With commercial van buyers' attitudes changing, Chrysler has announced that it will likely produce two models of van with designs coming from Fiat to compete with the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and Ford Transit Connect models, according to Ward's Auto.

We already know that Ram will produce the upcoming C/V, based on the Dodge Grand Caravan, but their current line-up does nothing to combat some changing buyer attitudes towards vans. Spurred by the launch of the then-Dodge Sprinter in 2003 and the subsequent popularity of the Ford Transit Connect, commercial van buyers have started to move away from high-floor-low-roof vans and are quickly adapting to diesel power, low load floors, and higher ceilings. Since the final split of Chrysler's ties with Daimler, the Sprinter migrated out of Dodge showrooms and first into those of Freightliner and finally landing under the three-pointed star of Mercedes-Benz.

Fiat has quite the opportunity, then: it's already hawking a series of European panel vans across the Atlantic to critical and buyer acclaim, and has the capability to co-develop future models with Chrysler. Ward's is reporting, then, that Fiat and Ram will likely make two models: one small and one large.

The small van would likely be based on the Fiat Doblo, a model we've already seen being tested here in the States. A Doblo adaptation would likely be able to carry more cargo than the Ram C/V and produce better fuel efficiency. Don't expect the Euro-market Doblo's base engine, however: at 95 hp, it may be too anemic to satisfy power-hungry American buyers.

The large van would be based on either the front-wheel-drive Fiat Ducato or the brawnier, rear-wheel-drive Iveco Daily. At a maximum gross vehicle weight rating of 8,818 pounds, a Ducato wouldn't compete with the much brawnier Sprinter (which has a GVWR of 24,317 lbs), but would rather be a serious alternative to the Ford E-Series van, which is both old-school (high floor, low roof) and aging. The Ducato's party piece: front-wheel-drive, which allows the van to have a much lower load height.

Whether or not a Doblo van will cannibalize C/V sales remains to be seen as another carmaker works to follow buyer's new wishes, but plans to start selling the C/V in the third quarter of this year are unchanged. With the C/V, the commercial van market is heating up -- Nissan is just launching its NV vans and Ford has its Transit Connect small van.

Source: Ward's Auto