By on June 18, 2015

promaster

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.

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76 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: ProMaster Of Rustbits Edition...”


  • avatar
    Clueless Economist

    And Bob Caldwell doesn’t know how to put his dealer ad on straight.

  • avatar
    Driver8

    In which the commenter relates how he turned a pile of quarters and a Big Gulp into a list of top scores with his initials on a mall arcade Zaxxon machine.

    If they last forever, you can’t sell more of them. Blades, not the razors.

  • avatar
    EMedPA

    That’s not a good sign. I hope for the sake of FCA that you managed to find an aberration, although an exposed hinge like that has to be a water trap. In the northeast, that trapped water is going to be salt water a significant part of the year.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Aren’t the two pins on the body (left) side supposed to be in the same axis? This could be the result of accident damage or an attempted break-in.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “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.”

    Van sales volumes and prices are now too low to justify a US-specific model, so everyone is going global. It isn’t worth spending hundreds of millions of dollars on R&D for a regional vehicle that commands low prices and only modest sales.

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      In addition, the extreme proliferation and level of development in the US pickup market, are giving many of those who don’t need the sophistications of Euro vans the option of getting a Durashell or similar for their trucks.

      The self contained shells are a bit crude compared to a Benz Sprinter, but unless you’re hauling people (who’d rather be hauled in a Benz than an old Econoline anyway), they largely replicate the cargo hauling functionality of the old school vans. While riding on the coat tails of competitive advances in trucks, and being easy to move from vehicle to vehicle. Even fully loaded (within reason) nowadays. Like some sort of pickup scale, Redneck, take on the ubiquitous shipping container.

  • avatar
    Toad

    Today’s WSJ noted that FCA vehicles currently have the lowest JD Power initial quality scores. Rust on a vehicle that young is not a good sign.

  • avatar
    pbr

    QFT:

    “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.”

    obligatory on-topic content: Not surprised a FIAT would rust at the slightest provocation … I thought for a long time that Rust was a factory color on early 80s 124s.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    This is purely anecdotal, but in our fleet of 10 ProMaster trucks, they’ve been quite reliable in daily operations of mixed highway and city driving.

    The main problem we’ve seen in terms of reliability with the ProMasters is radiator cracks/failures around ~50 to 70k miles. They also seems to burn through a lot of headlights, but most of our drivers drive with their headlights on all the time for safety.

    Drivers do really like these Promasters a lot though, especially compared to the Chevy cube vans that they replaced, as the Promasters are much more comfortable, offer a better view of the road from a drivers vantage and get about twice the fuel economy over the old 5.3 V8 Chevy cube trucks. Yeah, that’s going from about 8 mpg to 16 mpg. Some drivers who aren’t as heavy on the throttle get as high as 20, even loaded down.

    As for Sprinters, the old 5 cylinders were fantastic. We just retired one that had well over 600k miles on it, with just basic maintenance. It was pulled from the fleet after worn front suspension components became cost prohibitive to replace. Drivers loved those Sprinters, especially longer route drivers, as they could complete their route without ever having to refuel as Sprinters could regularly see fuel economy numbers in the high teens and low twenties. Replacement parts for Sprinters is higher than offerings from the archaic Ford and Chevy vans, but they typically ran well and cost per mile was reasonable, if not low.

    15 and V6 diesel Sprinters all seem to rust with the same sense of urgency that 1970 and ’80 Japanese cars did.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Hinge rust? Heck it’s just a commercial – who cares?
    The Sprinter is too finicky the dash warning lights, the HVAC symbols. The headlight bulbs don’t like power wash. The transmission lurches on upgrades like the Jetta TDI, leaving no punch for holes in traffic. A lowly Sentra CVT shifts better than a Blutech. Still better volume than the Econoline. Though the driver’s door fuel cap means you hog the whole island at the diesel pump.

  • avatar
    awagliar

    “I’ve been reading the European commercial-van sites…”

    That sounds like a singularly painful exercise. Oh the things you’ll do to amuse us, your readership.

  • avatar
    STRATOS

    You always get what you pay for.Do not expect bargain model to be equal the more expensive one.It is like luxury goods .If you do not see or understand the difference you cannot even make a copy and pretend it is just as good.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Non issue. Doors that aren’t used very often will bleed rust residue from bare metal inside. It’s like the rust on brake rotors when not driven in a week or so. So just wash the hinges and move on. On the old style vans, hinges weren’t out in the open like these, so no one noticed or cared.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    The Transit is handily outselling the Chevy + GMC vans, so I’d say the market has spoken.

    Would used buyers prefer the old style vans? Maybe, but that’s not the carmaker’s customer, so they really don’t get a vote.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      The Transit is so much better than the Econoline or Express/Savanna. The Transit is also so much better than the previous Transit. Having to go on sale in the US made it a better product. Used buyers will like it better too.

      • 0 avatar
        CoreyDL

        I like when I see old people who have bought windowed Transit Connects for personal use.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          Maybe they need to make a Transit Connect Brougham. Wire wheels, landau roof, and velour seats!

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Broughamtastic.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Hmm, that’s got me thinking.

            Transit Connect AllTrak, with AWD and two-tones on the cladding!

            Like this, but this is an Opel Combie or something.

            http://www.tflcar.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/77237-620×434.jpg

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            Quigley makes a conversion for the big Transit and it appears to be awesome.

            http://news.pickuptrucks.com/2015/04/quigley-motors-now-offers-ford-transit-4×4.html

            You’ve made we want a jacked up, SWB, AWD, Transit Connect. Transit Connect X?

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            That would be legit! Something like this.

            http://www.modifiyepark.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/05/Modifiyeli-Ford-Transit-Connect-15.jpg

            With simplified sports utility fascia.

        • 0 avatar

          Those Connects are terrific. They are cheaply made, no doubt. But for the price, there’s a lot of utility.

          • 0 avatar
            bball40dtw

            I like them too. I just can’t pull the trigger on one because I want to add options. I think they are a value at the bottom end, but adding options creeps the price up fast.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Based on my rather anecdotal and atypical testing, the Transit is also so much better than the Promaster and the Sprinter. The NV may give it a good run in the smaller sizes, but that one’s largely a modern pickup with a van body.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Here’s something I’m wondering. Why didn’t GM bring over a van from their EU market (The Opel Combo) like Ford did, since they clearly already have one?

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opel_Combo#/media/File:Opel_Combo_C_front.jpg

          The current one even looks decent.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opel_Combo#/media/File:Opel_Combo_1.6_CDTI_Edition_(D)_%E2%80%93_Heckansicht,_18._M%C3%A4rz_2012,_Wuppertal.jpg

          Instead they’d rather rebadge a Nissan?

          • 0 avatar
            Maverick74

            The current Opel Combo is based on the Fiat Doblo, which is also the base for the Dodge Promaster City. Maybe they didn’t want to play nice with their competitor or something?
            https://file.kbb.com/kbb/images/content/editorial/slideshow/2015-ram-promaster-city-unveiled/2015-ram-promaster-city-wagon-front-static-600-001.jpg

  • avatar
    Maintainer

    I work in the trades and from what I’ve seen very few companies are jumping into the Euro Van mix right now. At least in the Chicago area.
    Most are picking up clean, used versions, putting a Vinyl wrap on them and calling it a day.
    Others are running their old stock into the ground.
    Over in Iowa one company is buying used GMCs and Chevys in bulk and completely reconditioning them. They actually had a mechanic on the payroll just for this purpose.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      The Chevy and GMC vans are still the old BOF boxes they’ve always been and are still available. These folks aren’t making the new vs. used decision because of availabily, they’re doing so for other reasons.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Having spent a week bouncing around on dirt roads in rural Mexico in a mid-00s Express, I grew to have quite an appreciation for the 15 passenger beast.

      That van has been making the same drive since new: half paved roads, then the other half on tooth rattling farm roads. Lots of squeaks, a check engine light (poor quality fuel?), and a weird sound from the ABS pump every time the brakes were used. But considering the severe use, not bad at all, although I wonder how much the suspension may have had by now (it sounded/felt in order). It was even impressively sure footed clambering up a steep embankment out of a creekbed with barely a hint of wheelspin, credit to our careful driver.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Transits always rusted in the UK, I agree – decades ago. What I fail to see is what this has to do with US-manufactured Transits, re-engineered to be RWD with big engines, against the typically FWD Euro Transits of yore (although RWD and even AWD variants are also now available there). It does not compute – old Fords rusted, new ones don’t. It’s like the continual bleating about Lucas, none of whose gear sullied US shores in any quantity since BL North America hopped into the toilet and pulled the flush handle, so long ago, most people forget they did it twice.

    Unless the DNA of the designers from 30 or more years ago has somehow diffused into their machines and reappeared as a robotic flash in the present, all this carping about present day quality as being indicated by a half-century ago product is just mindless brain twaddle. Attempted pattern recognition on a shaky basis.

    Mercedes now, they’re just too cheap to use galvanized tin on the Sprinter.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      “Unless the DNA of the designers from 30 or more years ago has somehow diffused into their machines and reappeared as a robotic flash in the present, all this carping about present day quality as being indicated by a half-century ago product is just mindless brain twaddle. Attempted pattern recognition on a shaky basis.”

      You just offended 95% of the regular readership here.

  • avatar
    Mr. Orange

    That is not a problem but a feature.

    It’s called pre-rusting. Fiat does it so that the customer will know in advance that this part is to be replaced every so often, like tires or oil.

  • avatar
    moff90

    “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?”

    Most Transits were/are sold in the UK, and most Sprinters were/are sold in Germany… In other news, water is wet.

  • avatar
    baconator

    The first paragraphs actually did make me laugh out loud. Thanks for that!

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I’ve seen Sprinter vans in the relatively kind to cars Puget Sound area (unless you live right on the coast) that are pocked with rust and peeling paint. It’s quite stunning.

  • avatar

    My friend had a Ram ProMaster for his car detailing business. It was an unmitigated piece of crap. He tried to get FCA to buy it back…unsuccessfully.

  • avatar
    Polishdon

    So let me get this straight. You found ONE picture of a Ram Promaster (of unknown mileage and use – you state it’s nearly new with no proof). You take a poor picture in the rain and then you generalize that the Ram Promaster is rust prone ?

    It could be a fleet vehicle that sees LOTS of use/abuse that has caused the rust on one hinge (if it’s rust at all and not something else like grease or other solvents). I can find LOTS of fleet vehicles that are rusting in the first year from employee abuse.

    If I go out and find a brand new Ford/Toyota/Nissan/Chevy/etc. that has a rust spot, will you AUTOMATICALLY state that they are rust prone too ??? If so, I’ll go out and find one!

    Methinks your anti-Chrysler bias is showing AGAIN!

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I race a Neon and have owned multiple Chrysler products, dumbass.

      • 0 avatar
        Polishdon

        I’ve owned a bunch of Chryslers over the years and currently own three. I also know that I’ve seen other new cars rust. But I don’t single them out.

        Regardless, you did take one lone example and made a generalization on all of the vehicles. If you can show me quite a few examples, then I will agree with you 100%. Until then, you have selected a possible statistical anomaly and made it into an overall fact.

        I rarely comment, I enjoy the junkyard articles so I don’t really care about all this. But TTAC does have a anti-Chrysler bias.

        Finally, I don’t appreciate being insulted or called a derogatory name. All writers have to understand that they will receive criticism. If you can’t handle it, you are in the wrong profession.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        I’m with the guys above who note that the hinge looks literally damaged.

        Which would explain rust pretty well; smash it up and the paint fails, and rust happens.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    Well, Jack, it does appear to be raining at the time you took your photo, so there’s that. Cause and effect, like.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    C’mon, Jack! This is not your best effort. Knocking MK’s photo skills won’t make up for your lack of same. Even my camera phone is capable of a close-up that would clearly show the rust you suggest. The red tinge on the top of the hinge looks a lot like the brake light beams reflected off the wet street. You may be right about the Sprinter’s poor reliability. Let’s have some data to prove that, not a random snapshot from too far away.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Sadly, that *is* the closeup from my Samsung Galaxy S3.

      4x.

      • 0 avatar
        CRConrad

        IMO the problem was far more with your attitude towards a(n apparently former) contributor, than with your apparently equally-sucky photo skillz.

        With such snide snipery to be expected from the editor, who in their right mind would ever want to become a contributor?

  • avatar
    PentastarPride

    I wonder why the hinges weren’t concealed on this to begin with…this is 2015, not 1955.

    The ProMaster may do the job fairly well, but it’s ugly. FCA did not even try to hide its Fiat roots. An old 1970s Dodge B-series van is a lot more easier on the eyes, and that’s saying something.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, the ProMaster does let you fold the doors almost 270-degrees back against the sides, necessitating exterior-mounted hinges.

      http://image.motortrend.com/f/roadtests/minivans-vans/1302_2014_ram_promaster_first_look/46550379/2014-ram-promaster-rear-three-quarters-with-doors-open.jpg

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Yup and that is why it is also a double hinge with two pivot points. The one close to the door for the opening to 180ish degrees and the second to allow it to go all the way to 270.

    • 0 avatar
      CRConrad

      @Kyree S. Williams, @Scoutdude: Yeah, sure, they fold 270 degrees. So what? I’ve seen kitchen cabinets with doors that do that, and they still managed to keep the hinges on the inside.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    This is an exposed moving hinge. The question is, where does the rust originate from? Is it the flange that attaches to the sheet metal frame / body frame? Or is it the hinge / pin? Also, what material is the flange / hinge mechanism made from?

    This goes through pretreat, phosphate, ecoat and paint for corrosion protection, since it is on the body. Body shop likely attaches it. Any moving hinge that is painted usually isn’t exposed. They are usually bound inside your door jamb and below your A, B or C pillar. These hinges do rust over time, but don’t see direct contact to the elements.

    The solution to the above would be to run the doors on parts racks through your paint system and to install the doors in final assembly with a hinge that is plated or of a material that can withstand corrosion. The latter two options would not pass adhesion characteristics for a paint shop. This would cost a lot of additional labor for a commercial only vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      bball40dtw

      Ford has a new painting system with the Transits at KCAP. It’s a two-wet monocoat process that is supposed to be more durable. It supposedly removes one paint application and one oven drying step. I find it funny that 80% of the vans will be white.

      They don’t paint those hinges though.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        Naw, they get painted in booth. Two wet is essentially everywhere, now. It eliminates possibility for dirt in paint between prime and enamel coat. Surface finish is also a lot better. It doesn’t remove a paint application, but you are right – one less oven ‘flash off’ between coats.

        The same booth system is getting installed at KTP for the SUV’s. Same system that BMW uses at Spartanburg.

        They paint a lot of school bus yellow at KCAP. The paint recovery systems are incredibly environmentally friendly.

        • 0 avatar
          bball40dtw

          I read something where Ford took paint applications from 3 down to 2 for the Transit. Not that it matter one way or another. They sure as hell have a lot of surface to paint there.

          I think the big thing they were touting was the recovery system and the lower emissions from the paint.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        I just found a Promaster hinge on ebay – it looks like the ecoat / prime didn’t adhere to the hinge where there was exposed ‘thin paint.’

        That makes me wonder if they have a annodization issue with the hinge material (won’t ground for phosphate / e coat). Who knows? Just speculation.

  • avatar
    deanst

    FCA is just maintaining the long held tradition of rust on a Chrysler. If you see rust on a somewhat modern car, there’s a good chance it’s a Dodge or Chrysler. The minivans are notoriously bad for this.

    By the way, I award 5 Don Neil Points (“DNPs”) for the allusion to Mapplethorpe. Ten points would have been awarded if Jack had managed to refer to a named photograph. For example, “The E-150 is as stylish and functional as the wardrobe seen in Mapplethorpe’s Man in the Polyester Suit (NSFW).”

    • 0 avatar
      PentastarPride

      I live in the Midwest and probably the only rusty Chryco products I’ve seen are almost always at the point where its an older vehicle: ’90s Rams, ’96-2000 minivans with the occasional ’01-07, and the occasional ’01-06 Sebring/Stratus, with the minivans being the most common (and even so, there’s quite a few still out there with no rust at all). The trait among the rusty ones I’ve seen are burned out taillights, dirty exteriors, dents, scratches, faded paint and probably some exhaust/engine issues—which all mean a lack of maintenance—and with some exceptions, that goes for most other makes.

  • avatar
    Sjalabais

    Still amazing how powerful the American versions are. Can’t say if the antique US concepts are better, but European commercial vehicles have a ticking clock build in, no doubt.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    I for one am glad the manufacturers “forced” an upgrade, for no other reason than I’m sick and tired of driving behind the old vans on the highway with carpets sticking out of the opened back doors, held in the van by one tenuous-looking bungie cord, all because their vans are too damn short for their business.

  • avatar
    El Hombre

    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.

  • avatar
    Rday

    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.

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