Sure, full-size pickup truck sales are doing well and are clearly headed in the right direction, but some are saying the next big Thunderdome cage match will be in the full-size van segment. And why not? There is plenty of territory waiting to be conquered.
We're at the 2013 Work Truck Show in Indianapolis this week, and it's no coincidence that both Ford Transit and Ram ProMaster chose this venue to make some big announcements regarding their new full-size van entrants. And although some think the new design shapes are quite ugly, their numerous assets could make them quite attractive to many downsizing, cost-conscious buyers.
First, the Transit folks showed their never-before-seen chassis cab option (looking like an ideal candidate for a 10-foot pickup bed), as well as making the announcement that the 3.7-liter V-6 engine in the Transit will be offered in both CNG and Autogas (the latter of which is commonly called LPG or propane).
Both of these offerings will make commercial truck buyers happy, and we fully expect some upfitters to create a custom bed option for the platform in the not-too-distant future. No doubt the RV industry will find the low floor and efficient engines a wonderful blank canvas as well.
"No other automaker offers the variety and adaptability that Ford Motor Co. brings to our commercial customers," said Len Deluca, director of Ford Commercial Vehicles, in a press release. "Transit's best-in-class capabilities are combined with an extensive nationwide network of commercial upfitters to provide an unparalleled number of body choices to suit almost any job."
To read the full press release on Ford's new chassis cab Transit, click here.
To read the full press release on Ford's new CNG/LPG offerings, click here.
Ram just announced pricing for its full-size van competitor; it starts at $27,025 (chassis cab cutaway model). The ProMaster will come in 14 configurations and top out with the long-wheelbase high-roof extended body at $37,145. Prices include destination.
"The latest addition to the Ram Commercial division, our 2014 Ram ProMaster, is an incredible value and contributes to a one-stop shop experience for customers looking for a full line of commercial-duty Ram trucks and vans," said Fred Diaz, president and CEO of Ram Truck Brand (and Chrysler de Mexico), in a press release. "The ProMaster focuses on principal segment demands with best-in-class features, quality, durability, capability and low total cost of ownership."
To read the full press release on the Ram ProMaster pricing, click click here.
Finally, although it's likely to continue as a premium player in this growing segment, we just had the chance to drive several Mercedes-Benz Sprinters at a "Test the Best" dealer event tour that started in Southern California. The instructors taught us how to be more fuel-efficient cargo and passenger van haulers, allowed us to test out the adaptive electronic stability program and even gave us a shot at cruising the big-boys through slalom cones.
By event's end (which included a demonstration where the instructors turned off all the electronic stability controls) we were impressed. Although the Sprinter has a starting price about $10,000 higher than the ProMaster, it was impressive how well it handled and performed, even with 1,500 pounds basically mounted on the roof.
Whether this segment becomes as popular as Ford and Ram Commercial seem to think it will (based on their big investments) remains to be seen, yet with the number of configurations and platform flexibility they offer there is reason to be optimistic. We like the fact that this new competitive segment certainly has a good selection of small turbodiesel engine choices for fleet buyers.