Commercial truck market gets bigger, brawnier
With the onslaught of SUVs and Ford's own raft of personal use trucks like the Harley Davidson F-150, it's refreshing to know that the company hasn't forgotten about trucks as work vehicles.
The new 2001-model Ford F-150 SuperCrew adds a new dimension to work- and personal-use trucks. When it debuted last year, it was the only under-8,500-lb. gross vehicle weight (GVW) truck in its class with four full-size doors and the largest rear seating. SuperCrew is designed for buyers who need all the capability of a tough work truck along with passenger-carrying capacity and increased ease of entry and exit. Its 5-1/2 -foot box and optional Bed Extender - which creates a total of seven feet of cargo carrying capacity - ensures owners can put it to work like any other Ford pickup.
While many service contractors still prefer a full size van, the new legions of full size pickup trucks, now available with seating for 4 or even 6 adults, and four full size doors, allows a new option. Many prefer driving a pickup truck to a full size van, and the SuperCrew doubles nicely as a personal use vehicle on weekends. It can carry larger, odd shaped loads in its exposed bed.
The SuperCrew we drove had the optional 260-hp, 5.4 liter Triton V-8 engine, an $800 option, peppy but good for only 13 miles per gallon in the city. This 4X4 also had such niceties as a 6-disc CD changer, bright red clearcoat paint with lower body silver accent, cloth captain's chairs, and the handy pickup box extender. Total MSRP was $32,965.
At around 4,700 lbs. for the 2X2, and just over 5,000 for the 4X4 with this optional engine, maximum payload capacity is up around 1,900 and 1,700 lbs., respectively. Rear seating is spacious, not just an attempt to carve out a space for short trip passengers. There are no audio or temperature controls back there, but there are cup holders and a 12-volt plug-in. Nor are there headrests on the back seat, though these are supposed to show up in the '02 models. The interior is nicely done, not exactly Spartan but not faux-fancy either. No dorky fake wood or chrome, but a little brushed aluminum on the gauges would be a nice touch.
Exterior, the tires are 16 inch and a bit undersized, especially for a 4X4 (the same goes for GM's trucks, however). Even the new Thunderbird passenger car offers 17-in. wheels and tires.
Also coming are a plastic pickup box, for lighter weight and corrosion resistance (why, oh why do these trucks still come without standard bed liners?)
Silverado, Sierra from GMIn 1999, Chevrolet and GMC rolled out their first all-new pickup trucks in decades in the Silverado and Sierra. Last year, there followed a new series of heavy duty 3/4 and 1 ton pickup trucks based on those platforms and, like the Fords also, now available in four door Crew Cab models.
Car & Driver magazine liked the Chevy Silverado so much that it named it the best pickup truck overall among its "Five Best Trucks" competition in July, calling it "unusually civilized" even amid this plusher breed of modern pickups.
New for '01 was a Duramax 6600 diesel engine that replaced the 6.5 liter turbodiesel. This powerplant boasts a truly stump-pulling 520 lb-ft. of torque, rated at 300 hp. No fan of diesels, we noticed immediately that the annoying diesel rattle is toned down quite nicely. At idle, you think you're driving a gasoline engine. In fact, Chevy claims its 78 decibels is only half the noise level of rival Ford's 7.3 liter diesel. GM also introduced an optional Vortex 8100 gas V-8 with 340 hp and 455 lb-ft. of torque.
While Chevy has declined to introduce a V-10 like its rivals Ford and Chrysler, the newer V-8 actually outpulls those engines in both torque and horsepower. Of course, they lack the marketing cache of the V-10s for those who are impressed by such things. Even the standard Vortec 6000 V-8 offers an impressive 300 hp and 370 lb-ft. of torque, for the industry's highest hauling and trailering capacities.
The diesels are claimed to have a 200,000 mile operating life, with little maintenance required. And while some diesel pickups can be achingly slow moving from a stop light, the new Duramax, at 14.2 seconds, is more than a second quicker in 0-60 times than rival Ford, and several seconds quicker than the Dodge's Cummins-supplied 5.9 liter turbodiesel. It also boasts higher fuel economy than the smaller 6.5 liter diesel it replaces.
Both the Vortec 8100 and the Duramax diesel permit towing trailers of up to 12,000 lbs.
Two new transmissions also bowed in '01. The Duramax and 8100 engines were mated to a 5-speed automatic (remember not long ago when 4-speed automatics were new?) for better fuel economy, built by GM's Allison Division, or a 6-speed manual built by Germany's Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshaven (ZF) AG. The sixth gear posts even higher fuel economy numbers than the five speed automatic.
Here to stay, apparently, are those annoying daytime running lamps (DRLs).
Also here to stay, apparently, are luxury options such as leather seats: about 30% of Sierra extended-cab pickups already go out the door with leather, lots of goodies and $35,000 price tags.
I drove a GMC Sierra 2500 4WD Crew Cab with the new Duramax diesel and 5-speed Allison automatic transmission. Bottom line was an eye-popping $42,219. What do you get for that much cash? Base price for this model was $32,000 and change; the diesel engine option was $4,310; the transmission another $1,200. Add in a comfort group at $825, a trailering package at $190 with a full interior package including leather seats and the Onstar communications system, which was another $1,945.
One nit I could pick was the same one I've found with many GM vehicles over the years: the cruise control sometimes drifts annoyingly downward, 5 or even 10 mph, before it kicks in with the speed you've set.
New Dodge RamDodge Ram helped to jump-start the current craze in full size pickups with its complete re-do in 1994. Dodge, which had been a distant third in a three-way race, suddenly surged and became respectable again with the Ram's bold new styling. Now, the all-new 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 offers two new Magnum engines, a new automatic transmission, and a host of customer convenience features.
An all-new Quad Cab model unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in June boasts four standard doors, while regular- and extended-cab models are considerably larger than their predecessors. All-new versions of the heavy-duty 2500 and 3500 models will follow for the '03 model year. The new '02 trucks were unavailable for a test spin at press time, even at DaimlerChrysler's annual June press event held at its Michigan proving grounds where they show off the new models to journalists. So, for now, we can only pass along what Chrysler has to say about its newest trucks.
Jim Julow, vice president, Dodge Global Brand Center: "With the all-new 2002 Ram 1500, we amplified the 'Ram Package' in every conceivable way, making it more comfortable, roomier, quieter and more user-friendly. We did all this while improving power and capability, two hallmarks of Ram since its distinctive redesign eight years ago."
Two new engines are smaller in displacement but more powerful than those they replace. A standard 3.7 liter (226 cu. in.) V-6 replaces the 3.9 liter, but offers 210 hp vs. 175. A 4.7 liter V-8 replaces the 5.2 liter, but again fuel economy and performance are enhanced: from 230 to 235 hp. A 245 hp 5.9 liter Magnum V-8 is also offered. As a result, maximum towing on the Quad Cab improves from 7,650 lbs. to 8,350. Payload increases from 1,567 to 1,750 lbs. Maximum towing on the regular cab is now 8,660 lbs, up from 7,950.
Other goodies include an optional dual-zone climate control system and heated leather seats on the SLT+ model. Finally, trucks get the same protection as cars with steel reinforcement beams in the doors for protection in the event of a side impact.
When the current-generation Ram was being designed in the early 1990s, it was facing a marketplace of well-established full-size pickups. Selling only about 70,000 units a year, Ram was a small, if not insignificant player. In order to make any noise in the market, Dodge needed to offer something different. From that need, the original 'Ram Package' was born. Combining bold styling, a wide range of powerful engines, best-in-class ride and handling, and unmatched interior roominess and convenience, this new package made Ram an instant hit. First year sales were over 200,000 units.
The 2002 Ram 1500 will be available in two cab choices - Regular and Quad Cab - and both 2WD and 4WD. The base model is the ST, with Sport, SLT and SLT+ packages available. Production will begin on the 2002 Ram 1500 in the summer of 2001 at Chrysler Group's Dodge City - Warren Truck (Warren, Mich.); St. Louis North (Missouri) and Saltillo (Mexico) assembly plants. Production of the current 2500 and 3500 models will continue for one more model year.
Walk-in workshopsThere is another option besides pickup trucks and full size vans for the hvac contractor. "The efficiency of the step van makes it a productive workhorse," says Workhorse Custom Chassis of Union City, Ind. The semi-custom FT1061 has a 125-in. wheelbase and a 101/2 ft. loadspace. It also boasts a 76-in. ceiling height, "more than enough for a 6-foot-tall driver to directly access the cargo area from his seat by just standing up and walking back." Many are outfitted with portable workshops or showrooms. You can fit a lot of product back there.
Mark Larkin, owner of Larkin Plumbing and Heating Inc., Las Vegas, has a fleet of 35 step vans like the FT1061. He likes their maneuverability, which allows his workers to drive through narrow alleys to access work sites. These vehicles feature a long-life aluminum body, along with many Big Three-provided features such as a GM Vortec V-8 engine, anti-lock brakes, power steering, and options such as ac and stereo. The company has a commercial sales and network of 400 dealers across the U.S. and Canada. Phone 877-294-6773 or visit www.workhorsecc.com.
- Durakon Inds., Lapeer, Mich., long known for its pickup truck bed liners, has a new product that just might bring a smile to many contractors who routinely haul heavy equipment or materials in and out of their trucks and vans. CargoPro is a roll-out cargo system has a capacity of 1,000 lbs. It is made of aircraft quality aluminum and high density polyethylene. It reduces the strain of lifting, as well as protecting such equipment as outdoor ac condensers or furnaces, from dents and mishandling. The company also offers a Quick-Release Kit that allows removal of the drawer and complete frame assembly within minutes and requires only one person. Phone 800-933-4200 for more information.
- Knaack Mfg. Co., Crystal Lake, Ill., has made improvements to its Jobmaster and Storagemaster chests, including improvements to its patented line of locks. A single padlock can now be used to secure a two-point dead bolt latch. Also, newly designed, recessed handles avoid damage from routine handling.
- Geo positioning systems aren't just for your nuclear sub anymore. It's a handy way of tracking your vehicle fleet, making sure they're going to be where you need them. One such system, "The Boss" from Fleetboss of Fern Park, Fla., (www.fleetboss.com) can identify each vehicle, record start-stop times, mileage, even maximum speed and the opening and closing of doors. Overhead such as fuel cost and maintenance can be reduced. There is also verifiable data in the event of vehicle accidents, vandalism, theft or traffic tickets. Productivity can be increased in many ways: routing contractors to the nearest service calls, for instance, and getting them there the quickest way, is just one. Some technicians feel this is an invasion of their privacy, but owners of the vehicles say it is justified.
Another GPS supplier, GPS Management Systems, has a new fleet asset locating, monitoring and management system in the P-2000. It is specifically designed for "out and back" fleets - those that leave and return to a home office, warehouse or terminal each day. The P-2000 automatically transmits GPS logging data directly to a PC on a 900 MHz frequency, the same used for cordless telephones - with no costly satellite or cellular communication charges incurred. "This system," according to the company, "is ideal for companies wishing to have verification of the time company vehicles spent on jobsites, those wishing to track routes to improve dispatch efficiency, and to verify company policies on the proper use of company vehicles." The unit's small size (4.25X3.75X1.25 inches) makes it easily mounted out of the way in a vehicle cab. Phone 317-852-5229.
- Not exactly an accessory, but not a full vehicle either, Power Stroke diesel engines are nevertheless finding themselves in demand by more and more contractors. Kevin Wolf of Kevin Wolf and Sons Construction told Snips he is glad he converted to Power Stroke diesel engines built by the International Truck and Engine Corp. exclusively for Ford Motor Co.
These engines were introduced in 1994 and are available on Ford F-Series Super Duty trucks and Econoline vans. The engines are built in Indianapolis. According to the company, at 250,000 miles, 90% of all Power Stroke diesels are free of repairs requiring the removal of the cylinder head, oil pan or front cover. Fuel economy, performance and durability are listed as the three factors that contribute to the popularity of diesel engines, according to the company.
Wolf, an Illinois general contractor and roofer with twin sons Jeremy and Jason also in the business, said he loves the '99 Powerstroke in his Ford F350 single rear axle pickup with utility box. "It's the first time I ever had a diesel and now I wouldn't want to be without one," he said. Wolf said his vehicle weighs in at 9,200 lbs. with a full complement of tools, and can also tow a trailer with no problem, also delivering 12-13 miles per gallon in the city and 15-16 mpg on the highway. As for the sometimes noisy rumble of a diesel? "I love it!" he laughs.
- Ford Motor Co. is offering a hands-free phone option this fall in some of its vehicles, transmitting through a car's stereo system. Unfortunately, the new technology will be available only in three cars and a minivan for now. The system can be used to make any phone voice-activated for dialing and answering in the car. More than just a convenience, this is a safety device. New York state has banned drivers from using the more traditional hands-on phones while driving. General Motors offers its own voice-activated cell phone, but the phone is part of the system, not the driver's personal cell phone.