Last updated Friday, November 28, 2014 12:37am

A 2014 Dodge Ram going through its final checks at Chrysler’s Warren Assembly Plant in Warren, Michigan. — Reuters picA 2014 Dodge Ram going through its final checks at Chrysler’s Warren Assembly Plant in Warren, Michigan. — Reuters picSOUTHFIELD, Michigan, June 26 — Chrysler Group LLC is expanding its Ram ProMaster line of cargo vans with a smaller model that will compete with Ford Motor Co, Nissan Motor Co and other automakers for business drivers looking to replace older models.

Chrysler plans to reveal the 2015 ProMaster City today as the Auburn Hills-based company in Michigan anticipates total annual US sales of commercial vans of about 400,000 over the next five years, according to an emailed presentation. Small vans such as the ProMaster City, which mimics parent Fiat SpA’s Doblo model, will account for about a quarter of those, the third-largest US automaker said.

The van, Chrysler’s latest small-commercial vehicle, will tap “pent-up demand” from delivery, construction and other businesses to replace aging models in an improving economy. May’s jobless rate held steady at 6.3 per cent as employers added workers. And with 131.7 cubic feet (3.7 cubic metres) of cargo space and other features, the ProMaster City should stand out, Dave Sullivan, an analyst with AutoPacific Inc, said.

“At first glance, this van might appear to be a copy of the Nissan NV200 or the Ford Transit Connect,” he said. “It’s not.”

An improved rear suspension created a more comfortable ride, and a longer wheelbase offered more space, Sullivan said.

Offered in two-seat and five-seat models, the van has a 178-horsepower engine and a nine-speed automatic transmission. It’s the first vehicle in its class to offer the latter feature, Chrysler said.

The competition

Ford sold 4,222 Transit Connect cargo vans in May, a 14 per cent jump from a year earlier, and the Dearborn-based automaker’s best sales month ever. Nissan, the No. 2 Japanese automaker, reported 1,203 deliveries of its NV200 model over the same period, almost quadruple the number from a year earlier.

Ram’s original ProMaster, unveiled in 2013, sold 1,033 units in May, after beginning US sales in October. Its C/V sold 768, a 21 per cent drop from a year earlier. Both are Class 1 vans.

“Years ago, the selection of delivery and cargo vehicles was limited and those offerings didn’t focus on cost of ownership,” said Reid Bigland, president and chief executive officer of the Ram brand. “Today all of that has changed with the recent introduction of the full-size Ram ProMaster and now the Ram ProMaster City.” — Bloomberg