The Truth About Cars » Commercial http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:03:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Commercial http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Commercial Break: The Elusive Female Truck Buyer http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/commercial-break-the-elusive-female-truck-buyer/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/commercial-break-the-elusive-female-truck-buyer/#comments Mon, 06 Jan 2014 12:00:35 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=692849

Click here to view the embedded video.

A woman and her horse: the pairing that GM hopes will persuade female consumers to consider the Chevrolet line of trucks. At a time when truck ads are pushing masculinity to absurd heights, it’s a bold move. Even so, it’s a fundamentally conservative approach to a difficult marketing problem.

How do you sell pickup trucks to women? For a long time, the answer has been that you don’t. Close to 90% of pickup buyers are male, a ratio which hasn’t changed much in decades. Making the business case for attracting more women to the pickup market isn’t hard. Full-size trucks have been the prime moneymakers for Detroit for years, a market that the Japanese would like a bigger piece of as well. A skewed sex ratio means that valuable female consumer dollars are gravitating towards other, less profitable segments. In GM’s case, CUVs like the Equinox, Terrain, and Enclave have proved popular with female buyers. But pushing those consumers towards the loaded pickups on the other side of the showroom is even better news for the bottom line. Brand strategists have realized that the full-size truck is now the de facto top of the model hierarchy, at least for the Detroit 3. Upselling women into pickups and SUVs is a natural evolution of an age-old marketing scheme: turn in your smaller vehicle for a bigger, more luxurious one.

If only it were that easy. The thorny dilemma that immediately rears its head is how to market trucks to women without compromising their masculine image in the eyes of male consumers. As long as strong, rugged maleness remains the accepted paradigm for truck ads, the hands of agencies and marketing departments are tied. For the dominant manufacturers in the truck game, there’s no need to shake up the status quo on a product that already sells in droves. The companies with a smaller slice of the pie seem content to ape the strategy of the more successful brands in the hopes of gradually elevating sales. The result is an echo chamber of advertising which intentionally minimizes the role of women or excludes them entirely.

However, there are three factors which might motivate companies to pursue female truck buyers more aggressively. The first is the already-discussed temptation to upsell and broaden the pickup market generally. The second is that for a major product with such lucrative margins, the 10-15% of women who already buy new trucks is “not an insignificant number,” as Chevrolet truck marketing director Maria Rohrer explained to Business Insider back in July. Thirdly, advertising campaigns that incorporate women or themes relevant to women may influence purchasing decisions regardless of who signs on the dotted line. Although women are the direct buyers in a relatively small portion of truck sales, they influence countless more as the wives, daughters, business partners and girlfriends of male truck purchasers. Chevrolet’s “Strong” music video seems to take this influence into account. Although there’s a single female driver at around the 2:46 mark, there are many other women interspersed throughout the ad. The lyrics to the song are a paean to the sturdy blue-collar man who puts work and family above all else, a move away from the kind of brashness that characterizes Ford’s current ad series for the F-series. It’s one thing to give women a nod by putting them in the background, but how do you sell to them directly?

Chevrolet’s solution is an ad featuring a woman that explicitly eschews traditionally feminine themes. There are no kids being buckled into car seats, no painted fingernails tapping touchscreens, no group of women disembarking from a quad cab at the beach or the mall. It’s the opposite of the (in)famous Porsche “school bus” commercial, which dropped Porsche vehicles into a variety of mundane scenarios. Instead, we get a tough, independent woman hurling hay bales into the back of her new Silverado. She’s thin, youngish, and attractive, but not “pretty” or delicate: her hair is loose and wild, she has a tattoo on her wrist, and she looks at home in her cowboy boots, flannel, and sunglasses. She’s the only woman in the entire ad, outside of a quick crowd shot at the rodeo. She handles her horse and her truck entirely by herself; independence is the clear message. At the end of the day, she wins “a ribbon that goes on her wall, not in her hair.” As the author of the Business Insider piece astutely observed, and ad chief Rohrer confirmed, the narrative is designed to be “something that everyone could relate to.” And therein lies the fundamental conservatism of this approach: it seeks to attract female consumers within the existing, male-centric paradigm. There’s no serious risk of the masculinity of Chevy trucks being watered down from this ad, even though the main character is a woman. It engages women within the context of an open but overwhelmingly male-dominated activity. This is the safe approach, but is it the right one?

                The issue with this spot is that the direct appeal is ultimately very narrow. Even among the women who already buy pickups, the number of rodeo-competing horse enthusiasts is tiny. And it is very remote from the lives of the small business owners, industrial professionals, and affluent suburbanites who might form the core of a new female class of truck buyers. In other words, the appeal of the ad is deep within its narrow target, but not broad. Were I asked to design my own ad campaign for pickup trucks that targeted women, I would try to choose a widely relevant situation. A woman loading up home improvement supplies would be an example. So would a female contractor visiting a job site, or a business owner making a delivery. It might be worthwhile to toss a few kids into the ad as well, but not as the main focus. A woman and her horse is a step in the right direction, but it’s not likely to get many more women to consider a truck than those that already do. That’s probably what Chevrolet was going for, but expanding the market should be a long-term strategic goal.

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Review: 2014 RAM ProMaster Cargo Van (With Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-ram-promaster-cargo-van-with-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/review-2014-ram-promaster-cargo-van-with-video/#comments Tue, 01 Oct 2013 16:00:44 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=524961 2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

I have driven more cars than I can count this year but strangely enough, none of them excited me as much as the Fiat Ducato we had in July. Why? Well, my snazzy new retaining wall that arrived pallet-by-pallet in the Ducato certainly helped, but the real reason is: the Ducato serves as the basis for the 2014 RAM ProMaster. Yes, I know I have an odd place in my heart for commercial cargo haulers, but hear me out. The ProMaster quite simply the biggest thing to happen in the commercial world in my lifetime. The only thing that could have surpassed the intrigue of a front-wheel-drive cargo hauler would be a front-wheel-drive BMW M5. I know Europeans have had these things for a while, but let’s revel in the American novelty as we click past the jump.

Click here to view the embedded video.

First things first. The ProMaster isn’t a Ducato with a RAM stuck on the front. Instead, Fiat and Chrysler decided to do their most interesting joint venture project thus far: refresh/re-design the Ducato with the North American market in mind. Why bother? Because major changes needed to be made to meet US legislation so the team took the opportunity to tweak just about everything. If you’re a Ducato fan, keep reading because I suspect that many of the American market changes will trickle back to the EU over time.

Exterior

With cargo haulers, it’s important that form follow function. The “box-on-wheels” is eminently practical. Because of this not much has changed externally from the Euro version and shoppers still have three body choices: a cargo van with or without windows, a chassis cab or a cutaway. Up front we still have the utilitarian dark grey bumper covers in a three-piece arrangement. The logic is that if you’re in a minor scuff-up, you can replace just the portion of the bumper you need to instead of the whole thing. Since they are all the same color regardless of the color of the van, parts costs are kept low and you can afford to have one or two in inventory.

Breaking from American tradition, the rear bumper is thin and shallow. While this makes me wonder what kind of body damage happens when the van gets hit in the rear, it makes forklift loading easier and keeps the van’s dimensions down. When it comes to dimensions, the ProMaster breaks from the mold. Rather than having an identical bodies in 1500, 2500 and 3500 versions, RAM’s “levels” dictate  which of the four bodies, three wheelbases and two roof heights you get. The 1500 is the only version available with a low roof in two different lengths. The 2500 and 3500 are high roof only and all that really changes is the wheelbase and body length. The shortest ProMaster is 29 inches shorter (body length) than a GM standard van while the longest is 26 inches longer than GM’s largest van. Regardless of body, you get 16-inch wheels wrapped in 225/75R16 rubber. The small tires and wheels are a result of the Euro roots and the contrast between the small wheels and enormous body make the ProMaster look a little like a pregnant roller skate.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cargo Hauling

The slab sides mean we get a large square rear opening almost as large as the van’s cross-section. This is significant change from GM and Ford’s existing vans where the rear portal is notably smaller than the cargo area. At 62 inches wide and 60 inches tall, the rear opening in the low-roof ProMaster is 5-inches wider and 13-inches taller than a GM/Ford van. Similar to Mercedes’ Sprinter, the ProMaster’s side doors swing 260 degrees and latch nearly parallel to the side of the van. The ProMaster’s sliding door rolls on an external stainless track for easy maintenance and thanks to the 49-inch wide, 60-inch tall (low roof) opening it reveals, you can insert one pallet in the side and one in the rear, something you can’t do in an E-Series or Savana. You can add a driver’s side sliding door for a reasonable $575 or $650 with glass, but if you prefer the side “barn doors” in your cargo hauler, look elsewhere. The RAM is sliding only.

Once you get beyond the unorthodox looks, you begin to realize how enormous the ProMaster is. At 283 cubic feet, smallest ProMaster (1500 short wheelbase) swallows one cubic foot less than GM’s biggest factory van. Need more? RAM’s positively ginormous ProMaster 3500 will haul 530 cubes, nearly twice the capacity of GM and Ford’s largest factory option. In fact when you look at the numbers, the ProMaster 3500 extended body extended wheelbase will schlep more than the average 12-foot box truck and nearly as much as the elusive 14-foot box truck.

A unique offering (so far) in the ProMaster is the factory installation of a steel bulkhead between the cargo and passenger compartment. GM and Ford offer a few dealer installed options but the total cost is higher than the ProMaster’s reasonable $495 for the partition with a window (about a hundred bucks less if you don’t want to look behind you.) Adding the partition not only improves safety but because of the factory fit and seal, it reduces cabin noise and improves air-conditioning performance. (An important consideration when you operate a black fleet in Phoenix.) 2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter chassis with Pentastar V-6

Construction & Payload

Cargo volume without payload capacity is useless, and this is where the ProMaster’s Euro roots become obvious. The RAM doesn’t follow the American convention when it comes to payload scales. Not only can the 1500 haul as many widgets as an extended Ford or GM van, the payload capacity is just 111 lower than GM’s sturdiest cargo hauler and a full ton more than a Ford or GM 1500 series van. Scaling up to the 3500, payload increases to 5,290lbs. That is nearly 900lbs more than the highest payload Ford or GM. As a result it is more realistic to compare the base ProMaster to the GM 2500 series extended vans in terms of capability. Logically the ProMaster is also priced in this fashion starting about the same as that 2500 extended van.

How can a front wheel drive unibody cargo van haul that much stuff? Easy. It’s not really a unibody. Unibody haters can put down their pitchforks, the ProMaster is a hybrid, which explains how they can slice those enormous doors into the side of the van without it collapsing like a house of cards. Essentially bonded to the vehicle’s floor, is a heavy-duty rail system that stretches from bumper to bumper. For the US market this frame has been beefed up for higher payloads and rougher roads. You can see the FWD benefit in the picture above: by using a FWD drivetrain, the load floor doesn’t have to sit on-top of the transmission, driveshaft or differential allowing it to hug the ground. At 21 inches the ProMaster’s load floor is 7-inches lower than the closest competitor and even the forthcoming Ford T-Series won’t improve on this much because of the RWD layout.

2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

American cargo vans have never been known for modernity, creature comforts or leg room. The ProMaster, like the Nissan NV breaks the mold but the two vans do it in different ways. The Nissan puts the engine under a long hood while the ProMaster’s mill is transverse mounted freeing up leg room. The difference is night and day and my right leg remained un-cooked even after a 2 hour drive.  The first thing you’ll notice about the interior is how utilitarian it is. Easy to clean plastics span the interior (read: hard plastic), there’s a clip board integrated into the dash and instead of carpet you get a hard plastic floor with some textured grips. The second thing you’ll notice is how high off the ground you are. The passenger floor is 6-7 inches higher than the cargo load floor because everything that the ProMaster needs to move is located in front of or beneath the passenger compartment. This has two benefits, it allows the load floor to be lower to the ground and it also makes chassis cab and cut-away up-fitting easier. There are two access panels in the floor, one allows access to the battery (it’s the large one you can see in the picture above) and the other allows access to the fuel sending unit. Anyone who has a fleet of GM vans will tell you that replacing a fuel pump is a royal pain because you have to drain and drop the tank to get to it. In the ProMaster you just pop the cover off and have at it.

Chrysler decided to upgrade the headrests to a car-like fabric design instead of the rubbery Euro versions but the rest of the seat design is the same. This means we have a spring-loaded driver’s seat that adjusts for height, tilt, recline and fore/aft. Sadly the steering wheel is not as adjustable as it telescopes but does not tilt. In an interesting twist, the three-across seating option has made it across the pond for a very reasonable $225. This isn’t a bench seat, it’s a two-person seat that replaces the single passenger seat so the driver retains the more comfortable throne. While I think the Nissan NV’s thickly padded seats are the most comfortable commercial seats ever designed, the ProMaster takes an easy second place. If you want a splash of luxury, you can heat the seats for $170 a pop, adjustable lumbar support for $50, and a leather wrapped tiller for $145. If you hate your employees, vinyl seats can be had for $100.

 

2014 RAM ProMaster Interior, uConnect 5, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

In Europe the Ducato doesn’t get much techno-love, but we Americans are a different lot so we get Chrysler’s 5-inch uConnect system as an option. While not radical by itself, the fact that there is the option of a well-integrated touchscreen navigation and entertainment system available in a commercial cargo van is practically earth shattering. The closest this segment comes is the Nissan NV which can be had with the Nissan Versa’s “Low Cost Navigation System” for $795, but only on certain models. The ProMaster on the other hand is very “ala carte” allowing you to add just the $395 touchscreen system with a CD player, XM radio, iPod/USB integration and voice commands, or option all the way up to the navigation software for an additional $395.

The 5-inch uConnect system is the result of the Fiat/Chrysler/Microsoft relationship and while the software looks like the larger uConnect 8.4 system, it’s entirely different under the hood. Sadly the system isn’t as responsive ad uConnect 6.5 or 8.4 but it gets the job done better than most systems. Voice commands are logical and the system had no troubles with my music library commands. Sound quality was nothing to write home about, it is a commercial vehicle after all, but it won’t bring you to tears either. In preparation for any impending legislation, the ProMaster can be equipped with a backup cam for $230 and parking sensors for $250.

 

 

 

2014 Ram ProMaster 3.6 liter Pentastar V-6

Drivetrain

The looks, front wheel drive layout and hybrid unibody aren’t the only things that set this van apart. The engines ans transmissions are unique to cargo vans as well. First off, there is no V8. Things start out with Chrysler’s 3.6L V6 engine in every body style. Yes, even that enormous 3500 with 5,291lb in the back and a 5,100lb trailer attached. Sending the 280 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque to the ground is a Chrysler 68TE six-speed automatic transaxle. This compact slushbox is the same transmission found in the Chrysler minivans except they swap in a much lower final gear ratio for ProMaster duty along with seriously upgraded cooling hardware.

For $4,000 you can toss in an Iveco/Fiat 3.0L four-cylinder turbo diesel. Before you laugh, this is the same engine found in certain medium duty Mitsubishi Fuso trucks, so it’s a solid heavy-duty contender. The oil burner cranks out 180 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, about the same amount of torque you get from GM’s 4.8L V8. This engine is mated to Fiat’s M40 transmission which is a 6-speed robotized manual transmission. Chrysler tell us that they have heavily revised the shift logic and control systems for the American market and as a result this will be a late availability option hitting around January of 2014. If you recall my review of the Ducato, my biggest complaint about the diesel drivetrain was the time it took to complete a 1-2 shift. Chrysler promises this has been corrected and they have also altered the torque pattern for American tastes.

The diesel has a few advantages over the gasoline V6. Oil change intervals stretch out to 18,000 miles, low-end torque is improved, first gear is lower (19:1 including final drive) to help you get off the line with heavy loads and the fuel economy is excellent (based on our Ducato experiences). Oddly enough, that M40 transmission is also a selling point. Because it doesn’t have a torque converter the fluid change intervals are lengthy and the cooling demands are reduced. Fiat tells us the single plate clutch kit for the Ducato is about $150 in Europe and I expect the parts to be about the same price on our shores. How easy is it to replace? That’s the wild card as I haven’t seen a repair manual yet.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Thanks to the new low final drive, the RAM is surprisingly quick off the line. The V6 model we tested scooted to 6o in 9.05 seconds, notably faster than the diesel Ducato we tested before. We didn’t get the opportunity to load the ProMaster as fully as the Ducato, but I expect the diesel to be the better hauler when full thanks to the better torque numbers.

Although not normally a consideration with a cargo van, the ProMaster delivers the most civilized ride in this segment. It’s also the easiest to parallel park thanks to an incredibly small 36.3-foot turning diameter in the short wheelbase model, smaller than many mid-size sedans. Even the long wheelbase, long body ProMaster 3500 impresses at 46.8. I know that sounds enormous, but in perspective, a long wheelbase Express needs a whopping 54.6 feet to do the same while carrying 50% less stuff. That’s the difference between accomplishing a U-turn or being the dude blocking all lanes of traffic while sea-sawing a multi-point turn.

Chrysler spent a decent amount of time lauding the Brembo front brakes which they claim gives the ProMaster the best fade resistance in the segment. Admittedly that’s a low bar to jump, but our informal tests around Malibu seemed to bear the claim out. One thing to note however is that with only 225 width rubber making contact with the ground, stopping times are no better than the competition.

2014 RAM ProMaster Exterior-008

Will the ProMaster be a success? I think it’s too early to tell. Fleet buyers are notoriously loyal to specific models because they have so much invested in uniformity. This alone accounts for the Ford E-Series sales leadership, despite being the thirstiest, oldest, and least desirable cargo van going. The largest unknown in the mix is: how reliable will the ProMaster be? Durability and total cost of ownership are extremely important in this segment and that’s an open-ended question. How will the 62TE stand up to a GVWR of 10,000lbs? Will it be as good as GM’s new 6L80 transmission they are finally putting in their vans? Rebuilt units are comparable in pricing so it will all come down to longevity. Chrysler is putting their 5 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty on the ProMaster to help entice shoppers. The combination of that small diesel and a long powertrain warranty to calm customer nerves could make a difference. However, if you option the ProMaster up with the diesel and a few options and you’re in Mercedes Sprinter territory and that is a dangerous place to be with the new Sprinter’s 7-speed auto and smooth diesel engine. Chrysler fights back with lower cost of service and ownership claims and a longer warranty.

The ProMaster is a compelling alternative to the Ford and GM 3/4 ton and 1 ton vans. delivering higher payloads and greater cargo capacity with low load floors, a more maneuverable chassis, a small diesel and excellent fuel economy. However, GM’s aggressive pricing and insane fleet purchase rebate program mean the less capable Chevy Express 1500 will likely be $2,000 (or more) cheaper than the least expensive ProMaster. Will the ProMaster’s ergonomic selling points and Euro charm win over commercial America? Or will the forthcoming rear-wheel-drive Ford T-Series (American Transit) win America’s hearts with its 5-cylinder diesel and twin-turbo V6? Stay Tuned.

 

Chrysler provided the vehicle for our testing at a launch event in Southern California. The flight and meals were on Chrysler.

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Review: 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2013-fiat-ducato-cargo-van-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/review-2013-fiat-ducato-cargo-van-video/#comments Tue, 16 Jul 2013 22:35:10 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=495258  2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Before we dive in, let’s get one thing straight. This is not, I repeat NOT a review of the 2014 RAM ProMaster cargo van. Instead I managed to get my hands on a Euro spec Fiat Ducato van for a few days. The Ducato is the basis for the ProMaster, but the ProMaster is more than just a Fiat with a RAM on it. Fiat’s Americanized cargo van might just be the biggest shakeup to the domestic commercial vehicle segment in our lifetime. Why? Front wheel drive, that’s why. Intrigued?

 

Click here to view the embedded video.

The American commercial market is very different from most of the world. In America, our vans are based on pickup trucks, usually a generation (or two or three) behind the consumer product. The benefit is a stable platform that’s been tested. The downsides are: a large and heavy ladder frame undercarriage causing a high center of gravity, thirsty V8 engines, old 4-speed automatics, engines located under a “dog house” between the front seats, poor fuel economy and a general lack of innovation. Even the newcomer to this segment, the Nissan NV, follows the same formula with a chassis and drivetrain very loosely based on the Titan.

In Europe things are different. Even if manufacturers had large trucks to base vans on, fuel economy is a huge deal. Because of this Europe is a sea of large unibody vans sporting small diesel engines, manual transmissions and [comparatively] aerodynamic shapes. How small? The Ford Transit sports a 100HP 2.2L diesel and a 6-speed manual. In America the only diesel cargo van on sale at the moment is the Chevy Express with a massive 6.6L V8 engine.

2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Exterior

Form follows function. Fiat boasts the squarest, boxiest cargo area on the market, not a claim you would hear at a “normal” press conference. Up front the awkward nose is a nod to practicality. Because the Ducato is front-wheel-drive, Fiat located the transverse engines under the hood, not between the seats like you see in GM and Ford vans. Crash structures and radiators are located in the black plastic section of the nose while headlamps are positioned above the usual fender-bender zone. Fiat claims the three-piece front bumper cover reduces minor accident repair costs.

As with other entries, glass is optional. Base vans come with a windshield and two front windows. If you pay, you can get rear barn-doors with glass and partially or fully-glazed van sides. Somewhat unique is an optional driver’s side sliding door. Much like the Mercedes Sprinter and Nissan NV cargo vans, rear doors swing nearly 270 degrees and lock in place almost parallel to the side of the van.

2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Three Seat Van, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Interior

I have been told some of the Ducato’s unique seat options will make it across the Atlantic. The standard driver’s seat is height-adjustable with lumbar support. There is also an optional suspension seat (think city-bus) and three-abreast seating. Our Euro model was distinctly lacking in the cupholder department, an omission that will be remedied for America.

Starting several inches lower than the passenger cab of the Ducato is the cargo area. Yes, several inches lower. That’s because the gas tank and battery are under the passenger compartment floor. Despite this the cab is about the same height as an Express or E-150.

The load floor is 7 inches closer to the ground than any American van. That’s what FWD does for you. Without the driveshaft to worry about, Fiat tucks the suspension and exhaust close to the load rails in the chassis making the floor of the Ducato much “thinner” than the competition. Don’t let that fool you, the Ducato’s load capacity is 3,472lbs, which positions it between the Chevrolet Express 2500′s 3,095lb capacity and the 3500′s 4,394lb maximum payload. When the Ducato becomes a naturalized American, payload increases and ranges from 3,922-4,417 lbs in the regular van configuration to 5,189 in the chassis cab and cut-away models.

2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Cargo Hold, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Cargo Hauling

Based on pickups, American vans are branded 1500, 2500 and 3500. In Europe these naming conventions don’t exist. When purchasing a Ducato, you first decide if you want a cargo box or if you want a chassis cab or cut away. Huh? How does that work in a unibody van? Easy. Unibody is becoming a generic descriptor and in the purest sense of the word the Ducato is not a true unibody vehicle. Instead it’s more of a hybrid having fully-boxed steel load rails. When the cargo box is put on top, the two are welded together to increase strength, but the Ducato doesn’t need the body to haul cargo. Next you select between three wheelbases and two roof heights. If you choose the longest wheelbase you have the option to extend the body an extra 14 inches. Each wheelbase has a range of payloads which you can select somewhat independently of drivetrains.

Because Fiat didn’t have a parts bin to raid for axles and chassis components, the Ducato was designed from the ground up to maximize cargo room. That meant pushing the rear wheels out as far as possible giving the Ducato 4-6 inches more room between the wheel wells than the competition. Fiat combined the low load floor with a standard cargo box that is nearly a foot taller inside than GM or Ford while maintaining roughly the same exterior dimensions. Opt for the factory high roof and you get 72 inches of floor-to-ceiling height. Because the high-roof version starts 7-inches closer to the ground, the Ducato is 7 inches shorter overall than the high-roof NV. This made the difference between fitting through a drive-thru and parking and walking in for my burger. Yes, I am that lazy.

The picture above shows the optional bulkhead between cargo and passenger compartments. If that was not in place, you would see the passenger area is 7 inches higher than the cargo area making it unlikely that liquids from your cargo would slosh around your feet. When in place, the bulkhead allows the cabin A/C to more effectively cool the driver, makes for a quieter ride and keeps your cargo from smacking your head. Speaking of liquids, the Ducato sports a double-sealed load floor to prevent liquids from rusting the welds from the inside out, a common problem with the Mercedes Sprinter. If you’re counting cubes, the Ducato shifts between 283 and 530 depending on the body. The E-Series ranges from 237 cubes to 278 while Nissan’s NV swallows 234 to 323.

180 MultiJet EngineDrivetrain

In most countries the Ducato sports an all-diesel, all-Iveco engine lineup ranging from a 2.3L 110 HP four-cylinder to the 3.0L 177 HP four-cylinder we will be getting in America in the ProMaster. (Iveco is Fiat’s commercial engine subsidiary.) Hauling is more about torque than HP and that’s where these oil burners shine. The base 2.3L engine delivers 221 lb-ft and the 3.0L engine cranks out a GM 4.8L V8 matching 295 lb-ft. Some markets have an optional Iveco compressed natural gas mill, but I’m not holding my breath for an American version. Exclusive to the US/Canadian market will be the 3.6L Pentastar V6 tuned to 280 HP and 260 lb-ft of twist.

Motivating 7,000-10,000lbs with 177 ponies may sound like a disaster, but you should remember that horsepower wars are a recent affectation and 295 lb-ft is enough to motivate the Ducato without a problem. The base engine sends that power to the ground via a 6-speed manual transmission. Yes, manual. No, I don’t think that’s a good idea for American commercial drivers because I have seen them drive. Thankfully Fiat offers an “automatic robotised gearbox” on the other diesel engines and that’s the only transmission on the American-bound diesel.

What is a “robotised” gearbox? This is not an automatic transmission. This is not a dual clutch gearbox and it is NOT an automatic transmission with a “manual mode”, it is a manual transmission with an automatic mode. You won’t find any planetary gears or a torque converter.  Instead you’ll find dog clutches, syncromesh and shafts. The reason is simple: torque converters and planetary gearsets are less efficient. Fear not, the computer controls the clutch and the shifting. Anecdotal evidence from a friend in the UK that runs a commercial repair garage indicates you should expect at least 100,000 miles out of the clutch even with heavy loads since the computer is more skilled at slipping the friction material than you are. Worried? The ProMaster’s gasoline V6 will have a regular old automatic with a torque converter and planetary gearsets if you can’t handle change.

2013 Fiat Ducato, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

I’m no stranger to commercial vehicles. I do fleet consulting on the side and I built my own home with my own two hands. Since I’m also a cheap bastard, everything that is my home arrived in a truck, van or trailer that I drove up and over a 2,200ft mountain pass, on gravel roads, in home improvement parking lots and unloaded myself before carrying said items down the hill to the building site. Some day if this construction nightmare is ever complete, I may write about it. What does this have to do with the Ducato? Easy, I had promised some friends we would have a patio party by the end of July. Except I didn’t have a patio yet. To complete the job I needed 26,400lbs of pavers and 22,000lbs of retaining wall blocks. A perfect test for the Ducato. The cheapest way to get the items was to pick them up at the store. To get the quantity I needed, I had to visit every location from Daly City to Watsonville multiple times.

Basalite puts pavers and wall products on 48×40 pallets, the most common size in North America, and loads them to between 3,000 and 3,3300lbs. Loading pallets in the Ducato was a breeze thanks to a generous 56-inches between the rear wheel wells, four more than the Ford. The forklift operators obviously need this extra width because despite being told repeatedly to move the pallet left or right they would invariably place it one millimeter from a wheel well. If you are brave enough, you can also insert a standard 48×48 pallet in the side door of the Ducato, although I don’t recommend it because the opening is 49 inches wide and I don’t trust forklift drivers that much. Still, it is possible which is more than can be said of the GM/Ford vans.

2013 Fiat Ducato, UP Connected button, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

After overloading the Ducato with 4,200lbs of cargo (something that is supposedly within the design specs of the ProMaster) I noticed the curious button in the picture above. I incorrectly assumed that pressing the button would drill into the earth to provide a stable platform for catapulting the load overhead. What the “UP Connected” button actually does is tell the robotic manual you have something heavy in the back. This causes the transmission to hold lower gears longer, downshift automatically when going downhill (engine braking) and most importantly, severely delay upshifts from 1 to 2. Why is that critical? Let’s look at the overall 1st and 2nd gear ratios on the MT40 robotic manual. 1st: 19:1 2nd: 10.7:1 (including the final drive ratio of 4.56:1.) 19:1 is a very low first gear (the ProMaster’s gasoline and automatic transmission will be around 15:1 in first) which means the Ducato had no problems starting on steep inclines despite having to slip the clutch. That was a relief because I would be lying if I didn’t say I was worried. However, there were a few problems.

The van we got our hands on did not have “hill hold assist” so you start rolling back when you lift off the brake. Again, this is a manual transmission, so it behaves just like one. This problem was easily remedied by using two feet and holding the brake gently while taking off. The second problem was less of a problem than I assumed it would be. With 9,000lbs of total vehicle weight climbing up a steep gravel road, I had expected the FWD Ducato to have traction issues. Despite this model lacking the electronic locking front differential offered in Europe, the FWD Fiat scrabbled its way up the hill with less drama than I feared given its Euro-spec crazy-small 215/70R15 tires. The third problem, and the only one that truly annoyed is caused by the huge delta between first and second gears and the leisurely rate at which the transmission shifts. Going up a steep incline, as the engine approached 3,500 RPM in 1st gear (about 15MPH), the transmission would shift into neutral halting forward progress. At this point one of two things would happen. Either the Ducato would slow down rapidly enough for the transmission to change its mind and re-engage first gear, OR it would engage second gear briefly, decide 10:1 wasn’t really low enough, then shift back to first. The only remedy is to anticipate the incline, command the gear manually and keep an eye on the tach to be sure you don’t hit 4,500RPM (about 25MPH). If you do, the transmission will shift into 2nd rather than let you hang out at a “high” RPM. Also, keep in mind that manual transmissions don’t have “Park” and this robotic unit is no different. Fiat does not program the unit to shift into any gear when stopped either, making that parking brake essential.

2013 Fiat Ducato Instrument Cluster, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

So we have a ginormous Euro van with a funky transmission. What’s the benefit? If you can get past the transmission, the diesel is a gem. The Ducato had no problems maintaining highway speeds on mountain roadways with a full payload. The four-cylinder diesel is also quieter and more refined than you might expect and the fuel economy is nothing short of amazing. Over 850 miles the Ducato averaged 29.6 imperial MPG which translates to 24.6 US MPG. Keep in mind the Ducato had 3,300lbs of cargo in the back and the van climbed from sea-level to 2,200 feet every trip. These are impressive numbers. Based on local gasoline and diesel prices of 3.99 and 4.10 per gallon respectively, the pay back time for the diesel’s expected $4,000 premium would be just over 2 years at 20,000 miles a year. That’s without factoring in the increased reliability of a diesel engine, longer transmission fluid lifetime in the robotic unit and lengthy engine oil replacement cycles.

Although not normally a consideration with a cargo van, the Ducato the most civilized ride in this segment. It’s also the easiest to parallel park thanks to an incredibly small 36.3-foot turning circle in the short wheelbase model, smaller than many mid-size sedans. The largest Ducato carries nearly twice the cargo as Chevy’s extended express while being more maneuverable with a 46.8 foot turning circle compared to the 54.6 for the Express. That’s the difference between making a U-turn or a 3-point turn downtown.

Driving the Ducato gave us the best insight so far into the upcoming ProMaster, a van that redefines American cargo hauling. Whether or not the ProMaster will be a success remains to be seen. In this notoriously stagnant market, the Ducato’s (and therefore the ProMaster) biggest feature is that robotic manual and the resulting fuel economy. But will fleet buyers accept the inherent compromises? Although Ford has delayed the highly anticipated T-Series, we can’t discount its impact on this segment. Part of that has to do with Ford’s sales domination, but plenty has to do with the T-Series itself. With a broader range of options, a RWD chassis that fleet buyers are comfortable with, a twin-turbo V6 and their 3.2L diesel 5-cylinder diesel the T-Series covers all the Ducato’s bases except for that low load floor and possibly fuel economy. Even so the Ducato is an interesting and attractive alternative, especially to those old GM vans. Be sure to check back with us in a few months when we get our hands on the 2014 ProMaster for comparison.

 

2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Three Seat Van, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-002 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-003 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Cargo Hold, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van, Exterior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-006 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-007 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-008 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-009 2013 Fiat Ducato Cargo Van-010

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First Drive: 2013 Nissan NV200 Compact Cargo Van (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/first-drive-2013-nissan-nv200-compact-cargo-van-video/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/07/first-drive-2013-nissan-nv200-compact-cargo-van-video/#comments Tue, 09 Jul 2013 16:58:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=494343 2013 Nissan NV200

When Nissan invited me to sample the Versa Note hatchback, tucked away in a corner was the new-to-America Nissan NV200 compact cargo van. No, this isn’t a relative of the NV2500 that started out our commercial week in 2012, instead it’s a purpose-built cargo hauler [very] loosely based on the underpinnings of the Nissan Cube. You may have also seen the NV200 shown as NYC’s “Taxi of Tomorrow” choice, but this NV is all about hauling. (Strangely enough that’s why it makes a good taxi.)

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

The NV200′s boxy profile is all about hauling, that’s something the NV200 and the Transit Connect have in common while the RAM C/V minivan is obviously a passenger car with steel inserted where the windows used to go. I think we can all agree that the C/V is more attractive in a “minivan mommy” sort of way, not surprising since it has to sell on curb appeal as well as kiddie schlepping. The  NV200 doesn’t have to steal hearts to accomplish its mission enabling Nissan to pen vertical slab sides and a very vertical tail. Anyone hauling cargo will tell you the C/V’s top-hinged hatch precludes loading with a regular forklift, something that isn’t a problem with the NV200′s 60/40 “barn” door back-end.

Practicality has a downside, like the current Transit Connect, the NV200 isn’t the most attractive thing on the road. The big cargo box makes the 15-inch wheels look smaller than they are and there’s just something wrong with the NV’s nose. (It is more attractive than the schnoz on the Transit Connect however.)  The standard black plastic bumper covers don’t help matters, so be sure to check that $190 option box and get them body-paint matched. Ford promises the 2014 Transit Connect will be a different animal sporting the Fusion’s award-winning nose.

2013 Nissan NV200, Picture Courtesy of Nissan

Interior

The NV200 wears a unique dashboard with parts pulled from a variety of Nissan products. The urethane steering wheel comes from the Versa sedan, the shifter and A/C controls from a last generation Sentra and the radios are shared with most of Nissan’s small car lineup. This parts sharing helps keep the NV200′s purchase price at a low $19,990 which is nearly six-grand cheaper than the Chevrolet Express and $2,435.

Nissan is touting a driver-focused cabin with business-oriented features, something that also sets Nissan’s full-size NV1500 apart from the Americans. In the NV200 these features include a comfortable driver’s seat with a right-side armrest, a hanging file holder in the center console, large glovebox, deep pockets in the doors and a fold-flat passenger seat. If you were hoping for a 5-seat NV200, don’t hold your breath, Nissan tells us they have no plans to offer a competitor to the Transit Connect Wagon in America.

Cruise control and Bluetooth hands free are not standard, but can be added to the base NV200 S for $200 and $250 respectively. If you want navigation and a backup camp, you have to jump up to the $20,980 NV200 SV and add the $950 technology package which bundles Nissan’s latest “Nissan Connected” head unit. In addition to greatly improved voice commands, Nissan’s cheapest nav unit adds smartphone integration for Google data services and Pandora internet radio streaming. It’s an interesting option in a segment that lacks good infotainment options with GM and Ford offering essentially no navigation in any van for 2013 and Chrysler’s C/V gets stuck with their ancient pre-uConnect system. If you want to know more, check out the video review of the Versa Note which uses the same system.2013 Nissan NV200, Picture Courtesy of Nissan

Cargo Hauling

Commercial vehicles put function over form, that’s why the Americans use short hoods and engines stuffed under doghouses in the cabin. Up till recently, all commercial vans except Chrysler’s slow selling C/V have been rear wheel drive. That means there is a trade-off between interior space and somewhere to put that driveshaft. The NV200 is based on Nissan’s small car platform, but doesn’t share much with the Cube. That’s a good thing when it comes to hauling because if you look at a RAM C/V, the touted “under floor storage” compartments are caused by the passenger car floor stamping. Rather than change the stamping, they turned the fold/tumble seat “wells” into storage. That means the load floor in the NV200 is close to the ground making loading easy.

On the down side, Nissan missed a few opportunities for the American market. At just over 122 cubic feet of storage, the NV200 fits just below the RAM C/V and between the 2014 redesigned Transit Connect short and long wheelbase models in terms of widget schlepping. The folding front passenger seat allows you to toss 10-foot long items in NV from the dash to the rear doors and the wheel-wells are just over four-feet wide. However, the distance from the driver’s seat to the rear doors is 18-inches shy of 4X8 hauling nirvana. Nissan tells us they just couldn’t stretch in the NV any further for Yankee duty which is a pity when American construction is dominated by 4×8 sheets of everything. Note that the C/V can handle 4×8 sheets of something (barely) but the Transit Connect has the same limitation as the NV200.

Payload is the limiting feature of any current small cargo vehicle. Nissan rates the NV for 1,500lbs in the S model and 1,477lbs in the SV. That’s 100lbs lower than Ford’s baby-hauler, 300lbs less than Chrysler and 800-1,000lbs less than the average 1500-series cargo van. When looking at those numbers, keep in mind the driver and passenger’s weight is included in the payload. Toss in two 200lb Americans and you have 1,100lbs of payload left. Nissan softens the blow by tossing in large sliding doors on both sides of the NV.

2013 Nissan NV200 Engine, Picture Courtesy of Nissan

Drivetrain

The NV200 may be cheaper than a Chevy cargo van, but its important to remember that GM fleet shoppers get incredible discounts on even small orders of the big vans dropping base models below $20,000 in real dollars. While Nissan has a similar volume discount program, we’re told by fleet buyers that the cuts aren’t as deep. Why pay only slightly less for a van that only holds half as much? The logic is as much about “right sizing” as fuel economy.

Motivating the NV200 is the same 2.0L four-cylinder engine that powered the last generation Sentra. The tried-and-true mill is good for 131 ponies and 139 lb-ft of twist. Sending power to the front wheels is, you guessed it, a Nissan CVT. Before you complain about CVTs, keep in mind we are talking about a cargo van where driving dynamics are secondary to the mission. The reason for the belt-pulley slushbox is obvious when you take a look at the MPGs: 24/25/24 (City/Highway/Combined) which are the best in the very small segment for 2013. Ford is promising 30MPG out of the new Transit Connect in 2014, but I suspect that the city mileage will be lower than the NV’s 24 and the combined number is unlikely to be much higher. You can thank the CVT for that combined number because it’s easier for the engine to stay at an efficient RPM in a wider variety of situations. However you feel about CVTs, anything is better than the current Transit Connect’s 4-speed auto.

2013 Nissan NV200, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Nissan

Drive

Logically this is the least important of this review, but the most common question people have after “who makes it” and “how much does it cost” is: a CVT in a cargo van? What’s that like? Surprisingly good. A fully loaded NV200 weighs 4,725lbs. It’s easy to see that 131HP and 139lb-ft need all the help they can get, and that help comes in the form of infinitely variable ratios. Unlike the Transit Connect which feels winded when fully loaded, and never seems to have the right gear for hill climbing, the CVT seems to have the right ratio for every situation. The tangible benefit is: you can load up your NV200 and climb a mountain pass at a constant highway speed while the Transit Connect is doing the speed-up-upshift-slow-down-downfshift-speed-up dance. Meanwhile the RAM C/V’s 283HP V6 is the performance champ (and the only one I’d want to tow anything with) but you pay a 3MPG combined penalty for the added zoom.

Maneuvering the NV200 around downtown San Diego proved easy thanks to a tight 18.3-foot turning radius (1 foot smaller than Ford and Chrysler) and heavily boosted electric power steering. When equipped with the backup camera the NV200 is a breeze to park. Without the $950 option the NV is more of a challenge but still easier to deal with than a full-size cargo hauler. Tight parking is where a compact hauler like the NV really shines. 2013 Nissan NV200, Picture Courtesy of Nissan

Before the 2010 model year the commercial cargo market was a stagnating mess. If you needed something more utilitarian than a Caravan or Odyssey, you had to step up to an enormous van with thirsty engines and old 4-speed automatics. Fast forward a few years and we have Nissan’s full-size alternative, the new Ford T-Series on the horizon, GM is stuffing 6-speed autos in their vans, Fiat’s ginormous front-wheel-drive Ducato is landing as the Ram ProMaster and now this NV200, Nissan’s first foray into the growing small commercial market. How well the NV200 sells will depend greatly on Ford’s new Transit Connect for 2014. If Ford can deliver the impressive mileage they are claiming, larger cargo capacity with a similar footprint and a sprinkling of style, the NV is unlikely to fly off the lots. Until then, the NV200 is the king of the compact cargo hill.

 

 

Nissan flew me to San Diego for the Versa Note launch and they made a few NV200s available to those interested.

2013 Nissan NV200 Cargo Van 2013 Nissan NV200, Wheels, Picture Courtesy of Nissan 2013 Nissan NV200, Picture Courtesy of Nissan 2013 Nissan NV200 2013 Nissan NV200 2013 Nissan NV200, Picture Courtesy of Nissan 2013 Nissan NV200, Picture Courtesy of Nissan 2013 Nissan NV200 ]]>
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Commercial Break: A Quick Example Of A Good “Gen Y” Ad http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/commercial-break-a-quick-example-of-a-good-gen-y-ad/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/commercial-break-a-quick-example-of-a-good-gen-y-ad/#comments Wed, 25 Apr 2012 20:27:09 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=441676 Click here to view the embedded video.

Here’s a quick example of Gen Y marketing done right, but this isn’t so much to do with the product.

It’s an ad for the Hyundai Veloster. Short, effective, just enough of a nod and a wink to the viewer without being risqué. Unlike most male-focused ads, it doesn’t hold promises of threesomes with cute, nubile girls, but if your game is tight enough to get two of them to go with you to a night club, the Veloster won’t let you down.

Click here to view the embedded video.

MINI tried this a few years ago with the above ad. Maybe it’s because of shifting cultural norms or some other nonsense that I didn’t pay attention to in Sociology 101, but the ad generated some controversy without a lot of impact. In any case, it seems too blatant, like a very low-cut top. The Veloster ad, on the other hand, is like that tight dress worn by the girl getting out the back seat. You don’t see too much, but you know what’s being implied.

 

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Commercial Week Day Four Review: 2012 Ford Transit Connect http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/commercial-week-day-four-review-2012-ford-transit-connect/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/04/commercial-week-day-four-review-2012-ford-transit-connect/#comments Thu, 19 Apr 2012 13:49:49 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=435565

Americans with well worn passports often amaze their less-traveled friends with miraculous tales of a land full of tiny, fuel-efficient vehicles, expensive gasoline and miniature cans of Coke. (Really, those Coke cans are awesome.) The story inevitably ends with, “I wish I could buy X here”.  Ford has so far been the most receptive to these cries, with the tasty Euro Focus, Fiesta (and soon the Fusion/Mondeo) to our shores. But what about some fuel-efficient love for the man-in-the-van? That’s where the Transit Connect fits in according to Ford. TTAC is no stranger to the Transit Connect with our own Sajeev Meta taking a spin in 2009. However in this review, we’ll attempt to compare the Connect to the other commercial options on the market while channeling our inner Joe-six-pack.

The Connect is off to a good start, with sales climbing from 8,834 in 2009 to 31,914 in 2011 proving there is a market for a mini-bread-van. The small hauler even accounted for 21.4% of Ford’s US van sales in 2011. Meanwhile, sales of the ancient and thirsty E-Series increased from 85,735 units to 116,874 from 2010 to 2011. By comparison, GM shifted just 89,211 vans in 2011. The reason behind the sales jump is obvious: high gas prices and no efficient cargo haulers to compete with it. But does that mean you should own one?

The overall look is awkward to the American eye with a tall box grafted onto a long car-like hood, but looks aren’t what this vehicle is about. Compared with the E-150, the full-sized van is 36 inches longer, 9 inches wider but only 3 inches taller on the outside. The inside is where things get interesting. The E-150 supports a cargo hold 120 x 73 x 52 (L x W x H in inches) while Connect provides 81 x 59 x 59, that’s actually 7-inches taller than the E-150. Getting bulky cargo inside the Connect is easy with a cargo hold opening that is 51.1 x 52.1 inches (W x H) compared to the E-Series 53.9 x 49.5. More importantly, the load floor that is 5.5 inches lower and the double doors open a full 255-degrees  magnetically latching to the side of the van. If you prefer to talk in cubes, the Connect will haul 107 fewer cubic feet of widgets (130) than the E-150. Sounding too good to be true? The light 1,600lb maximum payload (half what a base E-150 will haul) limits the Connect to lighter hauling than even a Chrysler minivan (1,800lbs) and should be kept in mind before you buy one for your metal recycling business.

Compared to the RAM C/V, the Transit Connect is 22-inches shorter, 8-inches narrower but 10.4 inches taller. While Chrysler was unable to provide us with a RAM C/V to test, there are a few problems with the blue-collar Caravan you should know about. The C/V retains the Caravan’s tailgate making access more difficult when being loaded by a forklift or tall employee. In addition, despite being nearly two feet longer than the Ford, the RAM’s cargo hold is only 17 inches deeper, and although it is 3 inches wider, it’s nearly a foot shorter. The RAM’s ability to carry 4×8 sheets of whatever is appealing, but the cargo opening is smaller at 45×40 inches vs the Connect’s 50×52 inch opening. Who cares? Pallet fans. All standard North American pallet sizes fit in the Connect while only the smallest of the sizes will fit in the RAM. Where does that leave us on cargo? The Connect’s light payload precludes the baby-Ford from being used in heavy-hauling activities like carpet cleaning where a cleaning unit and waste tank can easily reach 1,900lbs. However, general cargo hauling, palletitzed items, bakeries, dry-cleaners, pet businesses, cleaning services and electricians may find the fuel economy and maneuverability outweigh the payload capacity.

The cabin of the Transit Connect is turn-of-the-century Euro-Ford. From the air vents to the steering wheel and center-mount window switches it’s obvious this Turkish delight hails from the old world. Despite the Connect’s European origins, the seats are broad enough to accommodate even the most American-sized drivers, but the padding could be thicker for long journeys. Due to the proportions, taller drivers downsizing from the E-Series will be surprised by more headroom (an epic 51 inches), an inch more legroom and a footwell that’s considerably wider and taller than the full-sized van  (due to the engine being entirely under the hood half way into the cabin). If you have size 12 or larger feet, the difference is tremendous with the E-150 constantly making me feel as if I was trapped.

For 2012, Ford killed the awful Work Solutions in-dash computer (as pictured above) and replaced it with the optional ($395) SYNC system which is a considerable improvement over the former Euro headunit in terms of iPod and USB connectivity as well as sound quality. On the downside it means that a navigation system is no longer offered. Should you need to GPS track your fleet, Ford offers their Crew Chief solution from the factory for $925.  Aiding inner-city parking are optional parking sensors and a backup cam, available together for $470. For some reason Ford chose not to re-key the Connect for the American market retaining the unusual Tibbe key which is more common across the pond but on these shores are almost exclusively found on pre-2006 Jaguars. The Euro-novelty key can cost up to $200 if you lose it. Ouch.

Shuttling the baby-bread-van around is Ford’s ubiquitous 2.0L four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic borrowed from the previous generation American Focus. With just 136HP at 7,000RPM and 128lb-ft at 4,750RPM on tap, the Connect is far from swift, but considering it weighs 1,900lbs less than the E-150, it’s just as quick as the 235HP full-sized Ford. The missed opportunity with the Connect is obviously the ancient four-speed automatic which seems to hunt for gears frequently when hill climbing and rarely finds what it’s after. Should you feel gaseous, the Connect is available with factory Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) prep for $315 which consists largely of hardened valve seats. To complete the CNG picture, you take your Transit to a conversion company and they remove the gas tank and install the gas cylinders. While there is usually a net loss in cargo space as a result of the conversion, California and a few other states will allow certified conversions to drive solo in HOV lanes which may offset the reduction in capacity for some.

In order to test the Transit Connect properly, I grabbed some friends, loaded it to the gills and went camping. This was possible because our tester was a 5-seat “wagon”, the result of an import tax dodge. Not wanting to bore readers with the details, all Connects are built in Turkey with seats and rear windows and cargo-style floor covering. When they get to Baltimore, those destined for cargo duty have the seats removed and windows replaced with steel inserts. If you want a 5-passenger van, Ford will just skip all the needless destruction. Back to the camping: with three 200lb adults and some 1,000lbs total of camping gear, a generator, 60 gallons of water and 1/8 cord of firewood, the Connect was riding low on the dirt roads of the “lost coast.” Thankfully the combination of FWD and high ground clearance (7.9 inches vs 5.6 on RAM C/V)  and fairly short wheelbase (114 inches) made easy work of the rutted terrain and proved the Connect would perform admirably on the imperfect surfaces of the average construction site. Out on the open road, the Connect doesn’t feel “car-like” despite its car-origins, this is thanks to the solid rear axle and other “heavy duty” suspension tweaks. While feeling more like a little truck than a minivan, the Connect is surprisingly nimble in the city with a 39′ turning radius. That may sound large to some of us, but in the world of commercial vehicles this is positively tiny, cutting a circle 8 feet smaller than the E-Series, 4 feet smaller than GM’s V6 van, 9 feet smaller than GM’s V8 van and a whopping 14-feet smaller than GM’s extended wheelbase wares.

Over 1,100 miles I helped my brother move, commuted in traffic, and spent 4 days driving and camping from San Jose to Eureka. Despite the hauling, commute traffic and sustained 76MPH highway speeds on our road trip (and the resulting 3,100RPMS thanks to ye olde 4-speed automatic), the Connect never dropped below 20 MPG, a significant improvement over the V8 E-Series on essentially the same journey. That 20MPG number is the reason that Jane-six-pack buys the Transit Connect for her trendy cupcake delivery service and it’s also the reason Joe-six-pack should seriously consider whether the space and hauling capacity of the E-Series is required. If not, the Connect makes a compelling case against the full-size work vehicles. Until Fiat/Chrysler bring over the Doblo vans as promised and Nissan brings the baby-NV to market for the commercial segment, the Transit Connect is your best choice for reducing the footprint of your fleet. Or is it? Visit TTAC tomorrow to find out.

 

This is part four of a five-part series on commercial vehicles. Click the links below for the others in this series:

2012 Nissan NV

2012 Chevrolet Express / GMC Savana

2012 Ford E-350


 Ford provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Specifications as tested

0-60: 11.8 Seconds

Average fuel economy: 20.5MPG over 1,105 miles

2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, front 3/4 view, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, front 3/4 view, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, rear 3/4 view, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, front 3/4 view, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, gauges at 77MPH, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, gauges at 77MPH, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, gauges at 77MPH, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, dashboard, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Interior, cargo area, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, side, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, rear doors open, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, rear 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2012 Ford Transit Connect, Exterior, side 3/4, Photography Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2010 Ford Transit Connect (North America), photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail ]]>
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Suzuki To Broadcast Super Bowl Ad – Who Is Suzuki Again? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/suzuki-to-broadcast-super-bowl-ad-who-is-suzuki-again/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/01/suzuki-to-broadcast-super-bowl-ad-who-is-suzuki-again/#comments Fri, 27 Jan 2012 15:31:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=428292

For a brand that seemingly doesn’t have two nickels to rub together, a Super Bowl ad spot is quite an expenditure. Suzuki, makers of…umm…the GSX-R motorcycle, and some other assorted wares, will be broadcasting an ad during the Super Bowl. Apparently, the products have four wheels, not two. Who knew?

This is also the second year in a row that Suzuki has run a Super Bowl ad. Doesn’t seem like it’s brought them a positive ROI, has it? The spot, which highlights the Kizashi sedan’s AWD drivetrain, does have some adorable Husky sled  dogs in it, but that’s not going to be enough to convince people to fork over money for one. Maybe it’s an awareness campaign to let Americans know that Suzuki still exists?

Click here to view the embedded video.

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Ford Hit With $2b Ruling In Commercial Truck Case http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/ford-hit-with-2b-ruling-in-commercial-truck-case/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/ford-hit-with-2b-ruling-in-commercial-truck-case/#comments Sat, 11 Jun 2011 16:24:41 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=398290

An Ohio judged has ruled [full ruling in PDF here] against Ford in a 2002 case alleging the automaker overcharged dealers by selling commercial trucks at unpublished prices between 1987 and 1998. According to the summary judgement, Ford’s “CPA” program violated its contract with dealers by publishing “unrealistically high” wholesale prices and using “secretive, unpublished discounts” on an uneven basis, thereby overcharging some 3,000 dealers by an average of $1,650 for each of the 474,289 medium- and heavy-duty trucks sold in the applicable time period (about $1.2b of the ruling is for unpaid interest). The story is intriguing in its illustration of the differences between consumer and dealer incentives: while consumer-end incentives can be applied on a market-by-market basis, dealer invoice prices must be evenly applied across all markets according to Ford’s contract with its dealers. The story is also of major significance considering Ford’s still-shaky financial position, with automotive gross cash exceeding total debt by a mere $1.4b. Ford will appeal the ruling, but because the damages awarded are material rather than punitive, an expert tells the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ford’s appeal could be “interesting.” Which doesn’t sound like great news to us…

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