By on July 15, 2013

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Around the same time that the one millionth U.S. built Kia rolled off a Georgia assembly line, the first Ram ProMaster was being built in a Mexican Chrysler factory. The ProMaster, a revised Fiat Ducato, will give Chrysler/Dodge/Ram dealers a large commercial van to sell for the first time since the Mercedes based Sprinter went away in 2010.

 

It will be interesting to see how American businesses and tradesmen embrace the ProMaster. Unlike traditional full sized vans, like all of the competing products from Ford, GM and Nissan, the ProMaster has front wheel drive. Commercial and fleet buyers tend to be conservative. Look at how police officers and forces have regarded the FWD Impala, for example, compared to the Crown Vic. The Ram brand is hoping that FWD’s advantages, the lower load floor, greater headroom in back, more cargo space and improved fuel economy will offset concerns about durability as well as handling and traction when loaded. Conventional vans have a forward weight bias so adding cargo in the back improves handling and putting that weight near to the driven rear axle improves traction. Adding cargo to a FWD drive vehicle moves the weight bias away from the driven wheels.

It will take until the fall for the pipeline to fill with the new ProMaster and for the trucks to start arriving at the 800 Chrysler “BusinessLink” dealers that specialize in commercial vehicles.

 

 

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51 Comments on “Ram ProMaster Production Begins In Mexico, Will Commercial Van Buyers Embrace FWD?...”


  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Well, you should always look at your load and start at the loading board behind to cab and never overload axles, irrespective of what end is giving the traction.

    This traction argument is nonsense. How do our road trains where I live pull over a couple hundred tons? Even the smaller semi trailers in the US would have minimal traction on the drive wheels versus GVM.

    Granted our roadtrains can have triple boggie drive, but there is still only 16-20 ton there on the drive wheels.

    Front wheel drive cars seem to do okay around the world including the US and Canada.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      @BAF0 – You don’t have ice or snow where road-trains go. Never mind mountain roads.

      But even on semis, you do want the load partly over the drive axle tandems.

      FWD is doable in most situations, but where to stack a load and or re-stacking as you go, was never a concern. And delivery/service vans require 4X4 in some regions and states.

      • 0 avatar
        Battles

        For environments where delivery and service vans need 4wd thwey’ll still need 4wd, that doesn’t change the argument that an FWD van can do the same work as a RWD van with the same load capacity.

    • 0 avatar
      AMC_CJ

      The traction issues is not nonsense. What you’re saying is nonsense.

      10-tons on the drive wheels is a lot of pressure. The rest of the trailers that follow behind the first are not taking any weight off of the drive wheels; it’s just dead weight to be pulled.

      A standard chassis is like a see-saw. Put weight on one end, it takes weight off the other. In a “road-train” situation you’re not taking weight off the drive wheels, you’re just connecting more see-saws. On the opposite end of that, I’ve seen plenty of stupid truck drivers put their 5th wheel all the way back, then complain their steering is light, wanders, and shimmies at speed.

      • 0 avatar

        This is physics taught in middle school. As long as the rear overhang is smaller than 1/2 of remaining load floor, the cargo cannot take weight off the front wheels, assuming it’s uniformly loaded, of course.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          You’re right about the physics, but they don’t account for a steep grade and or slippery conditions.

        • 0 avatar
          See 7 up

          That is not entirely true (the 1/2 part). If you sum moments around the rear axle, any weight aft of the rear axle will “take weight off the front”. However, vertical load may still be higher in the front without any load since you need to complete the moments and sum the vertical forces.

          But this is simplistic since it doesn’t account for spring sag and assumes a “firm” support point and relative vector angles. Furthermore, it isn’t really “physics”, but statics and something typically taught in 1st year engineering courses. I would be very surprised by a high school student that knew how to properly define a statistics problem involving moment and force summations given HS physics primarily involves laws of motion, and trajectory.

          As for the “light steering and shimmy” comment of AMC CJ. This is not due to a reduction in weight per se, but a change in geometry at the front axle due to a sagging rear end.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      How many light commercial vehicles are run a full capacity.

      It isn’t nonsense what I had written. If you load correctly then you will have traction irrespective of what end is driving.

      As a matter of fact since many light commercial run much less than at capacity a FWD will provide more traction.

      The argument about traction in steep environment counter the use of this particular vehicle as the vehicle of choice for RVs in the Swiss and Austrian Alps.

      If you don’t have traction in a FWD you will need AWD or 4WD.

      To the person who made the comment about snow and ice. What a foolish statement. So FWD cars shouldn’t work in the NA market. Better tell that to the Europeans and Canadians.

      The comment on semi trailers. Traction is still required to pull the load.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        @BAFO – In a work/driving environment, you can’t always plan for a balanced load/truck. Or constantly shuffle the load, especially if it’s palletize and requires a forklift to move. And you want to load what gets dropped off 1st, last.

        FWD RVs don’t have much rear overhang if you’ve noticed. A long wheelbase means a wide turning radius. FWD RVs are still heavier up front considering the passengers, drivetrain, cabover sleeper, tanks, generators, HVAC and batteries are located at or close to the front.

        A simi may only have 1/3 of an 80K lbs combined load over the powered tandems, but they have 8X8 traction. And simis do get stuck on ice and snow, even on level pavement. Maybe they have magic ice in Europe, but you can’t fool the laws of physics. Or Mother Nature.

  • avatar
    Spike_in_Brisbane

    The Fiat Ducato very quickly became the chassis of choice for motorhome builders here in Oz. I suspect the packaging advantages are responsible.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      Also they do not have any problems negotiating slippery and steep conditons here. Just to remind everyone Europe is far from flat and it snows, sleets and rains a lot.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Buyers in this segment value function more than form, and I think that’s where these will do well. Sprinters found some popularity due to their function, but their high price was a barrier for fleets that were concerned about cost. The ProMaster looks to be cost competitive and offers a huge variety of van bodies, chassis cabs and cutaways, so I think it will quickly find it’s place.

    I’m not gonna lie, when I saw the long wheelbase chassis cab, I immediately started thinking about attaching ramps to make a car hauler. I’ll wait and see how the pentastar and 62TE and the VM diesel powertrain hold up under those conditions.

    • 0 avatar
      retrogrouch

      Cost of ownership, not cost of buy-in, was a huge factor in the demise of the Sprinter. The real world fuel savings was significant compared to full size vans but repair costs were outrageous according the few sources I heard. E series vans are based on older F series trucks so parts are cheap, service is cheaper, and most of the bugs were worked out in the 90s. The Sprinter and its typical German drivetrain suffered typical German failures due to typical German crap. Sensors, pumps, etc. died way too frequently as they regularly do on German cars.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        This is true, repair costs are much higher on Sprinters, especially when compared to a Ford E-series. That’s what stopped a lot of fleets from buying more of them once they tried them for sure.

        I think the fact that Chrysler intalled a conventional powertrain in the ProMaster for the volume units will help the long term cost of ownership as the V6 and automatic trans are defacto off the shelf Chrysler FWD car and minivan parts. We’ll see how they hold up under commercial duty.

        • 0 avatar
          JKC

          The other thing I’ve noticed about Sprinters (at least in upstate NY) is that they rust like nobody’s business. It’s atrocious.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            @JKC
            I find it odd a vehicle designed to operate in the same environment as Upstate would have the issue you describe. Can you provide a link, or is this an observation on your part.

          • 0 avatar
            geozinger

            I have to agree. In my observations, the Sprinters were not inexpensive to buy into, but the maintenance was worse. My old company replaced a GMC Savanna 2500 with a Sprinter; the fuel savings were significant, but the unexpected maintenance costs were rather large. At least the GMC was cheap to fix when broken.

            The rust factor is just another nail in the coffin. I’m in Western Michigan, a similar climate to Upstate NY. It surprises me how much and how quickly these things rust. It almost reminds me of 1970’s Fiats…

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    My wife is a HVAC tech. When she started her new job they gave her a Ford Ranger, but I saw some of their fleet had Ford Transit-Connects in it. I thought that would of been the perfect vehicle for what she does, better then a small truck, but she says the guys with the Transits complain about the horrible traction they have in un paved driveways and roads.

  • avatar
    Smegley Wanxalot

    Commercial buyers will have no problem with front wheel drive. They are more likely to have a problem with the way this thing looks, as they will be seeing it 8 hours a day.

    Is it really that difficult to design a van that doesn’t look horrible on the outside? Seems nobody had problems doing so 20 years ago.

    • 0 avatar

      There seems to be a competition between Chrysler, Ford (with the Euro based fullsize Transit) and Nissan to see who can make the ugliest truck. So far Nissan is winning.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Not that the Nissans aren’t awful to look at too, but the Promaster manages to look ugly and fragile at the same time. If something is going to have so little style, why use the grill as the bumper?

        • 0 avatar
          Hummer

          Holy crap I didn’t even notice that, that’s bad.

          I wonder if the radiator is stuffed directly behind that plastic grille/bumper…

          • 0 avatar
            See 7 up

            As opposed to every other car?
            A “bumper” is not designed for its looks. It should be designed to absorb small, low speed impacts without breaking, and easily/cheaply replaced at higher impact speeds. In that manner, this vehicle fails how?

            In all cars, the radiator is really protected by a small cross member behind the bumper/grill.

            If any bumper fails, it is the countless painted “bumpers” that are installed on every modern car. It is meant to take “bumps” to prevent the painted portions of said car. Why one would want to paint this so it looks bad the first time it is used as designed beats me. I long for the Euro 80’s bumpers to come back.

          • 0 avatar
            Hummer

            A cheap solution is one like the 1st gen S10, those bumpers can be had brand new chrome and shoddy Chinese quality all for every bit of $80

            I dare say this bumper could stand up to as much as one of those steel bumpers can, while bing cheaper and providing superior protection to the components behind it in low speed collisions.
            That would have to be extremely embarrassing to have such a large vehicle bump up on a small car and destroy the radiator.

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            Actually every other car has a separate bumper and cover from the rest of the front clip. If the bumper itself gets deformed, it can be replaced along with its cover without replacing the cover of the entire front clip. In this truck, the cover for the grille is separate, and probably attached to the painted hood for engine access. That’s still a huge cover around the grille/hood to be replaced if a corner of the bumper and cover is torn/damaged.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Here is a picture of the NV400 from France I saw when I was there a month ago or so. I like them, they would be great for RV conversion.

        These vehicles are over 6.8m long and 2.8m high.

        They do look better than the US NVs and are larger.

        Maybe Nissan should have these in the US, they can come as a cab chassis as well with duals.

        Not a bad looking large van, better than this Ram or Transit.

        nissan.fr/#vehicles/lcv/nv400/bodies-and-specs/van

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @Ronnie Schreiber
        First, can TTAC possibly provide an adequate tool so we can paste links to relevant topics during discussion. This would make it easier to explain/express viewpoints.

        Sorry, the previous link I pasted didn’t respond, so hopefully this link will work. (hoping)

        http://www.newsroom.nissan-europe.com/EU/en-gb/NV400/Product/Images.aspx

        • 0 avatar
          wstarvingteacher

          Your prior link works. Just have to cut and paste to your browser. Don’t know why they sometimes do that. The NV400 does look good to me at least but I am a diehard Nissan fan.

          While everyone is taking beneficial suggestions. How about more than seemingly 5 minutes before you need to log in to comment. Makes you lose your place and sometimes takes a while to find it again.

    • 0 avatar
      wstarvingteacher

      Just wait. Your kids will think these are what good looking vans look like.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      They look a lot better as a Class C Motorhome
      http://www.trakka.com.au/model_images/Trakkaway-860/gallery/TWAY_860_ext.jpg

  • avatar
    philadlj

    Well, they certainly won’t embrace this van’s looks (though admittedly few businesses care much about looks as long as the price is right and it gets the job done). But a van whose engine intrudes that far into the cabin can’t have ample knee room, can it?

  • avatar
    noxioux

    Hmmm. . . mixed Fiat/Chrysler parentage made one UGLY baby. I’d tie that one up in a gunny sack with a rock, and throw it in the river. Yuck.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    FWD vans like this work just fine for 99% of the world, I’m sure they will be just fine in the US, despite all the whining.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      And, quite frankly, since when has a commercial fleet cared what the van looks like? Load capacity, reliability and cost of operation are all that matters.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      In a word YES. They mountains , ice ans snow elsewhere and the Ducato will do 110mph or faster with the 3 Litre diesel.

    • 0 avatar
      Michael500

      I don’t think so. I think FWD transaxles can’t handle the torque and fail early. Most GM 4T60E transes failed at 60,000 miles. I don’t trust ANY FWD car built by Detroit. Plus, this thing is fugly. The Ford and Datsun one look a lot better. I don’t like this eurotrash-looking space ship, plus the headlights look real ‘stoopid.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        It is very very reliable in European use. It is the platform used for most most Class C motorhomes built in Europe.
        I am fascinated why GM, Ford and Chrysler have not come up with “home sourced” new Vans?

  • avatar
    Hummer

    If it has good redeemable qualities it may make it.
    But being FWD, it’s only going to take a couple times getting stuck or a wreck before any business that buys them moves on to a traditional van.

    Not to mention they need to be rock solid reliable, Ford and chevy traditional vans have a very high standard that it must match.

    • 0 avatar
      See 7 up

      Why would FWD result in a wreck more than a RWD unit?

      Given most drivers today grew up on FWD vehicles, a FWD vehicles dynamics in slippery situations will be more in line with typical driver expectations.

      The same argument can be had with passenger cars. A RWD car may offer more ultimate grip and adjustability at the hands of an experience driver, but most drivers will not react well to oversteer events and a FWD vehicle set to plow will be much safer with a more accessible performance envelope. Add load, and I much rather my non CDL trained driver be “plowing” away with FWD than be overzealous and spin a vehicle with a large amount of momentum at the rear.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        Idea being those who have a lot of weight on the back or a trailer on the back, Americans aren’t afraid to push the limits, which can cause some serious problem if the manufacturers don’t expect as much.

        • 0 avatar
          See 7 up

          True, but I don’t think the size of these, nor their load capacity warrants those concerns. Also, very few utility vans are used to tow anything significant given their primary motive is to keep required load protected and inside. Many people safely tow with FWD, given its within the vehicle tow ratings (if your employees like to overload their vehicles or tow beyond their vehicles capacity, I’s suggest you as company owner, take disciplinary action or plan to pay lots of money if your vehicle crashes and your insurance fails to pay)

          • 0 avatar
            redliner

            “take disciplinary action”

            I’ll be sure to tell my general contractor to give his help a good spanking for overloading the van.

  • avatar
    Charliej

    I don’t know how these last, but they are everywhere in Mexico. Bimbo uses these as bread delivery trucks. I am always amazed when I see one of these trucks working it’s way down a narrow cobble stone street in a Mexican village. I owned a 2006 Sprinter cab chassis with a fifteen foot box body for five years. I paid for it with the fuel savings from moving from an F350 with box body. As a business owner, all I cared about was the cost of operation. I think that the Fiat van will do will in the US.

  • avatar
    redliner

    If it was my money and I was willing to take a bet on an unproven vehicle in this segment, it would probably be one of those new Nissan work vans. The truth is, Ford and GM have pretty much perfected this segment. Unless Fiat, er, um I mean RAM can offer huge fuel savings and be as durable and cheap to maintain as it’s Detroit rivals, I don’t see it getting much traction (Rimshot, lol!)


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