Last spring, I got a first look at the 2019 Ram 1500 truck line. I won’t bother you with a recap. You can see it here. At that time Ram engineers said a “mild hybrid” truck was coming. Well, it’s here now, and I was able to drive one last week.
On the outside it looks exactly the same as a conventional Ram pickup truck. But under the hood, you’ll see an electric motor attached to the conventional internal-combustion engine. You may also notice the absence of the alternator. It has been replaced with a belt-driven motor generator.
After Brian Spohn, vehicle electrification manager of powertrain engineering, gave a thorough and highly technical review of the sophisticated new system, I felt like the hunter who first encounters a long-range riflescope with ballistic turrets and a milliradian reticle. The first thought is, “What is going on?” The second question is, “How does this thing work?”
So, I asked him to tell me what was going on—in language the technologically challenged could understand.
“The eTorque system is a mild hybrid architecture that uses a 48-volt lithium-ion battery in concert with a traditional engine and transmission powertrain,” he said. “For the guy who does mild offroading or tows a boat, the system should be transparent both on and off the road. In two-wheel drive and four-wheel Auto mode, the electric motor and gasoline engine work together to deliver essentially seamless operation.”
In other words, you won’t have to worry about any stop/start delays with the AutoStop feature common to hybrids.
“We’ve coordinated torque control between the two systems. It’s all behind the scenes, and the driver will most likely not notice the transition between the motor and the engine,” he said.
In four-wheel low, though, AutoStop is disabled, as it would interfere with the kind of driving required to get through a boulder field or muddy ruts.
For those who tow trailers, Spohn says, “In trailering operations, the truck will handle like any other truck, but we have an opportunity to increase the efficiency.”
Efficiency is the key word here, especially if, by now, you are wondering “why bother?” Truck manufacturers are under a federal mandate to increase fuel efficiency, and certainly guys who tow heavy trailers are aware of how much fuel they burn. Ram is awaiting final EPA fuel-economy certification for eTorque models, but Spohn said they expect to see a very welcome increase in overall fuel economy. “We know that each time AutoStop is activated for 90 seconds, you save about 1.7 ounces of fuel. That adds up over the course of a year.”
Spohn added, “I’d like to emphasize that this is not a glorified stop/start system. We’ve designed the system to add torque where it’s needed and to take it away when it’s not. The system also helps other engine components, such as the cooling system, to operate more efficiently. That not only improves overall performance, but enhances efficiency as well.”
When I towed a trailer behind one of the eTorque Rams, I could not feel the handoff between the electric motor and the gasoline engine, even at very low speed. There was also no shudder or hesitation on the re-start, which was common to early hybrid vehicles. Spohn says it takes only 70 milliseconds from the time you lift your foot off the brake pedal to restart the engine.
As hybrid technology evolves, you can expect to see more of it. And as vehicle manufacturers gain experience is designing and building hybrid vehicles, these systems will continue to evolve and improve.
The Ram 1500 Big Horn Sport Crew Cab 4×4 I drove has a list price of $41,895. The 3.6-liter V6 eTorque is part of the truck’s standard equipment. When you add in the optional equipment on the test truck, the list price was $55,435.
The Ram 1500 Longhorn Crew Cab 4×4 that I trailered with lists for $53,695. In this case, the 5.7-liter V8 eTorque engine is optional ($2,645). Total list price for this truck is $66,755. The base model Tradesman, though, can be had with the V6 eTorque. Pricing for this model starts at $31,695.