The Ram ProMaster City compact commercial van and wagon, awarded Green Car Journal’s 2017 Commercial Green Car of the Year™ at the 2016 San Antonio Auto & Truck Show, is ideally-sized for city use where maneuverability and versatility are key. The ProMaster City’s strong suit is offering the hauling and commercial-use capabilities desired by tradesmen, small businesses, and fleets combined with 21 city and class-leading 28 highway mpg. Both van and wagon iterations are powered by a 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder engine with efficiency-enhancing Multiair technology. A nine-speed speed automatic transmission is standard.
Interior space, important in commercial vans, is quite generous considering this Ram's compact exterior dimensions that are in tune with intended use in urban traffic. The floor between rear wheel wells is 48.4 inches, which means the pallets often used in commercial operations can be accommodated. Interior width above the wheel wells is a generous 60.4 inches.
The ProMaster City is equipped with two sliding side doors and rear 60/40 split doors that swing open to a maximum 180 degrees using a release button. The narrower rear door is positioned on the curb side, so curb access isn’t blocked when making deliveries. Access to the ProMaster City’s class-leading 131.7 cubic foot cargo area is simplified with the combination of these side and rear doors. Further functionality is provided with a payload capacity of 1,883 pounds and tow rating of 2,000 pounds.
ProMaster City’s Fiat-developed 2.4-liter Chrysler Tigershark four-cylinder is a rather sophisticated engine, at least by truck standards. Also used in other Chrysler products like the Chrysler 200, Dodge Dart, and Jeep Cherokee and Renegade, the engine features variable valve timing, variable valve lift technology, and a 10.0:1 compression ratio as well as Fiat's advanced Multiair technology. Chrysler is claiming a 0-30 mph time of 3.7 seconds, meaning more than adequate urban performance.
Drivers are provided a standard Uconnect 3.0 AM/FM radio that includes a media hub with USB and an auxiliary input. An optional package adds Uconnect 5.0 AM/FM with a five-inch touchscreen display, GPS navigation, integrated voice command with Bluetooth, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. A Mopar Web Wi-Fi hotspot is optional to accommodate on-the-job connectivity.
Ram’s ProMaster City Tradesman Cargo Van starts at $23,495 with a multitude of work-related configurations available. The ProMaster City Wagon’s price of entry is an additional $1,000.
It used to be that light-duty commercial vans were all pretty much alike – boxy, unexciting, and devoid of the kind of features we expect in our everyday vehicles. That all changed six years ago when Ford brought its European Transit Connect panel van to the States as an all-new offering on our shores. Thus began a trend that now finds compact commercial vans one of the hottest trends in the industry.
Starting at an approachable $22,675, today’s Ford Transit Connect is offered in cargo or wagon configurations and in both short- and long-wheelbase. Both carry a 1,620 pound payload capacity and tow up to 2,000 pounds when properly equipped. The longer wheelbase model increases cargo capacity from the standard 104 cubic feet to 129 cubic feet. A choice of split rear cargo doors or a traditional rear liftgate is offered, with the split doors opening to 180 degrees. Twin sliding side doors are standard to enhance loading and unloading cargo or passengers. Needless to say, these are important features for delivery services and small business that must negotiate tight urban environs.
A base 169 horsepower, 2.5-liter Duratec four-cylinder engine powers the Transit Connect, with this engine now offering standard E85 flex-fuel capability in all but California emissions states. The flexible-fuel variant is capable of running on E85 (85 percent ethanol/15 percent gasoline), unleaded gasoline, or any blend of the two fuels. This engine can also be ordered for use with natural gas or LPG.
An optional 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine offers nine additional horsepower plus one additional mpg. The EcoBoost engine requires 93 octane fuel for peak performance. Both engines are coupled with a six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission. Depending on configuration and engine choice, city fuel economy is rated at 19-22 city mpg and 27-29 mpg on the highway.
The Transit Connect cargo van is available with optional second-row seating to increase versatility beyond cargo. The wagon version also features a versatile approach by delivering cargo capabilities along with five to seven passenger seating. It features more than 100 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded on the long-wheelbase model, plus the ability to carry a maximum 1,270 pound payload. All Transit Connect models feature first-row front and side airbags, first-row side curtain airbags, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
Desired options are available including a rearview camera, 6.5-inch touch screen display with navigation, and SYNC with MyFord Touch, Ford’s voice-activated mobile communications and entertainment system. A perimeter alarm is included at no additional charge when available remote start is ordered. The perimeter alarm detects security threats through impact and shock sensors, activating an alarm to help protect vehicle contents. For fleets, Ford Telematics is also available to enable simultaneously monitoring several Transit Connects in real time, including location, speed, and excess idle duration to help track productivity and efficiency.
The new-for-the-U.S. midsize Mercedes-Benz Metris aims at filling business needs requiring something a bit smaller than the automaker’s popular Sprinter yet larger than a compact van. It's based on the Mercedes-Benz Vito model that’s been available in Europe and now mildly revised for American buyers. The Metris is definitely not a luxury vehicle, at least by Mercedes-Benz standards. Think of it as downsized version of the popular Sprinter van with the same rugged characteristics, but with a quieter and more compliant ride.
Mercedes-Benz is aiming at the very same need increasingly being fulfilled by an array of compact vans now on American highways – a more manageable physical footprint for business use in crowded urban areas, with the capability of meeting diverse cargo and people moving requirements. Plus, of course, there’s the imperative of accomplishing these goals in the most fuel-efficient way possible.
The Metris is fitted with two sliding side cargo doors and two traditional rear cargo doors. A passenger version with seating for up to eight is also offered. The cargo version can carry 186 cubic feet of cargo, has a 2,502 pound payload capacity, and can tow up to 4,960 pounds. It has a reasonable 38.7 foot turning diameter for in-town maneuverability and it can fit in a standard garage.
Power is supplied by a 2.0-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder engine offering 208 horsepower and 258 lb-ft torque. It’s coupled to a seven-speed automatic transmission with standard shift paddles. An ECO Start/Stop is optional. The Metris cargo van delivers an EPA estimated 21 city and 24 highway mpg with the passenger version offering a slight drop to 20/23 mpg. The passenger version does offer enhanced functionality since its seats are removable to make way for cargo-hauling duties as needed.
Crosswind Assist, Attention Assist, and a load-adaptive Electronic Stability Program are standard on both cargo and passenger versions. The cargo version features six airbags while the passenger van features eight. A long list of advanced options is also available. These include convenience and safety features like Active Parking Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Collision Prevention Assist, and Blind Spot Assist, plus parking sensors and a rearview camera.
At 29,945 the Metris cargo van is about $2,500 less than its base Sprinter counterpart, with the $33,495 Metris passenger version coming in about $7,000 fewer greenbacks than its larger sibling. All in all, the Metris presents a pretty compelling case for businesses that like the Sprinter but have wished for something a bit more compact.
The Ram ProMaster City, a new model on U.S. highways made possible by the international depth of Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles, is distinguished in many ways. This was underscored at the 2015 San Antonio Auto Show with its win of Green Car Journal’s 2016 Commercial Green Car of the Year™ award. The model bested finalists that included the Chevrolet City Express, Ford Transit Connect, Mercedes-Benz Metris, and Nissan NV200.
Based on the successful and long-running Fiat Doblò model in Europe, the ProMaster City compact van is essentially the same vehicle but tailored for the American market with updates like a slightly higher ride height and heavier-duty suspension. It is available as a Tradesman Cargo Van or five-passenger Wagon to fit diverse needs, at starting MSRPs of $23,445 and $24,445, respectively.
Functionality and efficiency are what this vehicle is all about. Interior space is quite generous considering its compact exterior dimensions that aim at ease of operation in urban traffic. In fact, the ProMaster City features best-in-class payload and cargo capacity, allowing drivers to carry up to 1,883 pounds or 31 cubic feet of cargo.
Its floor area between the rear wheel wells is 48.4 inches wide. Driver convenience is enhanced with an available Uconnect 5.0 audio and multimedia system featuring a five-inch touchscreen, integrated voice command with Bluetooth, and steering wheel audio controls.
The ProMaster City’s class-exclusive front-wheel drive system utilizes a 2.4-liter Tigershark four-cylinder engine, an efficient Fiat-developed powerplant widely used in Chrysler models ranging from the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Dart to the Jeep Cherokee and Renegade. This rather sophisticated SOHC engine – at least by work truck standards – features variable valve timing, variable valve lift technology, and a 10.0:1 compression ratio, plus of course Fiat's efficiency-enhancing Multiair technology. The 178 horsepower engine is mated to a standard nine-speed automatic transmission.
This combination moves the ProMaster City from 0-30 mpg in about 3.7 seconds, more than adequate performance in city environs. The ProMaster City offers EPA estimated fuel economy of 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, very good numbers for a van of any kind.
For a decade, Green Car Journal has been recognizing vehicles that significantly raise the bar in environmental performance. With automakers stepping up to offer ever-more efficient and ‘greener’ vehicles in all classes, the magazine’s awards program has naturally expanded to include a greater number of awards for recognizing deserving vehicles.
This prompted the recent suite of Green Car Awards presented during Policy Day at the Washington Auto Show in the nation’s capital – the 2015 Green SUV of the Year™, 2015 Green Car Technology Award™, and 2015 Luxury Green Car of the Year™.
BMW’s gull-wing i8 earned the distinction as the 2015 Luxury Green Car of the Year, outshining competitors Audi A8 L TDI, Cadillac ELR, Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, and Tesla Model S. Aimed at aspirational buyers who value superb styling and exceptional performance combined with the efficiency of plug-in hybrid drive, the i8 is unique among its peers with an advanced carbon fiber passenger body shell. It also features a lightweight aluminum drive module with a gasoline engine, lithium-ion batteries, and electric motor. The i8 can drive on battery power for 22 miles and up to 310 miles on hybrid power.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel rose to the top as the magazine’s 2015 Green SUV of the Year, besting finalists Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, Lexus NX 300h, and Mazda CX-5. Offering excellent fuel efficiency for an SUV of its size, the Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel’s 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 offers up to 30 highway mpg and is approved for B20 biodiesel use. An Eco Mode optimizes the 8-speed transmission’s shift schedule, cuts fuel feed while coasting, and directs the air suspension system to lower the vehicle at speed for aerodynamic efficiency.
The Ford F-150 was honored with the 2015 Green Car Technology Award for its milestone use of an all-aluminum body. Competing for the award were advanced powertrains in the BMW i3, BMW i8, Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel, Ford F-150, Honda Fit, Kia Soul EV, Tesla Model S, VW e-Golf, and Volvo Drive-E models. The F-150’s aluminum body enables the all-new 2015 pickup model to shed up to 700 pounds for greater efficiency and performance.
While the Green Car Technology Award has a history at the Washington Auto Show, the first-time Green SUV of the Year and Luxury Green Car of the Year awards could not have existed just a short time ago. Simply, SUVs and luxury vehicles were seldom considered ‘green,’ and for good reason. An SUV/crossover’s mission was to provide family transport and recreational capabilities, while aspirational/luxury vehicles were expected to deliver the finest driving experience combined with high-end appointments and exceptional design. Both categories held few environmental champions and ‘green’ was hardly an afterthought.
The evolving nature of ‘green’ cars has brought about a fundamental shift in which environmental performance is now important in SUVs and luxury vehicles. Even so, not all models in these classes are created equal. The challenge has been finding the right balance – the ‘sweet spot’ – that finds SUVs and luxury vehicles delivering the efficiency and environmental qualities desired without sacrificing the conventional touchstones – quality, safety, luxury, value, performance and functionality – that consumers demand. This year’s winners of the 2015 Green Car Awards clearly achieve this balance.
Presenting these important awards at the Washington Auto Show is compelling considering its reputation as the ‘Policy Show,’ a result of the show’s proximity to Capitol Hill and the influence that Washington DC has in driving a more efficient generation of vehicles to market. The 2015 Washington Auto Show has also expanded in recent years, receiving accreditation from the Organisation Internationale des Constructeurs d'Automobiles (OICA) as one of the five top tier auto shows in America. This year’s Washington Auto Show featured more than 700 vehicles from over 42 domestic and import auto manufacturers, plus a Green Car Awards exhibit showcasing 15 finalist vehicles within the show’s Advanced Technology Superhighway exhibit area.
Electric cars are hot. Solar energy is cool. Combine the two and you have a formula for true zero-emission motoring. The truth is, electric vehicles will not be truly fossil-fuel-free until their batteries are charged using only renewable energy sources like solar or wind power, rather than electricity generated by coal- or gas-fired power plants. Thus, a movement. Major automakers have joined up with established solar power system manufacturers as an initial step to make this happen.
Ford's ‘Drive Green for Life’ program offers a high-efficiency, rooftop solar system to Focus Electric EV owners. Ford has teamed up solar technology company SunPower to market. a 2.5 kilowatt solar system comprised of SunPower E18 Series solar panels. The system can produce an average of 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually, sufficient for driving a Focus Electric about 1,000 miles monthly. The SunPower rooftop solar system will also be compatible with the coming 2012 Ford C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.
Owners can reduce their total cost of ownership by generating enough energy from the SunPower solar system to offset the electricity required to charge the vehicle at night. These high-efficiency solar panels generate approximately 50 percent more electricity than conventional panels and have a smaller footprint on the roof. The complete SunPower solar system will have a base price of under $10,000 after federal tax credits. There may be further local and state rebates plus other incentives to reduce the cost. There may an additional cost if modifications to the roof or electrical service panel are required, or if excessive wiring is required. The system includes a residential monitoring system that can track the performance of the solar system on the web or with an iPhone application.
Nissan has also aligned itself with SunPower to encourage solar charging. This automaker’s approach is to assist LEAF electric car owners in learning how a SunPower residential solar system can reduce carbon emissions while controlling the cost of charging their LEAF. They’re doing this with online video tutorials and an ability to request a free home solar assessment.
BMW and Real Goods Solar are partnering to offer BMW ActiveE drivers an option to charge their electric vehicles at home with solar energy. Available to ActiveE customers in California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, Real Goods Solar will design, install, and monitor a turn-key solar system at a savings of about 35 percent, with lease and purchase options to suit individual residential energy and charging needs.
While GM is not yet offering solar charging to consumers, it is installing solar charging canopies at Chevrolet dealerships to charge Volts and other EVs in the future. It will also provide ‘green’ electricity to the dealership. The Chevy Green Zone initiative will generate electricity equivalent to 12 full vehicle charges-per-day. Excess electricity generated will supplement the dealership's power needs.
GM has signed commercial agreements with Sunlogics to supply these solar charging canopies as well as for the installation of large-scale solar arrays at other GM facilities. According to GM, global solar energy use is predicted to more than double by 2016 and it is committed to doubling its solar energy output globally by the end of 2015. GM is the auto industry's leading user of renewable energy and has three of the largest automotive rooftop solar power installations in the U.S., as well as the world's largest rooftop solar installation at its assembly plant in Zaragoza, Spain.
Other dealers take a different direction. For example, Win Kelly Chevrolet/Buick/GMC of Clarksville, Maryland – which sells the Chevy Volt – has installed an ATR Sun-Tracking Solar EV Charging Station at its dealership to serve its needs and those of Chevy Volt electric car owners who need to top off.
Manufactured by Advanced Technology & Research Corp. (ATR), the high-efficiency, small footprint solar charger incorporates six solar panels set on a highly-visible, 18-foot-tall pole that provides a striking ‘green’ statement. Mounting the solar panels in this way keeps the panels well overhead, optimizing the solar installation while minimizing the need for space at ground level.
The Sun-Tracking Solar EV Charging Station’s solar array uses GPS-based sun-tracking technology to follow the sun, an advantage over fixed solar installations that’s claimed to produce 30 to 45-percent greater power than typical rooftop or canopy-mounted panels.
The ATR system is also grid-tied to assure continuous availability of charging power and, when not charging a vehicle, solar-generated power is fed back to the grid.
One of the latest moves toward solar charging comes from Tesla Motors’ Supercharger system, which uses electricity generated by a SolarCity-built solar carport to provide relative fast-charging exclusively for Tesla Model S drivers. Tesla’s aim is to install its $250,000 Supercharger systems at strategic locations across the country to facilitate long-distance battery electric travel. The 100 kilowatt Supercharger is designed to replenish enough energy in a half-hour charge to provide a Model S an additional three hours of driving at 60 mph. Tesla says that over the course of a year, each Supercharger installation is designed to generate greater solar energy than is consumed by the Tesla vehicles using it.
Some electric car owners are motivated to take steps on their own to drive completely emission-free. Consider, for instance, the path taken by Monterey Bay, California resident Bill Meade, an electric car enthusiast who planned to buy a Nissan LEAF and power it with solar panels installed at his home. With dealers in his area pricing LEAFs with a premium due to early demand, he opted to first install the solar system and then buy his LEAF when local prices returned to Nissan’s MSRP of about $32,000.
Meade’s experience is worth noting. His roof-mounted solar system came at a cost of $24,000 but was offset by a federal incentive of $7,500, with the State of California kicking in an additional $2,500. The solar firm SunRun.com applied the full $10,000 credit, bringing the project cost to $14,000.
Meade chose to pay for the system up front rather than paying lease payments. He felt this was a win-win situation, sharing: “I could wipe out my electric bills (saving $250 per month), be ready to charge up a new electric car (saving $200 per month in gas costs), and help reduce environmental pollution associated with electric power generation…while also driving a zero pollution car.” Well said.
When Meade did get his LEAF at Nissan’s $32,000 MSRP, the full value of the $7,500 federal electric car incentive was applied up front. Then, the $2,500 California state incentive check that arrived in the mail aided the installation of a 220 volt charging station. He found a Schneider EVlink Level 2 charging station for $800 at Home Depot and had an electrician run a 220-volt line to his garage at a cost of $600. The result left him with $1,100 cash from the California rebate. Meade says, “I gave myself a nice week-long vacation on the beach in the tropics as a reward for making the move to electric independence!”