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Economic engine: Cummins plant revs up for 2 millionth Ram

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The 2 millionth Cummins Inc. pickup engine for the Chrysler Group recently was completed at the Cummins MidRange Engine plant near Walesboro.
The 2 millionth Cummins Inc. pickup engine for the Chrysler Group recently was completed at the Cummins MidRange Engine plant near Walesboro. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Cummins Inc. has hit a significant milestone: It has built the 2 millionth pickup truck engine for Chrysler Group.

The latest engine, the 6.7-liter Turbodiesel, powers the 2500 and 3500 series and chassis cab versions of the Ram pickup truck.

For more than 20 years, the engine has been built at the Cummins MidRange Engine Plant near Walesboro. The plant is now the exclusive supplier of the Ram engine.

“This milestone build is a significant achievement for Cummins and our employees, and is an accomplishment of which we are immensely proud,” said Wayne Ripberger, general manager of Pickup and Light Commercial Vehicle Engine Operations, in a news release.

Since it was first built just more than 20 years ago, the Cummins-powered Ram (initially Dodge) pickup truck has reached cult status. Cummins is running a website dedicated to the trucks’ longevity, while a quarterly 140-page magazine, the Turbo Diesel Register, informs 12,000 Cummins enthusiasts about how to get the most out of their truck.

The mystique surrounding the Cummins engine has remained despite a significant price difference with the gas-powered version: While the Ram 2500 ST, powered by a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 engine, starts at $29,220, the least expensive Ram with a Cummins engine demands at least $51,000.

Even the truck’s initial popularity surprised Cummins and Dodge, said Robert Patton, editor of Turbo Diesel Register.

The companies expected to sell about 5,000 vehicles in the first year, when the engine was being built in Rocky Mount, N.C. — but they sold three times as many, Patton said.

“It just kind of blew everybody away,” he said.

And, he said, people bought the truck for the engine — not the chassis, because that had been around for years.

“That Cummins power plant actually breathed life back into a dead pickup truck body,” Patton said.

At peak popularity, Cummins sold 160,000 engines per year, though that dropped to about 40,000 during the recession.

Sales are rebounding, however. Cummins said that through the third quarter, shipments to Chrysler had increased 42 percent compared to the same period in 2011.

Patton buys a new Cummins-powered Ram every time it is released with a major change. He uses his to haul a racecar trailer.

Most people who own a Ram with a Cummins engine use it for work, such as construction, or a hobby, such as pulling a recreational vehicle or a horse trailer, he said.

The trucks’ longevity has become legendary. More than 800 owners have reported at how many miles they have driven their Rams. Four owners have driven their truck for more than 1 million miles. One truck’s mileage exceeds 2 million.

Clint Garrett, who runs the website for Cummins, said that to be in the Top 10, owners must have driven their truck at least 750,000 miles.

The local success story almost did not happen: The 585,000-square-foot facility was used in the 1980s to assemble components for heavy-duty engines and was closed from 1987 to 1991. Columbus was competing with Huntsville, Ala., to host production of the midrange engine. Collaboration among Cummins, the Diesel Workers Union and then-Gov. Evan Bayh, who offered incentives including training grants, brought the production line to Bartholomew County.

Cummins enthusiasts plan to drive their Rams back to Columbus next summer for a rally. They will tour the plant and swap stories about the battles their vehicles have fought.

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