Overall, we know better now, or so one likes to think, and we're delighted to report a new generation of trucks that are lighter, more pleasant and dramatically more abstemious draws near.
To the list of the clever things Fiat chairman Sergio Marchionne has done for Chrysler, add getting the jump on the competition in getting America the trucks it deserves. The sad, secret fact that in many fundamental (if not all) respects almost all European vans have long since become better than American ones is now officially out of the bag. Fiat's opportunity was clear and they've taken it, good for them.
So welcome the upcoming Doblo, Ducato and Iveco Daily vans, three sizes, small to large, all Fiat products likely to be renamed Ram-something. Chrysler has had nothing in the van segment it once bulked up on, since its break up with Daimler-Benz, which took the Sprinter along with Chrysler's solvency a few years back. Happily, the Fiat product doesn't just fill a hole for a re-imagined Chrysler, it's promises, like its new Dodge Dart, to be rather decent.
So too the new Ford Transit. Lighter and leaner that what came before it, it should be quicker than the Econoline it replaces yet it will be considerably more economical and vastly more nimble. In addition to its standard powerplant -- Ford's regarded and now-proven Ecoboost V6 -- a four-cylinder turbo-diesel is a possibility on the horizon. The Transit will complement the smaller Transit Connect. Introduced to the rest of the world in 2002 but the U.S. only recently, the small, front-drive world van built in Turkey is a handsome little carrier that if nothing else proves that even if Ford's thinking in the van arena isn't much at home, it's still quite sophisticated elsewhere.
Next to the Econoline's current 20 year run or the jaw dropping 32-years afforded Chevrolet's 1964-1996 van, the current Chevrolet Express Van and its GMC Savannah twins are mere striplings of 16. But they could get a lot older. With the onslaught of new Ford and Chrysler-Fiat product imminent, it has fallen to GM to take the low road and stick with the tired hardware they finished paying for years ago, and it's taken up the challenge, at least temporarily until some still unspecified day when it may unify around a single global van platform, the Opel Movano. Though Opel doesn't get credit for being a key center of GM excellence, its engineering staffs' involvement is essential to its successful re-entry into the world van market on level footing. There is very good reason to fear an all American effort at a new van would at this late date miss the mark.
Because Detroit has fallen behind the rest of the world's vans. It has, in van terms, played survival of the fittest and lost. Yet, ironically, its fitter competitors were often subsidiaries of itself, their own organization only on the other side of the ocean. Over decades the companies' bifurcated product lines provided a valid test of the Big Three's view of the world — one set of rules for America, one for the rest of the globe. Consonant with their ideas of passenger cars, they developed two completely different types of vans in parallel on several continents and, in the end, one of the lines proved superior. That it was the European one on both occasions probably surprises us Americans more than anyone else. In the end, virtues like economy and reduced weight must always triumph.
So farewll Econoline. We knew ye all too well.