To say Scott Kunselman knows a bit about engineering vehicles is a substantial understatement. The chief engineer for Dodge Ram is now in his 21st year as a Chrysler Group engineer. Schooled as a mechanical engineer, the native of western Pennsylvania holds a BS from Carnegie Mellon, as well as an MS and an MBA from the University of Michigan. Before taking on his current position two years ago, he completed chassis, powertrain and international vehicle development assignments for the OEM.
Kunselman is quite happy to have been in the right place at the right time to help the Ram brand “power back into the medium-duty truck market.” Just last month the spanking-new Class 3 Ram 3500 cab chassis was rolled out at The Work Truck Show in Atlanta (see FO, 3/06, pg. 36.)
“There was demand-pull from customers because Dodge had been in Class 3 up until five years ago,” says Kunselman. “To develop this new truck, we looked at a multitude of inputs including the previous experience of our customers.
“Basically, we wanted to come to market with compelling reasons for buyers to choose the Ram 3500 cab chassis over the competition,” he continues. “To get there, our research was very much customer-driven. We interviewed current and competitive customers and also body up-fitters via the National Truck Equipment Assn. (NTEA) to understand their requirements of this type of truck.”
Kunselman explains that a key attribute for a chassis cab design is its ability to accommodate a wide range of vocational bodies — and be able to do so quickly and at the lowest possible cost.
“Up-fitters require the truck to make body installation as easy and inexpensive as possible,” he says. “That's true whether the end user is a single truck operator or a large fleet owner. As for end users, our research told us they are most concerned with reliability and total cost of ownership.”
Dodge surveyed users on how they use commercial Class 3 trucks in the most rigorous duty cycles. “And we went to their work sites to confirm what they told us in the survey,” says Kunselman. “We took engineering-grade measurements of the loads hauled, the roads traveled and the conditions encountered, all to ensure we would deliver a truck capable of 200,000 miles of use.”
Working from the data acquired from these most rigorous users, “Dodge engineers translated duty cycles into vehicle design,” states Kunselman. “The upshot is such decisions as using the highest-strength steel available for the frame and an E-coating [electronic] process to finish the frame. It's very heat-resistant — you won't find the frame coating of these trucks melting on the ground.”
Kunselman points out that spring and shock attachments were also subjected to the duty-cycle analysis. “What used to be accomplished by trial and error can now be done in the computer.”
Other research findings reflected in the production truck include a factory-installed exhaust brake option because “so many customers were installing them aftermarket. It provides 35% more torque absorption. It engages when the driver is off the throttle. It's very beneficial on grades and when towing, such as a Hot Shot setup, and it cuts brake wear.”
The cab chassis boasts a standard Hemi V8 under the hood but buyers can opt for a Cummins Turbodiesel. Standard transmission is a 6-sp. manual with PTO capability. The Hemi can also be had with a 5-sp. auto and the Cummins with a 6-sp. auto with PTO capability. “The turbodiesel of course delivers great fuel economy and it offers a longer oil change interval,” Kunselman points out. The recommended oil drain for the Hemi is 7500 miles, while it's 15,000 miles for the Cummins.
“Down the road the key for us will be to keep reviewing our vehicle portfolio and those of our competitors and staying aware of our customers' needs,” Kunselman remarks. “We are looking at the opportunities. Dodge is here to stay and grow [in the commercial marketplace].”