11 August 2014
11 August 2014, Comments Comments Off on Alessandro Sannia – Fiat
Alessandro Sannia - Fiat


Alessandro Sannia, Product Manager Recreational Vehicles and Converter tells us about the new Fiat Ducato features and enhancements with particular attention to the needs of converters

Words Antonio Mazzucchelli

Aboutcamp BtoB: What are the key differences between this new model and the old one? How does the Ducato for motorhome conversion differ from the version for professional use?
Alessandro Sannia: We have thoroughly revamped the Ducato both aesthetically and mechanically, although we have intentionally left the rear end unchanged. We did not feel it appropriate in these straitened times to force the body-makers to radically alter the motor homes’ equipment or bodies without adding value. We have modified the front structure on the chassis cowl, but the manufacturers need only adapt the connecting brackets. We began from a solid base: from its launch in 2006, the Ducato was available in two ranges for use as a commercial vehicle or for leisure pursuits. This version also enjoys a series of features devised for recreational vehicles, like the special gear ratios and dedicated suspension. The Ducato is supplied from the factory with no rear end or roof (for the chassis cab version). Thus, the safety belts are fully functional even without the upper crossbeam of the cabin. We have aimed to go even further with the new Ducato, on 3 main fronts; one is immediately visible – style. Naturally, the new Ducato’s looks are mainly shaped by its success in the camper sector. Attractive lines do no harm on a commercial vehicle, of course, but they are more important for a leisure vehicle. The Ducato is the most tailorable in its class: we have various set-ups for the front grille and headlamps. We even offer the lights with bulbs and LEDs in two different colors to go with the colored or black grille. These custom details are hard to find even on an upmarket saloon car, never mind a commercial vehicle. The new front volumes make the front pillars connect to the radiator grille through the headlights. A “face” that makes Ducato unique and recognizable at the first sight. We introduce new aesthetic features: painted bumpers now also available with factory anti-fog lights, a wider front grille, with either black or silver treatment (when the front grille is black, also front headlights are framed in black), 2 skid-plates (aluminum or black) to further underline horizontal lines, body color or aluminum door handles, and new alloy wheels with diamond-cut effect. The front overhang has not been modified and this translates into an excellent ratio between overall length and cargo length, particularly useful for the motorhome living compartment. But we have improved quality, durability and repairability. We have designed a specific cowl to protect the engine bay from the outside, we have simplified the hood by eliminating separate plastic trim-plates, we have positioned the headlamps out of the impact zone and divided the front end in 4 parts to make repairs more rapid and less costly.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Your second development strand concerns the mechanical side, doesn’t it?
Alessandro Sannia: That’s right. Looking at the trends in the camper sector, we noted both a renewed interest in small, compact vehicles for young families new to the camper world and, on the other hand, a continual tendency towards larger dimensions. For the former, we gave the vehicle a slimming treatment. Working on materials and components, we managed to balance the weight increase caused by body reinforcements and to reduce the new Ducato kerb weight by up to 20 kilos on chassis cabs. Moreover we developed an exclusive rear composite suspension option, that ensures an additional weight reduction of 15 kilos. New Ducato is the only vehicle in its category to feature this specific suspension, designed for the motorhome mission. Don’t forget that Ducato is made to carry 3.65 tons. Then there are the larger campers, for which we can now offer a 4.4-ton version (and a total weight of 6.5 tons, including towing), now with the admittable weight on rear axle at 2,500 kilograms, useful forlong hoverhangs and garages. We introduced extra reinforcements in key van body joints and door frames and improved door hinges, rollers, sealings and stoppers. Then we developed a series of features offering important user benefits, especially as regards operating costs. Brakes have been upgraded to reduce wear and tear, increase comfort and decrease noise by cutting brake-pedal force (thanks to a new pedal box) and upgrading performance and durability, thanks to new pads, disks and boosters and a new brake system for heavy motorhomes. On front suspension we redesigned the top mount and added new seals to avoid infiltrations, reduce noise and (again) increase durability. Also the durability of the clutch has been enhanced. A new hydraulic actuator has been introduced on the 2.3 engine. The gear ratio reduction on the 3-litre engine minimizes clutch effort and maximizes performance – with a particular focus on heavy use. We keep on using dedicated gearbox ratio fitting with the motorhome usage. The 16″ wheels are now available on the standard Ducato range, also in alloy with new design.
The engine range offered is the same, in four power units of 115, 130, 150 and 180 hp to suit the vehicles’ mission, but with 10% lower fuel consumption on average compared to the previous generation.

Aboutcamp BtoB: And your third aim was to enhance the comfort…
Alessandro Sannia: For heavy motorhome applications we offer as option new higher coil springs to raise up the front end of the vehicle and to assure maximum comfort also with heavy loads on front axle. When travelling, all factors contribute to a relaxing trip the torque performance of the engines, the improvement of suspensions and brakes and the Comfort-Matic automated gearbox. Thought for the motorhome mission, the “up” function of the Comfort-Matic gearbox provides a faster gearshift and specific management in heavy loads or hills conditions. Since we added the robotized gearbox for the 2300 cc engine, too, volumes have continued to increase. Over 70% of the 3000 cc models have a robotized gear change. The proportion reduces as the power decreases, naturally, because the vehicles are less expensive, but it remains in double figures: at around 15/20% on the 130 hp version and 40% on the 150 hp. But comfort depends not only on mechanical matters. The swiveling captain chair is first of a new generation of Ducato seats: more comfortable, ergonomics and specifically designed with the style and shape more diffused on leisure vehicles. It includes integrated headrests, wider backrest and provides a better lateral restraint, so you can drive your motorhome, but also enjoy your holiday seated on a comfortable sofa. These new seats can also be supplied without upholstery allowing the choice by the motorhome producers.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Have you also worked on the electronics, i.e. the installations using the CAN bus standard?
Alessandro Sannia: No. We had a step change in only 2011 with the Ducato Euro 5 and its new 29-bit network. What might interest the leisure sector is that we have created a gateway, by opening the CAN up to systems outside the network via an interface module. Currently, we are using this only with the large fleet operators, which need to see consumption data and usage statistics. When the technical studies on electronics for recreational vehicles get to grips with the vast challenge of interfacing directly with a vehicle’s CAN, then integrated domotics will become possible. If anyone would like to work on it with us, we are available. One day, I expect that the vehicles will have a touch screen controlling even the living-compartment systems; technically, it is achievable. The Ducato has several new electronic systems, primarily for safety features – like ESC, for instance. Developing a stability-control system for a car is relatively easy, because the vehicle is used in the same state as it leaves our factory: add the luggage, and that’s it. For the equipment sector, however, we manufacture a chassis cab or chassis cowl that can then be built on in many different ways. Therefore, we have had to design a flexible system with hydraulic units to detect where the centre of gravity is and adapt the ESC to react to the actual configuration of the fully equipped vehicle.

Aboutcamp BtoB: Have you also taken account of the AL-KO AMC chassis?
Alessandro Sannia: Yes. We have made all these developments with AL-KO in mind; they are a very important partner for us. Fiat Ducato is unique in being fully integrated across the whole AL-KO range, including six-wheelers and vehicles with extra-long wheelbases, with ESC devised by Fiat and Bosch together with AL-KO. The ESC stability control is available in all versions, up to the AL-KO TAG-Axle chassis ones, upgraded with roll-over mitigation to improve comfort and keep the motorhome stable. It also features load adaptive control, ASR and hill holder. But the new Ducato offers a wide set of optional hi-tech devices, all available on the full range of AL-KO version, such as the Tyre Pressure Monitoring System. Moreover, it is the first and only in its class to present the combination of Traction+ and Hill Descent Control. New Ducato, depending on the Motorhome versions, offers also other hi-tech driving aids such as Lane Departure Warning System (that alerts when the vehicle moves out of its lane), Traffic Signal Recognition (that identifies traffic signs on the road) and High Beam Recognition (that automatically adjusts headlamp range to the distance of oncoming vehicles).