Ram van falls a few fridges shy of cargo claim

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DETROIT -- When Ram converted the Fiat Ducato last fall into the 2014 Ram ProMaster for the United States, it also converted the van's cargo capacity from Europe: 15 cubic meters to 530 cubic feet.

But there's a problem: In the United States, cargo capacity is measured differently. Ram's claim of 530 cubic feet is significantly bigger than what it says are the van's cargo dimensions.

Last week, Ram recalculated the ProMaster's cargo capacity under the U.S. standard, called J1100 and used by all of its segment competitors, after Automotive News sought a comment for this report.

A spokesman said the brand expects a restated cargo capacity in the United States to be between 450 and 475 cubic feet.

So why did Ram start advertising the wrong number? Call it an oops.

"The Ram ProMaster is based on the Fiat Ducato, available in Europe and the procedures used to measure capacities are precise to European (EMEA) standards," said a written statement from the brand. "We are currently reviewing and comparing our data to SAE measurements to align the Ram ProMaster with J1100."

European cargo capacity is measured as if the space is holding water, allowing automakers to count spaces above and between seats, for example. Under the more stringent U.S. standard, cargo capacity is calculated as if the space is holding boxes.

Cargo space in U.S. passenger cars and commercial vans is measured using a standard set in 1963 by the Society of Automotive Engineers and updated multiple times, most recently in 2009. The society is now called SAE International.

The standard is used to put vehicles into classes -- subcompact, compact, mid-sized, etc. -- based on interior volume. Compliance with any SAE standard is voluntary, though, and SAE officials confirmed in March that there is no enforcement mechanism for claims.

The innards of a preproduction ProMaster, which will have different specs than its European counterpart

Extra cargo space is a nice selling point for a family sedan or crossover, but the amount of stuff a van can haul is critical in the commercial van segment. New or redesigned vans introduced within the past two years are focusing their marketing on the improved capabilities of their designs.

Like the ProMaster, the 2015 Transit, Ford's new full-sized commercial van, hails originally from Europe. And like the ProMaster, the Transit is given a larger cargo rating in Europe -- 533 cubic feet -- than the 487 cubic feet in the United States.

A Ford spokesman said the difference is that European standards let automakers include a shelved area above its first-row seats that the SAE standard does not allow.

The "best in class" cargo claim belongs to the Mercedes-Benz and Freightliner Sprinter at 547 cubic feet, a Mercedes-Benz spokesman said. The Nissan NV, another newer entry in the segment, has 323 cubic feet of cargo space under the J1100 standard. In all cases, the measurements are for the largest version of each vehicle.

Through February, Ram has sold 4,474 ProMaster vans in the United States since it went on sale in October.

So far this year, the ProMaster is last in its segment with 1,204 sales. The segment leader, the outgoing Ford E series, sold 13,410 units during the same two-month period.

Cargo comparison
Cargo capacities of U.S. commercial vans
 Cubic feet
Mercedes-Benz/Freightliner Sprinter547
Ford Transit487
Ram ProMaster450-475*
Nissan NV323
Chevrolet Express, GMC Savana284
*Estimated by Ram, pending certification 
Note: Capacities are for the largest version of each vehicle.
Source: Automakers

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com.


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