Ram reveals the ProMaster van

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When you profess to be a “full-line” commercial vehicle maker in the light-to-medium-duty truck world, you’ve got to offer it all – and not just a pickup or two.

We’re talking pickups, chassis cabs, diesel and gasoline engine options … and of course the ubiquitous van, a definite “must-have” at the light-duty end of the work truck spectrum. Ford Motor Co., for example, offers the Transit Connect and Transit models – which will replace the venerable E-Series a year or so from now – while General Motors continues to offer its Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana platforms.

Now it’s Ram Truck’s turn to finish filling out its corner of the van space as it officially introduced its new 2014 Ram ProMaster (at left) full-size van model at the Chicago Auto Show this week – a van based upon Fiat’s European Ducato platform.

[Fiat, if you remember, owns Chrysler Group LLC, which in turn is home to Ram Trucks. And if you want to view more photos of the new ProMaster van, just click here.]

Ram, like Ford, took a European-designed and built van and reconfigured it for the North American market. However, while in Ford’s case this applies to both the Transit Connect and the Transit, Ram’s current Class 1 Cargo Van is based off its successful Caravan minivan chassis.

In the case of the full-size 2014 ProMaster, Ram said it will begin production in the third quarter this year at the Saltillo Van Assembly Plant in Saltillo, Mexico, and that the van will come in three model designations – 1500, 2500, and 3500 – and 13 configurations, including two roof heights, three wheelbases, four body lengths, and a cutaway chassis.

Two engine options will be offered with this new full-size Ram van – a 3.0-literinline 4-cylinder (“I-4”) EcoDiesel cranking out 174-hp and generating peak torque of 295 lb.-ft. at just 1,400 rpm, along with the3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, which churns out 280-hp and peak torque of 260 lb.-ft.– and two transmissions as well; the 62TE six-speed automatic transmission as well as an automated six-speed manual controlled by software that responds to road conditions.

The van also features payload capacity up to 5,145 pounds and a maximum towing capacity up to 5,100 pounds, with the vehicle’s gross combined weight rating (GCWR) for the 3.6-liter V-6 set at 11,500 pounds and 12,500 pounds for the 3.0-liter I-4 EcoDiesel.

Fred Diaz (at right), president and CEO of the Ram Truck Brand and Chrysler de Mexico, noted that the ProMaster is the first shared truck collaboration between Ram and Fiat Professional, the work truck arm of Fiat in Europe. Conceived and developed in Italy, he noted that the ProMaster spent time on both sides of the Atlantic undergoing extensive extreme-duty testing to prepare for its North American debut.

Diaz noted that the Ram’s “unibody” frame architecture makes it significantly lighter and offers other structural advantages, including stability and strength from front to rear, a reinforced plenum area for optimized engine packaging, and "truer" tuning of chassis systems and related hardware when compared to more common body-on-frame applications.

But if there is any one thing on this van that stands out in my mind, it’s the electronic stability control (ESC) system, which comes standard on the ProMaster. The four-channel ESC system – which means independent control is given to all four corners of the vehicle – assists the driver in maintaining control under demanding or adverse conditions such as wet, snow-covered or icy roads, tight turns, and evasive maneuvers.

In effect, Ram said the that ESC determines the driver's intentions and optimizes overall vehicle control to keep the dynamic forces within select limits in any driving situation – with such control “nearly transparent” so control seems almost intuitive, the company added.

That’s a critical feature, I think, especially for those who will drive this vehicle in the ever-more-crowded urban spaces in this country; spaces rife with tight turns, narrow streets, and blind intersections.

Indeed, altogether Ram's new full-size van offers more than 35 active and passive safety and security features that include not just ESC but trailer-sway control and optional ParkView backup camera and ParkSense with audible warning -- all of which are more than useful when maneuvering a large van in crowded and tight spaces.

Now we’ll just have to wait and see what fleets in the work truck world think of this new van, when they start getting their hands upon them later in the year.

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