Ram Pushes Some Hybrid Tech to Pickups, with eTorque

Ram Pushes Some Hybrid Tech to Pickups, with eTorque

Bringing hybrid technology to light trucks isn’t a new, or novel, idea—a small increase in mpg is a large percentage when fuel economy is in the teens. General Motors previously offered hybrid Chevrolet Silverados and GMC Sierras. Chrysler, way back in the Daimler days, co-developed a longitudinal hybrid transmission that was all but stillborn in the form of the Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen hybrids (the same transmission was used in BMW and GM SUVs). UPS even dabbled with the idea of a series hybrid using hydraulics.

With the automotive industry (at the moment) still marching toward Obama-era targets, it should come as no surprise that Ram is doing all it can to make its trucks more efficient. But unlike the giant banners on the doors of circa-2008 Chevy Tahoe hybrids, nothing on this truck proclaims that your testosterone-fueled purchase of a Ram 1500 pickup is secretly reducing America’s fuel consumption.

Enter eTorque: Any 2019 Ram 1500—the all-new one, not the Ram Classic that is just a continuation of the previous generation—can be equipped with a motor/generator attached to its engine’s crankshaft via a belt that is capable of adding torque, cranking the engine in a stop/start event, or making electricity with regenerative braking. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 comes with eTorque as standard, and it is a stand-alone, $1450 option for the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8. The same system is optional on the new Jeep Wrangler, too.

The two engine’s eTorque systems are similar but different. For starters, the V-6’s liquid-cooled eTorque motor is supplied by Continental and reverse-mounted on the front of the engine, adding length to the DOHC mill. The 5.7-liter Hemi’s air-cooled electric helper is mounted on the top of the pushrod V-8, adding height, and it is supplied by Magneti Marelli. Output for the V-6’s eTorque unit is 12 horsepower and 39 lb-ft, although the torque is multiplied by the belt drive to create a 90-lb-ft assist. The Hemi’s eTorque motor is good for 16 horses and 49 lb-ft and, again, multiplied through a slightly different ratio for an assist of 130 lb-ft. Both systems use the same 48-volt, 0.4-kWh lithium-ion battery and DC-DC converter, which is used to charge and run the truck’s 12-volt electrical system. The air-cooled battery doesn’t impinge on interior space as it is mounted behind the rear seat.

Ram isn’t saying whether the Hemi with eTorque will provide any meaningful help in the zero-to-60-mph department. The hybrid system adds just 90 pounds of mass in the V-8 applications and 105 pounds with the V-6, so we’re expecting similar acceleration with and without eTorque.

The Ram’s hybrid system is mostly undetectable on a number of fronts. In addition to not encroaching on the cabin, there isn’t a single “eTorque” badge anywhere. With such a relatively small motor, the eTorque systems mostly operate silently in the background, like a clandestine operative on a quest to save fuel. Every 0.005 second the system evaluates the current demands and decides whether to add a little torque or charge the battery. Only when you go looking for the handoff between regenerative braking and friction braking in the very top of the brake-pedal travel does the modulation feel different than normal.

Unlike regular stop/start systems, eTorque has air conditioning capable of blowing cold air when the engine isn’t turning, even though it has a conventional belt-driven A/C compressor. Restarting during a stop/start event is nearly undetectable. As opposed to waiting for the engine to crank, the truck starts to roll off the line under electric power, and restarts are hardly even felt in the cabin. On our drive we had to consciously look at the tach to see if the engine shut down. Just a single 90-second stop/start event in the Hemi saves 1.7 ounces of gasoline. If you hit 10 stoplights every day for a year, that’s nearly 50 gallons.

Also hiding in the background are a few other fuel-saving technologies. The updated Pentastar V-6 now features variable intake-valve lift and cam phasers capable of running the more efficient Atkinson combustion cycle. Engine power and torque are unchanged at 305 horses and 269 lb-ft. On V-8 models, cylinder deactivation saves a little fuel between 1000 and 3000 rpm. It is paired with two electronic vibration dampers on the frame rails to cancel out extra vibration from the engine, and active noise canceling in the cabin makes sure you won’t hear when the V-8 is running on half the cylinder count.

The handling, while still truckish, doesn’t scream two-and-a-half tons and neither does the ride. Ram’s coil-spring rear suspension (exclusive among body-on-frame pickups) all but eliminates head toss.

Any would-be Mr. Plow will be a little disappointed that Ram doesn’t recommend attaching plows to the 1500’s frame. It isn’t a question of overloading the electrical system; eTorque is designed to handle the load of many 12-volt accessories. Instead, it has to do with the Ram 1500’s frame-rail design. To combat offset head-on crashes, the frame rails at the front of the truck are splayed out 23 degrees, and the varying-gauge steel—designed to accordion in a crash—isn’t meant to support the cantilevered load of a snow plow out front. Ram’s recommendation: Get a three-quarter- or one-ton truck.

Towing and payload figures vary based on equipment. There are three axle ratios, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive (with a two-speed transfer case), quad and the larger crew cab, and two bed lengths for the crew cab. Each one of those combinations has its own tow ratings, but the model with the highest tow capacity is a rear-drive quad cab with a 3.92:1 axle, the Hemi, and eTorque. It is rated for a whopping 12,750 pounds. For comparison sake, a crew-cab, long-box, 4×4, Hemi eTorque with the 3.92 axle, which will be a popular configuration, is rated to tow 11,180 pounds. Ram won’t say this, but we will: If you’re planning on towing that much, get a three-quarter- or one-ton truck. Your brakes and transmission will thank you.

The V-8 eTorque is on sale now, and the V-6 will arrive shortly. A quad-cab Tradesman starts at $33,390—add $2645 for the V-8 and eTorque. Like all modern trucks, Ram 1500s can get pretty luxurious and crest $50,000. A crew-cab Limited 4×4 with the Hemi eTorque engine starts at $60,635. Available equipment includes leather seats, a 360-degree camera, a 1.0-inch lifted suspension, a 12.0-inch infotainment system, blind-spot monitors that will adapt to the added length of a trailer, adaptive LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, and much more. Ram configured option packages so buyers can get exactly what they want and aren’t forced to go to the top trim to get a specific feature. There are some limits, obviously, such as leather seats not being offered on the black-bumper Tradesman model, but eTorque is available across the board. Truck folk should embrace it because it saves fuel without jeopardizing your street cred by going green.