Peered over by the giant mountains of the Alps, Turin is one of those cities that can be anything you want it to be. It’s plazas and colonnades are every bit as alluring as those in Venice or Rome to the history buff. It’s greatest football team Juventus (although local rivals Torino may dispute it) is one of Italy’s most famous sports brands and home to one of the world’s most high-profile footballers in Cristiano Ronaldo. And with due respect to Nutella, auto-enthusiasts will also point to Fiat for an example of how the city is also an industrial powerhouse.
T&FME was in the city for the launch of Fiat Professional’s – the company’s commercial vehicle off-shoot – new Ducato in early July, as well as an early look at its first foray into electric mobility due to launch next year. While the launch in the Middle East of the 220-360km rangey Ducato Electric is slated for the end of next year, the new Euro 6D Ducato will arrive in showrooms early in 2020.
Despite the Ducato’s enviable position in continental Europe’s van segment, last year’s model was perceived to have slipped behind some of its rival beyond its class-leading payload and fuel economy statistics. This has been addressed for the so-called MY20 update with a nine-speed automatic gearbox mated to a narrower selection of engines with four outputs; dropping the 2,0l version in favour of higher torque from its 2.3l MultiJet 2 engines (designed to fit the company’s “one mission-one engine” mantra which means offering a solution to meet the needs of the customers’ various tasks).
Indeed, readers familiar to our coverage of heavy trucks, will recognise features such a Full Brake Control (basically Fiat Professionals AEB system) and Lane Departure Warning as standards on EU trucks, but less so in this market. It also has a new touch screen embedded into the dashboard that is compatible with both iOS and Android for entertainment as well as a built in sat-nav system which we had thorough use of in the test drive (strangely our chaperones on the trip stopped us to switch it to Italian on the way back but fortunately it was intuitive enough to re-program after a few misconceived attempts to get it back to English).
During the trip, T&FME was given the opportunity to take to the road and give the new diesel mode of the van a test drive. And as we set off through the narrow, cobbled streets of the city’s main rat runs, it was immediately obvious that this was a test not just of the vehicle but of the driver. The van has generous ear lobes for wing mirrors and they can prove difficult to avoid scratching in confined spaces, but once over the River Po and into the outskirts the entire van proved its worth.
Those used to hauling in pick-ups or light trucks will immediately feel a noise and handling upgrade when they step into the van.
Turin’s busy road network also offered up plenty of opportunities to trial the Ducato’s stop-start system and it provides a rapid take-off in traffic situations. Most impressive, however, was the vehicles handling of the winding and steep climb to Architect Filippo Juvarra’s Basilica di Superga which overlooks the city southern reaches. Here the 9-speed transmission came into its own allowing for easy passing of the brave cyclists that test themselves on the slopes up to the building. The Ducato was responsive and slipped itself in and out of low gears as we slalomed past.
Fiat Professional claims the new Ducato has the best-in-class transmission in terms of weight in its sector, allowing for optimum use of driving torque that reaches an industry record of 450 Nm on the 180 HP version. Certainly, the unloaded model on the run, felt nippy and used this power well – with all the caveats that entails.
A stop at the top and under the dome of the basilica, provided an opportunity to swing open the side and back doors of the Ducato and measure up the payload space before heading down the other side out onto the highway that links the city to it neighbours in northern Italy.
There, again, the Ducato ran with low noise levels, little vibration and good stability, albeit in low winds. The lane departure warning came on intermittingly, which this writer would like to blame on over-steering on some of the corners as we headed back to Turin but may be just the result of having to take mental notes while navigating traffic as it built up towards the city centre.
With the region’s drivers expected to deliver faster than ever and in increasingly complex urban environments, the van is finally finding a role on our roads. Besides the greater demands on the driver themselves, the growth of e-commerce in the region is also opening up opportunities for vehicles that can cover the ground quickly and efficiently while attending to a number of different delivery locations.
During the Turin trip, T&FME was able to hear first-hand how the executives at the top of Fiat Professional have found its own LCV (light commercial vehicles) offering benefit from Europe’s own similar changes within the market.
Stephane Gigou, head of brand, Fiat Professional EME, says that Ducato’s new features bring it in line with the market demand, adding that he believes this is the best Ducato yet.
“This is a year of celebration for us. It has been more than 120 years since the formation of Fiat and 38 years since the launch of the first Ducato. Compared to the other anniversaries it seems like yesterday,” he muses. “And, actually, Ducato seems to have found the formula for eternal youth. Reinventing itself continuously without losing the original concept. A concept that was revolutionary when it was first presented and has become mainstream after 38 years.”
According to Gigou, the Ducato accounts for one in every five van sales in Europe, a success he traces back to offering a, then-revolutionary, way of utilising a vehicle’s space.
“This was a concept we first introduced to the segment: a square and a regular van shape to allow full exploitation of the cargo space. A comprehensive body and a powerful range to all missions and uses,” he says.
Gigou argues that in Europe, at least, the LCV segment is currently the one to be active in with sales increasing.
“The LCV market is a good place to be. After the drop of ten years ago (during the beginning of the global economic crisis) and excluding 2012, sales have been growing continuously and have recovered all the lost ground reaching 3.3 million units in 2018, the highest figure ever,” he says before focusing on Fiat Professional’s overall performance,
“2018 was our best year in eight years.”
Gigou says that driving this growth is the changes to people’s lifestyles, “We have started shopping online and that has changed the economy forever and anything physical from groceries to TV set still have to be distributed physically.”
Deliveries represent approximately 20% of the LCV market and this number is growing, he adds. And almost 30 % of all Ducato professional usages are for delivery businesses.
“E-commerce has made a crucial difference for all business. More and more goods have to be handed over with more frequency. And this has been countered-balance with the industry facing increasingly stringent travel and emission regulations. This is a world that needs Ducato.”
The launch of the Ducato MY2020 has already begun and will continue on throughout the year and will enter the Middle East in 2020.