrupted, even if the vehicle is moving -- an industry first. Speeds are anywhere from 400-800Kbps, and the UConnect susbscription is a reasonable $29 a month. It's not blazingly fast, so don't count on parking your truck outside your house and canceling your home Internet connection. But a contractor on the move could use it to send electronic invoices, send progress photos for a homeowner, or even pair it with his T-Mobile [DT ] phone to make voice-over-IP calls and save cell minutes.
UConnect is also Bluetooth-equipped, allowing you to take and place mobile phone calls over the Ram's nav system. It can also take voice commands.
For all that tech chicanery, the '09 Ram should be ashamed to boast only 20MPG. For nearly $50,000 fully loaded, the gas-powered Laramie Ram could damn well have a hybrid drivetrain like the tech-forward Toyota [TM ] Prius does, or at least a more efficient diesel power-plant. Given the well-appointed interior, Dodge obviously expects people to use this as a daily driver; the only three channels the rear TV gets are children's networks. Are you really going to cart your kids around in this behemoth at 20MPG?
Another thing that bodes badly for Dodge is the marketing blitz it's launched around the Ram. Go to the campaign's site and you'll learn about an incredibly elaborate, expensive faux-reality show called the Ram Challenge , in which several teams of manly dudes (firefighters, cowboys, and so on) perform a kind of obstacle course with their Rams, demonstrating the truck's abilities and competing to win a truck themselves. The site alone probably cost tens of thousands of dollars in development, as admittedly badass as it looks.
That speaks volumes about Chrysler's attitude towards truck sales; while the Japanese automakers are pretty content to let their vehicles sell themselves, the American companies are still convinced their dollar's best spent selling things, not improving them. Better priorities could go much further than any $14 billion bailout, Detroit. You've shown promise with the Ram. Now go on and make a cool car for the rest of us.