by Patrick McNamara
Fiat Professional was the new name for Fiat’s light commercial vehicle sales operation starting in 2007. Industry analysts who have followed Fiat’s turnaround under Sergio Marchionne’s guidance claim that separating passenger cars and commercial vehicles was one of his first moves; thus, creating a separate Ram brand and, later, Ram Commercial, is consistent with his past work.
When I researched this article, I saw numerous statements that claimed the van would definitely be the Ducato. I traced these to Fleet
Owner, which did not say where they got the information. Truck Trend ran with that and everybody accepts that as solid evidence.
In the Ram part of the business plan, the Fiat based vans are listed as being in the
Light Commercial Vehicle segment. Because of the “chicken tax,” a heavy tariff on imported trucks, any
cargo van will have to be a knockdown kit like the Mercedes Sprinter.
Chassis-cabs and passenger vans are exempt from the tax, so Ford imports its small vans from Turkey with extra seats that it removes within the United States, instantly creating commercial vans. What happens to the seats is anyone’s guess.
They could do a Doblo-based pickup truck. If I
was going to do a small lifestyle truck to replace the existing Dakota,
I would import some Doblo chassis-cabs for bed
installation along with van knockdown kits. We could end up with two
sizes, Doblo and Ducato [this is currently the plan].
* American capacity ratings are usually more lower than EU/UK figures for the same vehicles. Ducato and Daily are taken from 2012 UK information. Gross weight includes cargo, vehicle, occupants, and fluids and is not curb weight. ** Gasoline/petrol if not noted; or (D) diesel. Daily engines are not yet known for sure and may include a V8, though this is very unlikely. 3.6 V6 is Pentastar Six.
The metric version (standard roof and medium wheelbase on Ducato and Doblo):
The Doblo will be Ram's small import
van; a lot of people are sure the van will come from Turkey, but the van is built in Brazil as well. The
Brazilian version had larger engines until GM cut them off. In the
business plan there is an 1800 cc Fiat Fam B motor on the chart of
technology exchanges; either that motor or the World Gas Engine in a
Brazilian van makes more sense than what the professional
analysts are saying.
The Doblo van was introduced by Fiat in 2001, and was refreshed in 2005 and 2011. The van was confirmed by Chrysler Canada for U.S. and Canadian sale on September 9, 2011.
Editor’s note: for 2011, the Fiat Doblo has a 108 inch standard wheelbase. Minivan models have fold and flip seats. The EuroDoblo has four engines: a 95 bhp gasoline (petrol) and three low-noise diesels with 90 to 135 hp. A Natural Power dual fuel (gas and methane) is to be added along with another Dualogic diesel. Start & Stop is optional; it shuts down the engine while standing idle.
The rear suspension is bi-link, calibrated for each model. Stability control, ABS, and hill-holder are standard.
Doblo Cargo has sliding side doors and an inner length up to 2.2 meters, width between wheel arches of 1.23 meters, and volume from 3.4 to 4.2 cubic meters (120-148 cubic feet). Combined gas mileage is around 4.8 liters / 100 km with the smallest diesel – around 49 mpg. The range includes short and long wheelbase vans with high roof versions.
European Doblo vans are produced in Turkey, while the Latin American and South African versions come from Brazil. It is also produced under license in Russia, China, and Vietnam for other markets.
The base Doblo van has a wheelbase of 101.8 inches and an overall length of 168 inches. There are Doblo versions available in some areas which offer extended lengths and raised roofs. This van has a front transversely mounted engine with front wheel drive, like Chrysler minivans. Fifteen inch wheels and tires are the standard offering in many markets. The Doblo’s suspension uses McPherson struts in the front, while the rear features a solid axle with leaf springs, the same setup found on early generation Chrysler minivans.
Doblos sold throughout the world are equipped with the Fiat motors and transmissions which are common to each regional market’s Fiat passenger cars.
South Africa’s version has a 1400 cc Fiat motor while Latin American Doblo’s received GM’s Brazilian built 1800cc (1.8 liter) four. After the Fiat-Chrysler marriage was announced, supplies of this motor were cut off by GM; they could be replaced with Chrysler’s World Gas Engine. Other engines for different countries include Fiat-built diesels of up to 1.9 liters. It remains to be seen what engines will be used in US bound Doblos, assuming the Doblo is the import van.
In the 2009 business plan, an electric version of the Doblo is shown to arrive around the end of 2011. An electric drive version sold in select markets is a conversion by a company called Micro-Vett. The Doblo in general has been postponed but is due “any time now.”
The move was made official in March 2011 and again in September 2011: Doblo will be coming to the United States as a Ram. After many claims that the popular, small Fiat Doblo van, made in Turkey, would be imported to the United States and Canada with minimal changes, Ram implied today that it would, in fact, be quite different from the European model.
A small press release, issued on Dec. 2, withdrawn, and then reissued, claimed that the 2015 “Ram ProMaster City will encompass familiar Ram Truck styling cues and offer features and powertrains preferred by North American commercial customers.”
It has now officially been introduced to North America as the Ram ProMaster; the van is heavier duty in body and suspension than the Fiat Ducato, despite its nearly identical appearance, and it has an all-Chrysler gas powertrain (V6 and minivan transmission).
The Ducato van, like the Doblo and Dodge minivan, has a transverse front engine with front wheel drive. Like the original Plymouth Voyager and the Doblo, the Ducato has McPherson strut front suspension and and a solid beam axle suspended by leaf springs in the rear. An air suspension is optional in most markets. The Mexican market Ducato has 225/75-16 tires for the cargo and passenger vans. Some lighter cab and chassis versions are also offered with 15’’ wheels.
The engines most commonly found in Fiat branded Ducatos are 2.3 or 3.0 liter diesel four cylinders. There are Citroen and Peugeot versions of this van also. The Peugeot van is also sold in Mexico. CNG fueled motors and automated transmissions are just now starting to show up in some markets.
The Fiat 3-liter four cylinder diesel is installed in the smaller Mitsubishi-Fuso forward control for use in North America, and is likely to be used at least as the base engine. (This 2009 prediction was correct.)
The Mexican brochure shows many variations of the Ducato. Van, passenger van, chassis-cab and chassis-cowl models are all illustrated. There are regular or crew cab versions of the chassis-cab offered. Ducato models have wheelbases of 3,000, 3450, or 4,035 mm (118, 136, or 159 inches) in length. Not all markets offer all possible variations of the different models.
The Daily is not a Fiat, but an Iveco product (Iveco stands for Industrial Vehicle Company). Iveco, the heavy commercial vehicle unit of the Fiat Group, was formed in 1975 when Fiat merged the commercial vehicle operations of Fiat, Lancia, Magirus, OM, and UNIC.
Launched in 1978, the Daily was the first common design of the newly unified business unit. The Daily van is now in its fourth generation, currently with styling by Giugiaro. Some industry analysts consider the Daily a possible contender for the next Ram van, because Iveco factory literature uses the term “light commercial vehicle” in classifying some of the Daily van models.
There is some overlap of the Iveco Daily and Fiat Ducato model ranges. Like the Ducato, the Daily is offered in cargo and passenger vans, or regular and crew cab, chassis-cab models. Chassis-cowl models are not shown in factory sales brochures for the Daily. The shortest Daily wheelbase offered is 3,000 mm (118 inches) which is the same as the Fiat Ducato. Engine choices are also 2.3 and 3.0 liter four cylinder diesels. This is where the similarities of these corporate cousins ends.
The Daily is a rear wheel drive truck offering gross vehicle weights in a range from 7,055 to 15,432 pounds on the van models. The highest payload on a cab with chassis is 10,300 lbs. Higher GVW models feature dual rear wheels, which aren’t offered on any of the Fiat branded vans. Wheelbase lengths for vans are 3,000, 3,300, or 3950 mm (118, 130, or 155.5 inches) with cab with chassis models offering additional lengths.
The Daily offers two choices of an independent front suspension, transverse leaf springs or torsion bars. Both are double wish-bone set ups. The rear suspension also has two choices, leaf springs or an air bag suspension with a live axle.
(What follows is speculation, the author has no inside information)
The Large Commercial Van announced in the business plan is based on a Fiat Group platform, but it might be something different from offerings in other markets. One possibility may be the importation of the Ducato chassis for completion in North America. This would be more than a knock down kit (like the Dodge Sprinter). (The ProMaster will be made by Chrysler in Mexico.)
An exterior and interior unique to the Ram brand would be domestically manufactured and fitted to the imported chassis. The Kokomo-built, 62TE six speed overdrive automatic transmission might be a possibility (ProMaster does use this, but not with the diesel). That automatic transaxle is paired to a diesel motor with 360 Nm of torque for the export Chrysler Grand Voyager. This transmission should be able to handle the power of the Ducato’s standard 2.3 liter diesel with 320 Nm of torque. The transverse transmission is also scheduled for further improvements as stated in the business plan.
Perhaps in the conversion process gasoline motors suitable for the North American market might be adapted to the chassis. A passenger Ducato van with seats would have about the same curb weight as a Buick Enclave. The Pentastar V6 should be up to powering such a vehicle (This also happened). The all wheel drive system that Chryslers minivans used to have, can easily be adopted to the Ducato chassis, though it would require “beefing up” for commercial use.
Another possibility for North America would be Iveco Daily cabs and bodies fitted to a domestic chassis and drive trains. The front and rear axles would be shared with conventional Ram trucks, perhaps along with transmissions and gasoline motors. Chrysler does have the rights to the Allison Hybrid technology that will appear on a Ram pickup next year. Perhaps even the Wrangler could share axles and drive train parts with a rear drive Ram Van. Economy of scale is important to Fiat managers. A common set of parts could help with the Wrangler’s unique platform. (We have no idea if this is still in the works, if it ever was.)
Commercial vans used to be a big business in the United States, but over the decades, the numbers have fallen almost in inverse proportion to the rise in pickup truck sales. As the market shrank, Dodge left, and Ford and GM let their vans age. Mercedes, seeing an opportunity, started selling their Sprinters here -- first as Freightliners, then as Dodges, finally as Mercedes. Still, the numbers are small enough that they're still made in Germany as knockdown kits.
With that in mind, the seemingly sudden boom in the market for commercial vans may seem positively insane. Nissan has a new commercial van, Ram has substantially upgraded its cargo van and is adding the ProMaster and ProMaster City (and perhaps a version of the Iveco Daily), and Ford is importing their European Transit Connect with a large Transit soon to come. GM is also in the act.
One may ask “Why,” when the market is not increasing. The main reason, I believe, is because making commercial sales means having to support a full line of vehicles. Ford has a huge advantage in fleet sales from selling in every category; GM comes close, and after that, until Nissan's recent launch of a commercial van, nobody else did. Ram and GM and Nissan and Ford might not be adding commercial vans because they expect to make a profit on them, but because it'll increase their share of the lucrative pickup market.
A full line matters because fleet managers seem to prefer to keep the number of suppliers low, making their jobs easier. They can stock fewer parts, they can have fewer phone numbers on their desk, they can know fewer people, they can work much less (because decisions have fewer variables). It's like standardizing on Apple or Dell -- it's no longer a question of looking at 200 different models, it's a matter of looking at two or three in any given niche.
Hooking up with Fiat will leave Ram in an enviable position for product, though Ford has a much longer history and many more relationships, resulting in better sales even if their product is not in the same class (witness Crown Victoria sales). Ram will have the best Class 3-5 chassis cabs, arguably the best "heavy duty light duty" pickups (2500/3500), possibly the most economical light-duty pickup, and a choice of small, medium, or large vans in different classes. What's more, having the Fiat vans might actually increase sales of the current Cargo Van, because its rebirth as a truly capable Class 2 commercial van has likely been ignored by most potential buyers, after a long history as, basically, a minivan without the rear seats.
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