By Larry P. Vellequette, Crain News Service
DETROIT (Feb. 7, 2013) — Chrysler Group L.L.C. is driving back into the commercial van segment after a three-year absence with the launch this fall of the 2014 Ram ProMaster.
The ProMaster is based on the Fiat Ducato van, which has been on sale in Europe for more than 30 years. It will be built in Saltillo, Mexico, for sale in North and South America and is expected to arrive in dealerships this fall.
Unlike competitors from Ford Motor Co., Mercedes-Benz A.G. and General Motors Co., the ProMaster is front-wheel-drive. The design allows the ProMaster to have 13 different configurations, including two different roof heights, three different wheelbases and four different body lengths.
Chrysler will introduce the vans at the Chicago Auto Show today.
Because the vans have no rear driveshaft or differential, the ProMaster has a lower load floor, greater cargo capacity, lower weight and better fuel economy than its segment competitors, the auto maker claimed. Large sliding side doors and rear doors that open up to 260-degrees allow the ProMaster to accept full-sized pallets of materials that can be loaded with a forklift.
Powered by either Chrysler's 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 or an optional 3 liter inline four-cylinder turbodiesel, the unibody ProMaster will have payload capacity of up to 5,145 pounds, depending on the configuration.
Inside the two-seat cabin, Ram will offer a version of its Uconnect infotainment system with an optional 5-inch screen, hands-free replies to text messages, rear backup camera and park assist, and available continuous Internet connectivity through the Sprint cellular network.
U.S. sales of full-sized vans rose 10 percent last year to 250,989, with Ford and GM dominating the segment and Nissan Motor Co. appearing as a recent entrant.
Chrysler Group dealers haven't had a full-sized commercial van to sell since the company stopped selling a Dodge-badged version of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter in 2010. That gaping hole in the lineup has left Ram unable to compete for customers looking to buy a wide range of commercial vehicles from a single source, said Bob Hegbloom, director of the Ram brand.
With the ProMaster due to begin filling that void, Ram set up an internal commercial division that will work with dealers on selling and servicing commercial vehicles.
"Commercial customers are different," Mr, Hegbloom said. "They want to do one-stop shopping to make all their purchases from one dealership and get all of their service from one dealership, because for them, time is money."
The Ram ProMaster C, a smaller front-wheel-drive commercial van based on the Fiat Doblo, is expected to arrive in 2014.
This story appeared on Autonews.com the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.