Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


EUROPE AND the U.S. have different standards for measuring cargo capacity of cars and trucks. Ram (what old-timers think of as Dodge Truck) recently corrected overly optimistic claims in the U.S. introduction of its Fiat Ducato-based ProMaster. Then Mercedes-Benz dialed back on its cargo data as well.

The reason for these changes in specifications got me thinking of a hare-brained scheme of mine.


2014 Ram Truck ProMaster.

The Ram ProMaster is jointly developed by Ram Truck and Fiat Professional. It’s being built at Chrysler’s Saltillo, Mexico, facility. The ProMaster’s basic platform is Fiat Ducato, a light commercial front-wheel-drive vehicle. The Ducato has been in production since 1981 in three generations and a bewildering array of nameplates.

Early on, there was even an Alfa Romeo variant, the AR6, sold only in Italy as a van and pickup truck. About two-thirds of motorhome conversions in Europe are Ducato-based.

By European measure, the latest Ducato has 530 cu. ft. of cargo capacity, and this is what Ram initially advertised for its ProMaster. However, U.S. standards are more conservative, and when applied to the ProMaster reduce its capacity to 463 cu. ft.


530 cu. ft.? 463 cu. ft.? It depends….

U.S. volumes are calculated as if boxes of various sizes are accommodated. The European standard is akin to filling the volume with sand, thus including nooks, crannies and places omitted in U.S. figuring.


2014 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.

Following suit, Mercedes-Benz refigured the capacity of its European-designed Sprinter (also sold by Freightliner in the U.S. with the same moniker). Sprinter capacity went down from 547 cu. ft. to 530, still the biggest capacity among commercial vans sold in the U.S. What’s more, Mercedes is bringing in a high-roof model later this year that ups capacity to 586 cu. ft.

That’s a lot of boxes—or sand.

Which got me thinking of years ago and one of my more hare-brained schemes while Engineering Editor at R&T. We all knew that handling characteristics of a car depended in part on how many passengers or cargo was aboard. But how to quantify this?


The R&T Slalom Test.

A most telling indicator of a vehicle’s transient handling was the slalom test, weaving between six cones placed 100 ft. apart.

As an aside, race driver/tuner Dick Guldstrand once let me run what we envisioned would be a slalom-optimized Chevrolet Camaro, its suspension jacked to account for driver weight. The point was to make a car equally adept through the slalom’s left gates as through its right ones. The concept failed, not in theory but in practice: A slalom driver learns to account for the weight differential and to drive the gates accordingly.

But back to passengers and cargo. Why not get a baseline slalom time for a car, then redo it with passengers aboard?

I tried this once, but volunteers mysteriously became scarce.

Aha, I thought, why not eliminate human frailties (the wimps…) and use simulated passengers?

Kitty litter was available in 20- and 40-lb sacks, and I could strap these in for the slalom runs.

This turned out to be a mistake because even those wimps could buckle their own belts. And, what’s worse, wimps were less prone to puncture.

Which is why I was reminded of this difference in U.S. and European measurements of cargo capacity.

Have you ever tried to get kitty litter—lots of kitty litter—out of crevices of a car’s interior? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014


  1. sabresoftware
    May 22, 2014

    Almost woke the wife as I laughed out loud at the thought of vacuuming out kitty litter from every nook and cranny. Amazing how some “bright” ideas can have unexpected consequences that in hindsight are quite to be expected. Somewhat like checking the aerator on my goldfish pond this winter, while standing on the frozen ice. A minute later and I was knee deep in water, and it was -20C! And it was all for naught as the aerator completely died later in the winter. Last weekend I was working in the garden and decided to finally deal with the block of ice that was stubbornly refusing to melt in my sheltered pond by filling it and floating the iceberg, only to see one dead fish float to the surface, followed by the other the next day.

  2. Bill Urban
    May 23, 2014

    Dennis, you may have been subconsciously inspired by that (years ago) Tom McCahill Chrysler test drive comment: “. . . handles like a wheelbarrow full of freshly cooked macaroni.”

  3. Bill Rabel
    May 25, 2014

    I’m still mentally trying to get the sand out. I hope you get all the litter out before the cat moves in…

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