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CHRYSLER HOPES RADICAL RAM CONVERTS GM AND FORD LOVERS

SHARE CHRYSLER HOPES RADICAL RAM CONVERTS GM AND FORD LOVERS

Chrysler Corp. is looking to its radically styled new full-size pickup truck to keep its marketplace winning streak alive.

So Chrysler executives broke a couple of the auto industry's unwritten rules of etiquette Tuesday during the rollout ceremony for the Ram truck.First, chairman Robert Eaton mentioned the competition - General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. - by name. It probably wasn't necessary since anyone who cares already knows GM and Ford each hold about a 40 percent share of the full-size pickup segment.

Chrysler wants the Ram to double its current 7.5 percent market share to 15 percent. To do that, it will have to convert some GM and Ford truck owners.

"Owners of Ford and GM trucks are real diehards," Eaton told a crowd of local and state dignitaries and hundreds of Dodge City truck plant workers. "Prying them away is not going to be easy."

Eaton also announced the new trucks' prices, usually an event timed closer to the sale date of a new vehicle. The Ram, offered in three models, five engines, four transmissions, two wheelbases and two bed sizes, will begin arriving in Dodge showrooms in September. An extended cab version built in Mexico will be imported beginning next June.

The base model of the new T-300 Ram half-ton Work Special will be $11,824. The Ram 1500 Laramie SLT with an optional 5.2-liter V-8 engine and four-speed automatic transmission will be $18,140. That's the model Chrysler expects to sell most often. Dealers can start taking orders next week.

Chrysler has drawn plenty of attention since it first showed the Ram truck - distinguished by its over-the-road semitrailer styling - at the North American International Auto Show in January.

Eaton said he thinks Chrysler's momentum from its other recent new vehicles - the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the three LH midsize and two luxury cars - have given the buying public a better feeling about Chrysler. That, in turn, has helped the company's own confidence, he said.

Should it manage to gain six or more points of market share, Chrysler would be awash in profits from the new truck. Full-size pickups are among the industry's most profitable vehicles because of the lack of manufacturing complexity.

Chrysler general manager of Jeep-truck operations Bernard Robertson said the Ram would be profitable with 12 percent of the market.

To do that Chrysler must hope that the Ram attracts more people who buy trucks for personal use. Chrysler has held about 30 percent of the market for work trucks but 2 percent in non-work areas.