A Basic Working Pickup


2011 Ram Tradesman 1500.

The pickup truck has had quite a life in America. Coming into existence not long after automobiles went into mass production, the good old pickup spent many decades as a tool of farmers and other working people.

Then in the 1970s, auto companies started gussying up pickups to broaden their appeal. Air conditioning, power windows, and eventually things like heated leather seats found their way into upscale versions of working trucks. In recent years, lots of people seemed to be buying pickups just to use as cars.

But the double whammy of a tough economy and rising fuel prices kind of put the brakes on that. Far fewer people have been buying pickup trucks just to look cool. Many of them have traded down for more sensible cars or car-based SUVs.

Working people, whether sole proprietors or those who are employed by large companies, often still need pickups to do the job however. For them, a truck really is a tool. Fancy interiors, lifted-up suspension and scads of chrome parts are laughable. They want utility, reliability and a low cost of ownership.

Chrysler’s Ram brand has stepped in with a true work truck called the Tradesman. There are no more Dodge trucks, as “Ram” is the new brand within the company for trucks. And yes, the name Tradesman isn’t new, as it used to be assigned to a cargo van that was sold for decades under the Dodge brand. For now, Chrysler isn’t in the full-size van business, so they’re using the name to denote a working-class 1500-series pickup.

The list of what you get with a Ram Tradesman isn’t very long. First and foremost, the big 5.7 liter Hemi V-8 backed up by a 5-speed automatic transmission. Basics like air conditioning and an AM-FM/CD stereo are there, but not much else.

Need to open a window? You’ll be using a crank, just like in the old days. The same goes for the door locks, seat adjusters and side mirrors. Manual, manual and manual. No carpet underfoot, just a rubber/vinyl floor covering, and the split bench seat is swathed in heavy-grade vinyl as well.

Outside, a minimum of chrome is present — just the grill, the emblems and wheel lug nuts. Everything else is either some shade of silver, gray or black. Further enhancing the bare-bones persona of the Tradesman I drove was its “refrigerator white” (actually called Bright White) exterior color. This truck felt right at home in the Home Depot parking lot, along with all the other plain white pickups and vans.

What Ram is offering here is a base truck (which Ford and GM also do), but with their largest engine and big-time towing and hauling capacity included. Payload is rated at 1400+ pounds, and you can tow up to 9000 pounds. A Class-III hitch is included, and there’s an optional trailer brake control.

Inside, although luxuries are in short supply, the tools to become a mobile office are still there. Lots of bins and cubbies, including a huge center fold-down armrest that can hold all manner of papers and supplies. The dash also contains two 12v power ports for running cell phones, GPS devices, etc.

Other than occasionally forgetting to lock both doors (I’ve really become dependent on those remote fobs which do it for you), I really enjoyed checking out this truck. Never got to haul anything more than a set of wheels and tires for one of my classic cars, but it sure felt as though I could have embarked on a big home improvement project or helped somebody move.

The two wheel drive Tradesman starts at $21,805, and there aren’t that many options you can add. (Chrysler figures you’ll choose another model if you want to get all fancy.) One big one is to step up to the four wheel drive version, but that adds more than $3,000 right off the bat.

For working people, this is one attractive truck, even without all the frills — or maybe, especially without all the frills.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 8 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz

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