PROUD OF THE BRAND: Bob Hegbloom, Ram truck brand director, pitches a new diesel engine option and a truck-wide locking system.
PROUD OF THE BRAND: Bob Hegbloom, Ram truck brand director, pitches a new diesel engine option and a truck-wide locking system.
BILL GRIFFITH

Bob Hegbloom, director of the Ram truck brand, enjoyed pitching his product to the media at this month’s New England International Auto Show in Boston.

Ram’s 1500 pickup has been a hot seller, gaining 8 percent of market share in the full-size pickup truck segment last year, along with 44 monthly sales increases.

Along the way, it became the first back-to-back winner of Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year Award in the 65 years the magazine has been bestowing the honor.

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The game-changing element in Ram’s repeat win is the new 3.0-liter V-6 EcoDiesel engine. It’s an interesting addition to a brand that previously has hung its identity on its iconic Hemi V-8.

Mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission, the Ram diesel has been returning mileage figures such as 18 city, 28 highway, and 22 combined—best in class for the full-size pickup truck segment.

The Ram engine, while only 240 horsepower, now produces 420 lb.-ft. of torque and has a towing capacity of 9,200 pounds.

Hegbloom noted that Ram owners often fretted over whether they’d remembered to lock the built-in Ram storage bins in the bed. And all truck owners know that the No. 1 theft item from pickups is the tailgate.

As a result, Ram has upgraded the pickup’s security system so the key fob now locks all doors, the tailgate, and the Ram boxes.

“It’s been quite a run for us,” says Hegbloom, referring to the way the Ram brand has been able to stand on its own after moving out from under the Dodge umbrella.

“Our TV ads now resonate with where we want to go,” he says, “while Dodge has done well lately with its Ron Burgundy campaign.”

Ram had one of the most memorable Super Bowl ads of all time last year with a 60-second spot showing its trucks’ capabilities to the audio track of Paul Harvey’s famous “So God Made a Farmer” speech.

Asked how Chrysler will follow that act, Hegbloom says, “Olivier Francois (Chrysler’s chief marketing officer) is an amazing guy. You can be sure he’s got something cooking.”

Also cooking is Ram’s ProMaster cargo van, a version of the Fiat Ducato that has been produced for more than 30 years and sold more than 4.5 million units worldwide. It’s been in the US market for the past six months.

“The East Coast is a big van market,” says Hegbloom. “The ProMaster is proving popular because its front-wheel-drive is great in snow and the lack of rear drivetrain allows for a best-in-class, 9-inch, lower step-in height, which drivers love because they take less of a physical beating jumping in and out of the vehicle all day.”

The Van comes in 14 configurations based on three weight classes, three wheelbases, and two heights. Power comes from either a 4-cylinder EcoDiesel or V-6 gas-powered engine.

The Runner-up

Mazda raised the bar for compact sedans and hatchbacks when the second generation Mazda3 came to market in 2003. It was a jump ahead in packaging, styling, handling, performance, and content in the compact segment.

Jurors for the 2014 North American Car of the Year made the Mazda3 one of three finalists for this year’s award. It was a bit of bad luck that the Mazda3 was up against the new Corvette Stingray in the final voting.

Let’s face it. Compacts don’t have the panache of the iconic (and American-made) sports car, and automotive journalists love performance.

Still, the Mazda more than held its own, finishing as the runner-up with 185 votes (to 211 for the Stingray). The Cadillac CTS was third with 94.

It’s not hard to make the argument that the Mazda3 is the most important vehicle in that grouping as it has sold in 120 countries and accounts for 30 percent of Mazda’s worldwide sales and 40 percent of its US sales.

Mazda was at the forefront of an industry shift that’s seen compacts change from econoboxes to vehicles that look good, perform well, are fuel efficient, and have upgraded interiors with lots of technology.

The latest Mazda3 builds on that theme while retaining the marque’s zoom-zoom, fun-to-drive reputation.

Mazda product manager David Matthew was at the auto show in Boston and talking about compacts in general (30 of them in the market) and the Mazda3 in particular.

“It’s the largest segment in the world and expected to grow by 25 percent over the next six years,” he says.

The Mazda3 has continued to provide class-apart content and a sense of motion in its styling.

Interior space is increased and the wheelbase lengthened even as the overall length drops by .6 of an inch.

Both the 2.0- and 2.5-liter SkyActive engines are available with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is 41 highway (33 combined) with the smaller engine and 39 highway (32 combined) with the larger engine.

A high-tech advance in the Mazda3 is its variable-output alternator and capacitor storage. The capacitor stores electricity during braking and coasting so the alternator doesn’t need to siphon engine power during acceleration.

Pricing for the Mazda3 ranges from $17,740 on the low end to $30,000, depending on trim levels, engine choice, and option packages.

Among the technologies available on the Mazda are automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, forward obstruction warning, smart city braking (up to 19 miles per hour), radar cruise control, and adaptive front lighting.