Tuesday, 1 July 2014

More Euro-style vans for the US

Fiat Chrysler has unveiled its Ram ProMaster City – the Ram Truck brand's entry in the expanding field of Euro-style compact commercial vans aimed at small businesses and urban markets.

The leading rival is the Transit Connect from Ford and made in Turkey.  It is reckoned Ford pioneered the compact cargo van segment in 2009 with its European import and has just rolled out a redesigned second generation.

Also competing in this sector is Nissan’s NV200 small van, the base vehicle for New York City's new taxicabs.

And General Motors (GM), through its Chevrolet arm, has negotiated with Nissan to begin this year selling a version of the NV200 as the Chevrolet City Express. In Europe, Nissan teamed up with Renault. The French company did have a partnership with GM for their Vivaro/Trafic offerings – competitors to the Ford Transit.

What the North American small cvs all share is a smaller footprint and smaller engine than traditional panel vans, so offering lower purchase and operating costs. Also common are city-capable designs with large bumper systems all around and more car-like safety and convenience features.

The Ram ProMaster City is based on the Fiat Doblo from Europe and is powered by Chrysler's 2.4-litre Tigershark four-cylinder gasoline engine. It is front-drive and will use the company's new, fuel-efficient nine-speed automatic. The engine and transmission also are used in the new Chrysler 200 sedan and the Jeep Cherokee.

Built in Turkey, the City will be sold in two-seat cargo and five-seat passenger versions and be able to carry 1,883 pounds in its 131.7 cubic feet of space. The cargo area measures 60.4in by 87.2in and has a building panel-friendly 48in between the wheel wells. City goes on sale in early 2015.

The new vehicle joins the Ram van line-up that includes the larger Ram ProMaster Euro van and the Ram C/V, a commercial version of the Chrysler minivan.

According to Ram Truck, total Class 1-4 commercial van market is expected to be about 400,000 a year over the next five years, with the new compact vans taking about 25 per cent of the market.
                                           More engines, please

Meanwhile, someone, somewhere in one part of the Fiat Chrysler must be twisting hard the arm of someone, somewhere in another part of the same group.

For Chrysler Group LLC sales chief Reid Bigland recently let slip he is short of engines from VM Motori, the Cento, Italy-based company wholly owned by Fiat after it bought out GM’s 50 per cent share.

Bigland told reporters Chrysler is “working hard” to increase production in Europe of the VM Motori 3-litre V6 diesel engine that powers the 2014 Ram EcoDiesel pickup.

According to Bigland, demand for the diesel model, which is noteworthy for its compacted graphite iron (CGI) cylinder block and which many customers claim can exceed the 28 mile/gal fuel economy label, has exceeded expectations.

“Frankly, demand for diesel has really surprised us,” he said.

The diesel version of the Ram 1500 pick-up truck is on dealer forecourts for only 13 days. Demand for diesel versions accounts for 20 per cent of sales.

“We’re going to be able to meet that demand, it’s just going to take us a few months,” Bigland said.

Maybe Fiat will have to commit some expenditure to expand engine manufcature at Cento - or consider manufacture outside Europe.

Bigland added that he expects Chrysler to hit 51 consecutive months of sales gains in June. he sees no underlying issues with the year’s sales pace as pent-up demand, an improving economy and credit availability continue for consumers.

US auto sales so far this year are up about 5 per cent and Bigland expects overall industry sales to rise between 2 per cent and 6 per cent in 2014. He does not expect US sales to hit 17 million this year, but that sales will continue “on a slow trajectory upwards.”

“Eventually in the next two to three years, I think we will get back to a 17 million annual sales mark and then stabilize from there,” he said.

However, it only needs a serious uprising in the Middle East to throw a spanner in the works and make oil prices rocket, thus denting world economies and the best laid plans of even the slickest automaker.

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