Ram will spend 2017 getting ready for its next-generation half-ton pickup, due in 2018.
A massive retooling of Fiat Chrysler's Sterling Heights, Mich., assembly plant required to build the redesigned Ram 1500 began last month and will continue through much of this year. The $1.48 billion project involves switching the factory from unibody to body-on-frame production, renovation of the paint shop and the addition of a local test track.
Sterling Heights isn't expected to begin producing redesigned "DT" 1500s until January 2018 at the earliest. In the meantime, the current "DS" 1500s will continue to be produced in Warren, Mich., and Saltillo, Mexico.
When it debuts in 2018, the new pickup will use steel for most body panels, instead of switching to aluminum like its competitor, the Ford F-150. Sticking with steel allows more complex shapes in its body panels.
Under the hood, the 1500 will get an improved 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine with direct injection and optional turbocharging, as well as a fuel-saving belt-start generator to improve fuel economy.
Exterior styling will be largely evolutionary, keeping the accentuated raised hood and mammoth chrome grille, but in a slightly different shape. The headlights will shrink and will be more integrated into the grille, giving the vehicle's front fascia a toughened, squinty appearance.
The new technology under the hood will require more air, forcing designers to include a new large air intake above the tow hooks on the front bumper. Horizontal fog lights integrated into the front bumper will largely mimic the styling of the headlights above.
In the rear, the taillights will be smaller, with backup lights integrated vertically nearer the tailgate, instead of at the bottom of the taillights as they are now.
Inside the cab, the biggest change is expected to come in a new, flattened center console design allowing for more storage space, sources said.