Chrysler Group is returning to compete in the commercial van segment following an absence of three years. Marking its return is the 2014 Ram ProMaster, which will be unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show. Chrysler based the Ram ProMaster on the Fiat Ducato van, which has been present in the European market for over three decades.
The carmaker will produce the Ram ProMaster at its Saltillo site in Mexico and will market the van in North and South America starting this fall. The ProMaster is distinct from its rival van from carmaker Ford, General Motors and Mercedes-Benz as it is front-wheel-drive. This setup allows the van to gain 13 different configurations, including two different roof heights, three different wheelbases and four different body lengths.
Since the ProMaster has no rear driveshaft or differential, it boasts of a lower load floor, greater cargo capacity and lower weight as well as better fuel economy than its rivals. The ProMaster features large sliding side doors and rear doors that could open up to 260 degrees, making the van able to accept materials that can be loaded with a forklift.
2014 Ram ProMaster is powered by Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine or by an optional 3.0-liter inline four-cylinder turbodiesel, allowing it to carry a payload of up to 5,145 pounds, depending on the configuration.
The Ram ProMaster features a version of Uconnect infotainment system with an optional 5-inch screen, hands-free replies to text messages, rear backup camera and park assist, and available Internet connectivity via the Sprint cellular network.
Sales of full-sized vans in the United States jumped 10 percent in 2012 to 250,989, dominated by Ford and General Motors with the entry of Japanese carmaker Nissan Motor Co. Chrysler has stopped selling the Dodge-badged version of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter in 2010. This made Ram unattractive to buyers seeking commercial vehicles from a single source, according to Bob Hegbloom, the director of the Ram brand.
Interestingly, the van has been going through an evolution. Initially, the segment was full of standard-sized vans featuring basic capability and considerable efficiency. Now, the segment is filled with purpose-built cargo haulers that come in various sizes and configurations, built according to the preferences of commercial customers.
Currently, around 3.1 million Class 2 vans are plying the roads in the United States with most of them part of commercial fleets. Nearly 61 percent of these vans are more than 10 years old, while around 32 percent are aged between four and nine years old. Since the largest percentage of the vans is no longer in production, customers are expected to look for alternative vehicles. According to expectations, segment volumes should reach 400,000 units in the next five years, with large vans accounting for over 80 percent of offerings from Classes 1 to 4. As per Polk’s sales data for 2011, segment volumes were comprised of 60 percent cargo van, 23 percent chassis cab and 17 percent passenger van.
As for Ram, the brand commenced sales of a full-size van in the early 1960s. Now, the 2014 Ram ProMaster aims to cater to the demands of van customers by topping its class in terms of usability and efficiency. In addition, it could carry more cargo than its rivals in the segment. Likewise, the 2014 Ram ProMaster offers low total cost of ownership, a high level of serviceability and a proven capability.
The introduction of the new Ram ProMaster is well-timed with the announcement of Ram Commercial, a new division of the Ram Truck brand that is tasked to cater to the needs of commercial customers. Since commercial businesses account for a quarter of the total US volume, it is considered as key in achieving growth in the auto industry.