Our work truck expert Howard Elmer reveals the details you need to make an informed decision.
Canadian Automotive Review, Print Edition: SEPTEMBER 2011
Continued high gas prices this year are a concern and focus for fleets and private owners alike—and these concerns have spawned several fuel saving initiatives from GM and Ford. On the alternative fuel front, for instance, Ford is now offering Natural Gas as an option for Transit Connect, E-Series vans and F-Series Super Duty trucks.
Electrification is also moving forward, with several companies pushing dedicated-route vehicles towards electric-only propulsion.
Traditional gas and diesel engines also continue to evolve towards greater fuel efficiency with several versions now available. This is a trend that is going to continue far into the future as shown by a recent joint announcement from Ford Motor Company and Toyota Motor Corp. These two leading hybrid manufacturers are now collaborating on the development of an advanced new hybrid system for work-themed light trucks and SUVs. This shared platform will be the underpinning of several new vehicles towards the end of the decade.
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2012 Ram Trucks and Heavy Duty
Ram has introduced a new Tradesman pickup based on the Ram 1500 ST trim package and a standard 5.7L HEMI engine with five-speed automatic transmission. With the aim of bringing a V8-powered work truck to the market (at a very low price) this package also includes a Class IV hitch with four and seven-pin connector; HD engine cooling and a transmission oil cooler. It will tow 10,450lb. Tradesman is available as a regular cab, short-bed (6ft, 4in) or long-bed (8ft) with a choice of 4×2 or 4×4. Just for fun, Ram is also offering a 2012 “Express” version of the Tradesman which features upgraded wheels, rims and paint.
The rest of the Ram half-ton line-up remains mostly the same this year with a few key exceptions. The 4.7L and 5.7L V8s are now coupled to a new six-speed automatic transmission with a new calibration feature called Electronic Range Select (ERS). Along with this upgrade comes a new torque converter with increased efficiency and improved fuel economy.
For 2012 the Ram 1500 Crew Cab gets the RamBox cargo management system option that provides weatherproof, lockable, illuminated and drainable storage built into both fenders. Each box holds up to five cases (120 cans) of 12-ounce beverages; or tools if you prefer. There is also a bed divider and two-foot bed extender for oversize loads. A rail system with sliding, adjustable cleats increases tie-down capability. The Ram’s tailgate now gets a standard spring assist feature that lets you open and close it with one hand.
Inside, the Crew Cab gets a pair of “store in the floor” bins with removable liners that offer even more storage. Other new storage locations include a large upper glove box, map pockets in door panels and a configurable centre console.
For 2012 the Heavy Duty Ram comes with its newly upgraded Cummins turbo-diesel (which makes 800lb-ft of torque now) and the truck body gets a strengthened chassis and rear end. With these improvements, the HD Ram 3500 can now tow up to 22,700lb. It will also come with a package of components that will increase GCWR to 30,000lb.
I recently towed a gooseneck trailer loaded with 17,500lb around the Chrysler test track and felt the truck was comfortable and confident with that weight. The new suspension improvements worked in harmony with the six-speed automatic, the standard engine brake and integrated trailer brake controller. Acceleration was good and emergency braking controlled.
2012 Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra and Heavy Duty
For GM the 2011 model year was a big one with the complete revamp of the HD series Silverado and Sierra. The half-ton line, however, was last upgraded in ’09 and continues along mostly unchanged. So, overall, for 2012 the models hold steady, though there are some interesting items in both heavy and light duty.
For instance, in the never-ending “how much will a truck tow” competition between manufacturers, GM has added a 6.2L engine to the 1500 lineup. This pushes up the payload and trailering limits to 10,600lb.
They are also offering a fuel economy package called XFE. Available on the 5.3L Sierra 1500 2WD (Crew Cab only) it combines a six-speed automatic transmission with AFM (Active Fuel Management). This system shuts off the fuel to four of the V8’s cylinders when not needed. GM claims a fuel consumption rating of 13.7L/100km in the city and 9.1L/100km on the highway for this truck.
2011 was the big year for the HD series and it’s worth noting the new features that are moving forward into the 2012 model year. Among the highlights of this new truck are:
• New Duramax 6.6L turbo diesel rated at 397hp and 765 lb-ft of torque;
• Maximum towing of 21,700lb;
• Maximum payload of 6,635lb supported by a new frame and stronger suspension;
• B20 biodiesel capable;
• New smart exhaust brake system;
• Trailer sway control, integrated trailer brake control, hill start assist, automatic grade braking and intelligent brake assist;
• Exterior design with new louvered hood, front bumper, grille and 20-inch wheels.
2012 Ford F150 and SuperDuty
The F150 gets a range of new engines for 2012. However the one making news is the V6 EcoBoost. Ford marketing says the 3.5L EcoBoost V6 has the power of a V8 yet offers good fuel economy. 14.7L city and 10.7L highway is the claim.
The V6 engine program manager for this project is Jim Mazuchowski, a Dearborn-based engineer who has been explaining EcoBoost longer than anyone else. I asked him to break down for me what makes the EcoBoost as powerful and efficient as it is.
“Power density,” said Mazuchowski. “This is achieved by coupling two technologies—forced air through twin turbos and direct gas injection. First the turbos cool and compress air making it denser as it’s pushed into the engine. This charged air also cools the cylinder and injected fuel. The result is a dense mixture that burns fully. Also, fuel pressure in the injection process ranges from 65 to 2000psi during delivery, and the fuel/air mixture has a high rate of tumble through a new port design; it is also detonated in a cylinder with a new piston. We’ve used something like a diesel piston head with a bowl design.”
The message seems to be getting through to buyers, 41 percent of whom have ordered their new F-150s with this engine since its introduction in March.
Like the HD Chevy, the 2011 SuperDuty was an all-new truck—one that was introduced late 2009. For 2012 it moves forward with its new Power Stroke diesel engine (built for the first time by Ford themselves) and all new body. Of note for the coming year is the fifth wheel hitch that can be ordered direct from the factory and is warranted by them.
Toyota Tundra is due for a next generation upgrade. However, to date there is no word on when that might be happening. So for 2012 the Tundra moves forward largely unchanged. Last year there were some minor changes to payload and towing limits. Power-wise it still sports the powerful 381hp 5.7L V8 as its main engine. However a 4.6L V8 came in as a fuel saver two years ago, offering an 11 percent improvement in fuel consumption over the outgoing 4.7L engine. This new 4.6L makes 310hp and 327lb-ft of torque and is rated at a combined fuel efficiency of 12.2L/100km in 2WD and 14.6L/100km in 4WD.
The mid-size Tacoma, though, is rumoured to be getting an upgrade for the 2012 model year, later this fall. However at press time there are no confirmed facts available to pass on.
For 2012 Nissan jumps into the commercial market with its all new NV, a van with a pickup-like front end they say combines truck comfort and drivability with a cargo van’s capacity and security. This NV line-up features an NV1500, NV2500 HD and NV3500 HD. Built with a classic body on frame, these trucks support rising payloads with either a standard height roof (available on all models) or a high roof. This full-size van has three body configurations: Standard Roof (NV1500, NV2500, NV3500) while a high roof is available on the NV2500 and NV3500.
Its standard 4L V6 is a decent compromise between fuel efficiency and power. However, a 5.6L V8 is an option. With its pickup-like design there is no “doghouse” intruding into the cab, freeing up space under the instrument panel and between the seats. I’ve driven the NV and found the cab to have good visibility, with the corners of the vehicle well defined. The mirrors are large, the steering precise and the turning radius reasonably tight. A nice new van option to check out.
Nissan is also pushing into other fleet markets—such as the taxi business. In fact New York City has just chosen its smaller NV200 as its “Taxi of Tomorrow”. The NV200 is to be the exclusive taxi of New York City beginning in late 2013. This award comes after a rigorous selection process taking place over more than two years. This competition is built upon more than a century of taxi industry heritage to drive the design and create a purpose-built vehicle, tuned to the city’s streets.
Available in 11 different models for 2012, the Sprinter is probably best known for its high roof line that couriers and contractors love. It also offers “bus” versions and can carry varying amounts of weight—there is even a
dually 3500-series available. All Sprinters are powered by a 3L V6 turbo diesel engine and a five-speed automatic transmission.
For 2012, new additional standard equipment has been added. First, heated and power adjustable side mirrors and also a new trailer hitch prep package with seven-pin connector. One new option of interest is the new long axle (4.182:1) this is available for all 2500 variants and will provide improved torque at the wheels for customers who frequently tow or carry the maximum cargo load.
Ford Transit Connect
Transit Connect enters its third model year in North America and continues to use its small but fuel-efficient 2L Duratec I4 engine. However safety-wise it’s being upgraded with Ford’s electronic stability control system. Called AdvanceTrac with RSC (Roll Stability Control) it will now be standard across the Transit Connect line. This technology is designed to help a driver keep the vehicle under control in a variety of conditions.
Also new for 2012 is a personal-use Transit Connect, the XLT Premium Wagon. It is aimed at the buyer needing a vehicle with room for four passengers while still requiring the versatility of the Connect.
For 2012 the all-electric, zero emission van will be a late-year entry. With a range of up to 130km, it’s aimed at fleets with well-defined, predictable daily routes. A collaboration between Ford Motor Company and Azure Dynamics, these Transit Connect Electric vans can be recharged using either 240-volt or standard a 120-volt outlet.
Ram Cargo Van
Ram Trucks has taken the Caravan into its fleet portfolio this year and tricked it out with a new V6 engine and expanded capacities. This Ram Cargo Van features a new solid sliding-door and rear quarter window privacy panels. All vans get an aluminum rear floor and 144 cubic feet of cargo space.
Powered by the new Pentastar V6 engine, the Ram C/V offers 1,800lb of payload and will tow up to 3,600lb. This engine makes 283hp and 260lb-ft of torque and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. A driver-selectable fuel economizer mode is also included.