As I write this, early in November 2009, so much is happening in the truck world that it's enough to make one's head spin. Between the latest industry news, trade shows, and our usual scheduled activities, we're struggling to stay abreast of events. But we'll dive right in and try to make some sense out of everything.
First up, the recently unveiled reorganization plans for Chrysler. New owners Fiat have big plans in store for its new acquisition, but on the truck side of the equation, the short-term news is quite intriguing. Long story short: The Ram pickup line will now become its own distinct brand, separate from Dodge; the Dakota pickup will go away by 2011, to be replaced by a midsize unitbody truck (which we're guessing will be along the lines of a Honda Ridgeline); and most intriguing of all, Jeep may offer a Wrangler with a diesel engine for the U.S. market by the end of this year. Since Fiat has plenty of engines in its common-rail JTD parts bin to choose from, the only question that remains is how quickly can they re-tune one of their small-displacement diesels to pass the latest federal emissions regs. We don't know the answers to these questions yet, but we'll let you know as soon as we find out more information. We'll have more detailed news about the new Dodge, Ram, and Jeep product lines in next month's issue.
Next up, the 2009 SEMA Show in Las Vegas, the biggest annual gathering of the automotive aftermarket in the U.S. We just returned from SEMA, and while we'll have more detailed coverage in next month's issue, we noticed a couple of trends in the making this year. First (and this may come as no surprise), budget-minded suspension lifts, such as leveling kits and/or spacers, are still a hot ticket for fullsize trucks, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Second, we noted an increasing presence of aftermarket companies that are making parts and building project rigs with the concept of "backcountry exploration" in mind. Pop-up campers, pack trailers, roof racks, brushguards, auxiliary tanks, and spare-tire/jerrycan carriers were in abundance at this year's show, and this struck us as a good thing-an example of Getting Back to Basics. After all, most of us in the wheeling world first fell in love with our four-wheel drive not because of how high we could lift it or how fast we could race it, but because of the places that vehicle with the magical transfer-case lever could take us, far off the beaten track. At least, that's the way it was with us.
Finally, some housekeeping. Those of you who are regular readers may be wondering what happened to our Four Wheeler of the Year test, which has been a staple of February issues for decades. Well, nothing stays the same forever. This year, due to a variety of factors, we had to re-schedule our test dates, and we'll publish our winner in the April issue. Next month: Our 2010 Pickup Truck of the Year test-and with the new HD Ram, SVT Raptor, and Tundra 4.6L in this year's mix, it should be a heckuva competition.