April 13, 2009 Boosted by the performance of its six-speed automated manual MTA gearbox, the Fiat Ducato has just taken the coveted Which Motorcaravan Base Vehicle winner’s accolade for the third year running. Along with the awards, the success of the design is reflected in the marketplace - two out of every three motorhomes in Europe are built on the Fiat Ducato base and there are more than 400,000 Fiat Ducato motorhomes on the road in Europe alone.

Fiat’s Ducato

Fiat's Ducato began life as a commercial vehicle in 1981 and is now in its third generation. It was developed jointly between Citroen, Peugeot and Fiat and is also sold as the Citroën Jumper and the Peugeot Boxer - indeed, all the three trucks come out of the same factories in Italy and Brazil. Long the motorhome market leader in Europe, the Fiat Ducato has also transferred its success to Australia, providing vehicles for the eight Australian motorhome companies Jayco, A’van, Winnebago, Sunliner, Horizon, Suncamper, Paradise Motorhomes and Trakka.

The Fiat Ducato base vehicle was designed specifically for the motorhome market and this year’s award presented by the UK's Which Motorcaravan magazine recognizes the added benefits offered by Fiat’s six-speed automated manual MTA gearbox which it says provides the economy and performance of a manual gearbox and the ease of use of an automatic gearbox. Coupled to the 115.5 kW Fiat Ducato 3.0 litre MultiJet powerplant, judge Michael Le Caplain says “the MTA is the best yet of these automated transmissions, selecting exactly the right gear at exactly the right time and making the most of the 3.0 litre Turbo Diesel engine’s prodigious torque.”

The chassis versions come in a range of lengths and heights with different axles and construction materials to suit a range of designs. The entire drivetrain is contained to the front of the vehicle with the fuel tank ahead of the load area. This means equipment that has to be inside other conversions can be placed under the floor, freeing up living space, and that floor is lower, improving ease of access.

As part of the development of the new MTA gearbox Fiat built a fleet of motorhome ‘mule’ test vehicles that duplicated all the operating conditions of a motorhome. This was so that the gearbox’s software could be designed to meet the needs of a motorhome, says Fiat. This includes running near full load most of the time, having more weight higher up in the vehicle than a normal commercial vehicle and the demands of a slippery camp site on traction control.

The new natural gas model

Fiat has just released the new Ducato 140 Natural Power natural gas model, a 3-litre engine, developing EC maximum 136 HP (100 kW), with 2,750-3,500 rpm, and maximum torque of 350 Nm at 1,500 rpm. The Maxi Van - Medium Wheelbase - High Roof configuration can hit a top speed of 155km/h, with acceleration of 0-100 km/h in 13.9 seconds, and pick-up of 60-100 km/h (in fifth gear) in 10.1 seconds, says Fiat. It is also able to negotiate a 21.5% gradient when fully loaded. Fiat goes on to say that this new vehicle boasts reduced fuel consumption (8.8 kg of natural gas per 100 km in the combined cycle) and lower CO2 emissions (239 g/km).

The vehicle is configured to default to natural gas. Petrol supply is provided automatically only when the natural gas is about to run out: the petrol tank holds 15 litres in recovery mode to assure 100 km driving distance to reach the nearest natural gas station.

The Fiat Ducato recently achieved a major milestone as its production total rose to two million units since the launch of the first version in 1981. For information visit Fiatcamper.

David Greig

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