Is the auto industry’s funeral procession over at last? The dark clouds over automobilia put a damper on the big auto shows for 2009 and 2010, but if the 2011 Chicago Auto Show was any indication, there’s blue sky showing through at last. Let’s hope it isn’t the high-finance equivalent of those Rocky Mountain sucker holes that get people in trouble in the high country.
Speaking of which, weather played a big part at this year’s show, held last February, because Chi-town was only a week past one of the biggest blizzards in its history. Hats off to Chicago for a bang-up job of making visitors think, What blizzard?
Historically, the Chicago Auto Show has a lot of truck and commercial interest, which is why Four Wheeler tries to be there. This year was no exception, but it was still muted compared to past years. The big news came from Chrysler, who debuted the new Ram Tradesman models and another shot over the bow in the diesel pickup torque warsnamely, an upgrade of the 6.7L Cummins to produce a whopping 800 lb-ft of torque.
The auto show wasn’t all static displays. When you have 1.3 million square feet of space to play with, as is the case at Chicago’s McCormick Place exhibition center, you’ve got a little elbow room. No less than four indoor test tracks were set up, three of interest to wheelers. Ford, Jeep, and Toyota all had indoor tracks set up and delivered rides to all comers.
Plain Jane, Curiously Refreshing
Ram’s announcement of the new Tradesman 1500 line seemed to strike a chord with truck folks. Available in short or long wheelbases, in two- or four-wheel drive, the Tradesman is equipped with a bevy of standard go-to-work options on a no-frills truck. Among those are a standard 5.7L Hemi V8 and five-speed automatic, standard Class IV hitch with all the trailer wiring connections installed, Goodyear Wrangler A-Ts (on the 4x4), heavy-duty engine cooling, and an auxiliary trans cooler. To that, you can add 3.92:1 gears (standard are 3.55:1s), a rear limited-slip, and a subststantial array of power and comfort goodies. The tradesman is inteded for the work truck crowd, many of whom flip the august pages of Four Wheeler, but if you were looking for a builder truck for a trail rig, this would be a great place to start. After some great discussion with the ARam truck gang, we learned that the package was very much based on an in-depth survey of what commercial users wanted. Our questions are two: why no "Tradesman" badging, and when will there be a similar 2500/3500 model? Or a Tradesman Power Wagon?
Even though it’s an ST regular cab with roll-up windows and vinyl floor mats, it comes standard with A/C, 12-volt auxiliary power outlet, and a media center with a six-speaker CD/MP3/AM/FM sound system. You get the auto dimming headlamps standard, too, as well as full instrumentation (including a tach), tilt steering, tinted glass, and intermittent wipers. In short, it’s everything you need at a great price.
High End Heaven
Mercedes Benz’s G550, long known as the Gelandewagen (or G-Wagen) is one of that company’s best-kept secrets. It’s not surprising that a 4x4 with such a long history is so unknown to so many American four-wheelers since not many of us can afford it. This 2011 goes out the door at a mere $106,625. For that money, you get a 5.5L 382hp V-8 backed up by a seven-speed automatic and a super-smart traction control system with three locking diffs (front, center and rear) for when the going gets extra tough. The tires look a little light-duty for harder-core trails, but with a tire upgrade, this rig can challenge any stock rig on the planet and best many of them. Most of the competition won’t be able to offer anything too near the level of posh and comfort found in this rig. It’s Ahnold in a tux, man!
Dinner is CERVed
And it would be a bitter meal indeed for those opposing our armed forces. CERV is another military acronym, from an army that lives by them, and it stands for Clandestine Extended Range Vehicle. It’s a 4x4 hybrid that has a small diesel engine but the capability to run silently off battery power. When you need to sneak up on the bad guys and drop off a “surprise,” this vehicle is just the ticket. It can do 80 mph flat-out to scoot after it shoots. It’s being developed by TARDEC, which is the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research and Development Center at the Detroit Arsenal.
Moving the House
The second big announcement from Ram came when Fred Diaz, President and CEO of the Ram Truck line, dropped the bombshell that the Cummins was going to the head of the light-truck torque class with a bump to 800 lb-ft at 1,600 rpm torque output, a 23 percent boost. While the peak horsepower (350) remains the same, the curve has changed to deliver more of that power at typical towing speeds. We all know that the Cummins has great potential power and torque. The new output allows for a maximum trailer weight of 22,700 pounds, with a GCVWR of 30,000 pounds for duallys with the Max Tow package—and that’s scratching at the territory where you need a CDL. The new engine comes with an upgraded torque converter and a new vibration damper, but is offered only on auto-transmission models. Ram touts the lack of a diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) system on the 6.7L, which meets current missions requirements without it. Though it wasn’t news, the new-for-2011 Outdoorsman and Laramie Longhorn models were highlighted at Chicago. The Laramie Longhorn is staggering in its presentation and can go toe-to-toe with Ford's King Ranch or GMC's Denali for full-boat luxury features.
Call of Duty: Mo Mopar
Mopar teamed up with the folks at Activision, producers of the “Call of Duty: Black Ops” video game, to produce the Call of Duty Jeep. It started life as a Rubicon model, and was loaded up with all of the goodies from Mopar’s Jeep catalog.
Back in “The Day”
When this Ford Model-T Speedster was used, everybody driving a motor vehicle was an off-roader because only one percent or so of the nation’s roads were paved, and the super-light Model-T was the “jeep” of its day. The Model-T Club of America had a display of vintage Model-T and Model-A Fords, unfortunately none with a period Livingood 4x4 conversion.
Show in Motion
There were a number of action scenes at the show—besides cars and pretty women spinning endlessly on carousels—three of which are of interest to wheelers. Toyota has had a travelling road show for quite a while, but for the indoor venue set up a construction site theme. Ford set up a teeter-totter, but if the professional drivers could balance the thing, they didn’t prove it (despite catcalls from an audience of journalists). Jeep’s course had the most derring-do and showed some of the finer elements in wheeling and how Jeeps can handle them. Most of the stuff wasn’t in any way challenging to an experienced driver, even if they had let visitors drive, but it was something other than a static display. That Ford teeter-totter would probably provide the most challenge to wheelers. It looked just about impossible.
The Chicago show has long been known for highlighting the latest commercial outfits and goodies. This Ford F-550 4x4 was probably better put to use helping out during Chicagoland’s recent blizzard. The big Ram 3500 dually flatbed looks ready to haul a big load of swag home. The Chevy crew cab 4x4 3500 with a utility body can haul the swag, plus six buddies.