Ram Truck plans to begin building its new 2015 ProMaster City van – a compact version of its full-size big brother, the ProMaster, launched back in June – this month, with shipment to U.S. dealership lots expected to occur within the first quarter of 2015.
Bob Hegbloom, president and CEO of Ram Trucks – a division of Chrysler Group LLC, which is in turn a subsidiary of the newly-minted Fiat Chrysler Corp. – said the ProMaster City in the commercial market should appeal primarily to two types of customers: small individual trade businesses that don’t have “heavy load” requirements, such as caters, locksmiths, and telecommunication fleets, followed by delivery companies, large and small alike.
The number one reason why he expects those kinds of customers to buy the ProMaster City is its “cost of ownership” profile, he explained to reporters attending a ride-and-drive event in Austin, Texas, to test pre-production versions of the new city-focused van.
“What customers want most is cost efficiency and I think we’ve delivered on what they’ve asked for,” Hegbloom said, noting that the ProMaster City van is built off what he dubbed a “proven platform” in the European market: Fiat’s Doblo van.
Yet Mike Cairns, director of Ram Truck engineering, noted that Ram made several key changes to the Doblo chassis so it could handle what he called the “tougher conditions” of the North American market.
“Roads are rougher in the U.S. versus Europe, so we made changes to the suspension to handle them,” he explained. “There’s also a far greater temperature differential in Canada and the U.S. versus Europe, with temperatures ranging from minus 40 degrees to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.”
On the suspension side, Ram equipped the ProMaster City’s front axle with a compact MacPherson strut suspension that includes large-diameter shock absorbers, steel springs and a solid stabilizer bar.
Furthermore, in what Cairns described as “a departure” from standard norms in the Class 1 van category, the ProMaster City features an independent, bi-link rear suspension instead of rear leaf springs.
That change increases driving comfort, enhances stability, and ensures maximum safety characteristics in all load situations, he noted.
The powertrain for the new ProMaster City combines a 2.4-liter Tigershark gasoline-fired I-4 engine cranking out 178 hp and 174 lbs.-ft. of torque with a 9-speed automatic transmission, Cairns added, generating fuel economy numbers of 21 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 29 mpg in highway operation.
The 9-speed automatic is a ZF designed transmission built under license by Chrysler at its Kokomo, IN, plant and – along with its stateside-built Tigershark engine – is then shipped to Fiat’s joint-venture TOFAS plant in Bursa, Turkey, where final assembly of the ProMaster City will occur before being shipped back into the U.S.
“The TOFAS plant builds the Doblo van and thus has the manufacturing tooling in place to build the similar ProMaster,” Cairns told Fleet Owner. “The volume projections we’re looking at right now does not justify creating an assembly plant here in the U.S. – at least not yet.”
He also doesn’t believe the current low fuel price for gasoline in the U.S. will impact sales of the ProMaster City.
“Cheap gas will not affect sales because it’s not just fuel economy customers are looking at: it’s the total efficiency of the van package,” Cairns stressed. “Urban operation is awkward for large vehicles, so customers want to marry payload and cargo-carrying capacity to a van than can be parked easily, that can get in and out of tight spaces. Such ‘nimbleness,’ if you will, is in some cases more attractive than fuel economy.”
He noted that the ProMaster City offers 1,883 lbs. of payload capacity, 131.7 cubic feet of cargo volume, towing capacity of up to 2,000 lbs., cargo space width of 60.4 inches and cargo area height of 51.8 inches.
Cairns added that while Fiat makes “beautiful diesel engines” and offers them on the Doblo, they come married to manual transmissions in Europe, and thus no diesel option will be available for the ProMaster City, at least at this time, Cairns said.
In terms of sales potential, Hegbloom noted that there are roughly 175,000 Class 1 cargo vans in U.S. service today, mostly in fleets, with overall Class 1-4 van volumes expected to be nearly 400,000 units per year over the next five years with small vans representing approximately 25% of the segment.
Ram also noted that Class 1 industry sales data show an increase in cargo van demand of 86%, which can be attributed to commercial customers right-sizing van purchases for their businesses.
Ram noted that the ProMaster City will be available in four versions: Tradesman Cargo Van and Tradesman SLT Cargo Van, plus a Wagon and Wagon SLT model for carrying passengers.
Suggested retail pricing for all those different configurations include a $995 destination charge and starts at $23,130 for the Tradesman Cargo Van and $24,655 for the Tradesman SLT Cargo Van, with the Wagon starting at $24,130 and rising to $25,655 for the Wagon SLT model.