What's Wrong With This Picture: ProMaster Of Rustbits Edition

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

There are few traditions at TTAC as hallowed as that of the “low-quality point-and-shoot photo used as centerpiece of article”. The undisputed master of this genre, the Mapplethorpe of the grainy tree-growing-mysteriously-out-of-a-car’s-trunk-just-above-the-glowing-date-stamped-on-the-shot, was TrueDelta’s Michael “TrueDelta” Karesh, of TrueDelta. Some of his work was so bad it approached the status of art. If I had space on my walls at home, I’d enlarge and frame some of the shots, and give them names, like Silver Hump On Equally Silver Car, In Shadow. Then I would sell them to wealthy Russian immigrants and become rich enough to fund my long-awaited Lifetime autobiographical movie in which Colin Farrell would get fat just so he could play me in my forties.

So as you look at the Zaxxon-esque pixelation of the above photo, try to think of it less as “Jack doesn’t own an actual camera” and more like “Jack is honoring the spirits of all who have gone before under the red-and-white masthead”. Or something like that. And before you waste too much time trying to figure out what the photo actually shows, I’ll tell you: it’s the door hinge on a nearly new RAM ProMaster cargo van, and it is rusting.

The cynic in me says, “Well, the Mercedes Sprinter has been, and continues to be, the most rust-prone vehicle since the 1983 Civic 1500GL, and it continues to sell in remarkable volume at prices that could almost be characterized as ‘predatory’ compared to the outgoing Ford Econoline and Chevy Express. In light of that demonstrated customer apathy, why shouldn’t the ProMaster rust? For that matter, why shouldn’t the Transit rust? The old Transits had reputations for rust in the UK long before we ever saw the nameplate here.”

The former Ford van salesman in me, on the other hand, looks at the current lineup of available “Euro-style” vans and wonders whether American commercial customers really want them. Consider the following options:

  • 2015 RAM Promaster, 118″ WB, 3.6L Pentastar/280HP, $29,735
  • 2015 Ford Transit, 130″ WB, 3.7L Duratec/275HP, $29,735
  • 2015 MB Sprinter, 144″ WB, 2.1L Diesel/161HP, $35,995

The outgoing E-150 was nominally priced at $28,200 and offered much less space than any of these. The Chevrolet Express, the last of the old-school vans, starts at $29,555. So what’s the problem? It’s just this: the old vans didn’t sell for anything close to MSRP, and they lasted more or less forever. In the late Nineties we used to shove six-cylinder 150 Econolines out the door for fifteen grand all day. As late as two or three years ago, the major dealers were still selling base vans for $19,995 on the weekends.

The new vans cost more, they have fewer incentives available, and the dealers have less room to move. It also remains to be seen how expensive they will be to operate. The Sprinter has gained a reputation over the years for requiring frequent and costly service. It also rusts, particularly in the salt states. I’ve been reading the European commercial-van sites and, from what I can gather, Ford has made major strides with the current generation Transit. The Fiat Ducato? Well, it’s intended for use in countries like Italy and France. How well will it do in Ohio?

The photo above suggests it won’t thrive in places where any unprotected metal rusts overnight, but I could be wrong about that. One swallow does not a summer make, and one rusty hinge doesn’t mean that the ProMaster will rust like the Sprinter. But if I ran a small business, I’d wonder.

I’d also wonder why, in a segment where low initial cost and longevity mean about as much to the customers as quarter-mile time does to buyers of supercharged ponycars, the manufacturers have collectively forced an “upgrade” on those customers at considerable expense. Say what you like about the old vans, they were durable and very well-understood. I have no doubt the Transit is better in every way than the old E-150, which wasn’t a modern design when I was selling it in 1996. But the additional cargo space and increased fuel economy mean very little to customers who don’t fill the box all the way and who leave the vans idling in loading zones half of the time. They’d rather have hinges that don’t rust. Or if they’re going to rust, they should at least be bulky enough to last a while with rust on them.

Alfred North Whitehead wrote, “It is the business of the future to be dangerous…” As I survey the current automotive landscape, with its super-sized family cars, mandatory automatic transmissions, four-door coupes, wagons on stilts, and miniature luxury CUVs, I wonder if perhaps the manufacturers haven’t confused dangerous with obnoxious.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

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  • El Hombre El Hombre on Jun 19, 2015

    Baby Boomers buying Transit Connects????? Get older and have back issues and a gut, getting in and out is a snap on taller cab vehicles. First Scion xB was marketed as a hipster deal; turned out half or so were bought by Boomers because you didn't have to fold yourself up to get in it. If I ever unload the plywood palace, red TC XLT baby.

  • Rday Rday on Jun 19, 2015

    I am an owner of a 2014 PROMASTER GAS 2500 LWB and like it very much. Normally don't buy detroit crap but i did this time. Love to drive it and get resonably good mileage. Rides great and has gobs of room. brakes squeak which is my only complaint. Looked at the ford but i don't think that smart/intelligent men buy rwd. I have had many fwd windstars and pulled heavy trailers without any problems. People on the promaster forum pull heavy trailers all time and do not need rwd.

  • Leonard Ostrander We own a 2017 Buick Envision built in China. It has been very reliable and meets our needs perfectly. Of course Henry Ford was a fervent anti-semite and staunch nazi sympathizer so that rules out Ford products.
  • Ravenuer I would not.
  • V8fairy Absolutely no, for the same reasons I would not have bought a German car in the late 1930's, and I am glad to see a number of other posters here share my moral scruples. Like EBFlex I try to avoid Chinese made goods as much as possible. The quality may also be iffy, but that is not my primary concern
  • Tsarcasm No, Japan only. Life costs by Rank:#1 - House (150k+)#2 - Education (30k+)#3 - Automobile (30k+) why waste hard earned money in inferior crap => Korean, Chinese, and American cars are trash. a toyota or honda will last twice as long.
  • Tassos In the 90s we hired a former PhD student and friend of mine, who 'worked' at GM "Research" labs, to come work for us as a 'temp' lecturer and get paid extra. He had no objection from GM, came during the day (around 2 PM), two hours drive round trip, plus the 1.5 hour lecture, twice weekly. (basically he goofed off two entire afternoons out of the five) He told me they gave him a different model new car every month, everything (even gas) paid. Instead of him paying parking, I told him to give me the cars and I drove them for those 90 mins, did my shopping etc. Almost ALL sucked, except the Eldo coupe with the Northstar. That was a nice engine with plenty of power (by 90s standards). One time they gave him the accursed Caddy Catera, which was as fun driving as having sex with a fish, AND to make it worse, the driver's door handle broke and my friend told me GM had to pay an arm and a leg to fix it, needed to replace almost the whole damned door!