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ProMaster City: not just Doblò

by David Zatz on

Analysis. One of the problems of deriving one’s products from a sister company is the fact that most journalists and customers don’t have the luxury of deep looks at complex situations. Or, in other words, if you mention that the Cherokee began with the Dart, you know some writers will scrawl, “The Cherokee is a crossover version of Dart.” Which is sort of true, in the same way an iPhone is a clever version of my  2007 Motorola flip-phone.

The same thing was said about Ram ProMaster — “a rebadged Fiat Ducato.” Never mind the gasoline powertrain (all-Chrysler), the ProMaster has a vastly different interior, with a highly modified suspension and a much higher payload than the Fiat version. It is not the same van — but it looks the same on the outside.

Originally, the American version of the Doblò was, according to company reps, just a rebadged Fiat, with minimal changes to meet American legal needs. The sheer amount of time it has taken to launch the “ProMaster City” belies that simplistic approach; even the need to redesign the EuroDoblò to meet American legal requirements does not explain why the ProMaster City has been delayed so long.

A brief message from Chrysler Media explained part of it, saying that the City would have unique-from-Fiat power and appearance. Perhaps one reason for changing the looks, aside from the European styling perhaps not testing as well with target buyers, is to deflect comments about ProMaster City being “a rebadged Fiat.”

As for power: we now expect the gasoline-engine version to be the Chrysler 2.0 and/or 2.4 four-cylinder, hooked up to some sort of conventional automatic — the Chrysler six-speed, the ZF nine-speed, or the Hyundai six-speed.

The nine-speed would set the ProMaster City apart from Ford’s Transit Connect, providing both quicker pickup and better highway mileage. However, it’s an expensive transmission for the van, and Chrysler’s plants are already strained trying to keep up with Cherokee, 200, and, soon, minivans and a Journey-replacement crossover (which could also be called Journey).

Exclusive reports from Italy claim that the ProMaster City will have extensive changes from the European version. The City will have more Ram appearance cues; perhaps van buyers care about looks after all. (Or perhaps they expect to sell more ProMaster Citys to individuals than ProMaster).

Still unknown is whether there will be a small diesel version; this would require adjusting Fiat’s famed MultiJet four-cylinder diesels to run on relatively low-quality American diesel fuel, while still passing stringent American emissions laws (which are much harsher regarding cold-engine pollutants). The expense of making a United States-friendly diesel would pay off, as it could be used in the Dodge Dart and possibly other small Chrysler cars to go up against Cruze and Jetta.

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