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March 2000 - Drivelines

Posted in Features on March 1, 2000
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Trucks Of The Future?
Every year companies, automakers, and journalists hit Vegas for the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) weeklong blowout. It's where concept vehicles and production models are revealed, and new products are unveiled. There were so many interesting and odd trucks this year that we had to give them their own shrine. Here's a sampling of what caused the biggest stir:

Chevy
S-10 Baja Crew Cab This 4x4 with four forward-opening doors is actually taller and wider than most S-10s, thanks in part to the ZR2 sport suspension, or Wide Stance Sport Performance. The bed is extendible via an Integrated Flexible Tailgate, and the rest of the truck features a new front stabilizer bar, Bilstein shocks, upgraded four-wheel discs with cross-drilled rotors, and 17-inch polished billet aluminum Budnik rims stuffed inside Goodyear Wranglers.

Baja graphics, body-colored door handles, a roof rack, and a custom rollbar are among the body notables, and other GM accessories rounding out the company plug are a tubular step bar, a soft tonneau cover, and a platform trailer hitch. A G.T. Styling fiberglass cowl-induction hood, Wabasto dual sunroofs, and a 4.3L V-6 hooked to a four-speed automatic tranny round out this show-only vehicle.

Tracker LT and ZR2 Both of these guys have new V-6 engines, but then the differences begin. The LT has an up-level trim that encompasses sports-side body cladding and side steps, and a unique Chevy Truck chrome grille that will actually see production. Leather seats also help define up-level. The ZR2, on the other hand, has an off-road package and GM bolt-ons: tubular brushguards, side steps, a rear-assist step, and off-road lights.

Blazer Xtreme Yes, this one has a lowered suspension, but we want you to have a well-rounded knowledge of all things Chevrolet. This Blazer is scheduled for production in the 2001 model year and has a custom grille, an Xtreme-style fascia, rocker-cladding, and fender flares. The front suspension has been snipped 211/42 inches, and the rear went down by 2. Also going under the knife were the factory roof rack and rear wiper, to help give viewers the illusion that this Chevy's really low. A Vortec V-6 resides beneath the sheetmetal.

Suburban Z71 Like last year's Tahoe, the new Suburban nabs a Z71 off-road package, including a body-colored grille center and surround, door handles, bumpers, and custom cladding. A skidplate is incorporated into the fascia, as are foglights and tow-hooks. The Sub also has a roof rack with rear-facing lights, wheel flares, and ground effects. Budnik 18x9 wheels and LT285/60R18 BFG Pronto T/As finalize the Z71 look.

Silverado Four-Door Extended Cab and Composite Box The big deal with this Bow Tie is the pickup box, which is a 611/42-foot fleetside, an option for Silverados in autumn 2000. The entire thing is made of composite materials. If you're into science, hold onto yourself: The box's fenders and outer tailgate panel are made of reinforced reaction injection-molded (RIM) materials, mainly polyurea with mica filler. That's the same stuff Corvettes have been made of for a long time, as well as Saturns and various parts of Camaros and Firebirds. The one-piece inner panel and the inside of the tailgate were made via a structural RIM and are a 50/50 mix of urethane and glass fiber. And the interiors of both the box and the tailgate were squirted with a splatter paint that provides UV protection and a pebbly surface.

Ford
Arctic Explorer Sport Trac This is meant for the extreme winter sports nut, which we'll break down for you. There's 18-inch, five-spoke Azev Type LS wheels, 285/60HR18 all-purpose tires, an all-composite cargo area, a lightweight aluminum tube roof rack with multifunctional, quick-release tie-down cleats, a step bar, running boards, and a 4.0L V-6. A first-aid kit is built in.

F-150 Scuba SuperCrew This self-contained sport truck is based on the F-series and the new SuperCrew four-door. Despite the claim by the VP of design, J Mays, that this is the "ultimate underwater adventure vehicle," we don't recommend booking it for your next Carnival Cruise. Its land-based water-inspired add-ons are 33x12.5R17 BFG tires made especially for maximum wet-surface performance, a weather-resistant neoprene interior, and running boards and step pads made of a marine-grade rubber that are said to withstand constant exposure to hard sea water. It's powered by the F-150 4.6L Triton V-8 and comes complete with all the gear you could possibly need for diving or fishing-an onboard compressor, an inflatable boat, a pull-out drawer for tanks and gear, and a drying rack.

Desert Excursion This one created quite a buzz-a pickup based on the Excursion SUV, featuring a 6.8L Triton V-10 mill that puts out a whopping 310 ponies. There's seating for six (on leather, no less), four fullsize doors, Trail Master shocks, skidplates, PIAA lights, a Ramsey winch, Haartz interior fabric, and Vritex mirrors. Bead lock rims, a steel bumper, and integrated steps were also added.

Miscellaneous
Jeep Woodster This one was built by Tim Dailey Automobile Coachworks Designs, with a few hands lended by Dick Cepek, Grant, IPF, Stockton Wheel, Tuff Country, and Wet Okole.

Dick Cepek and Fabtech Excursions There's no denying that the new Ford was the vehicle being built up. The Cepek model came with a custom 12-inch lift.

Ford F-750 This tow rig was the brainchild of Truck Creations by Verdone for Ford Racing. Dig it and those blue flames.

Skyjacker Jeep The modified Cherokee received most of its attention from dwellers lying beneath it-it sported the new Rock Ready 6-inch kit.

Campfire Talk
There is much denial going on by all parties about the possible purchase of a portion of Honda by DaimlerChrysler, despite a report in a German newspaper. The supposed coveted area of the company? Motorcycle engines, for DaimlerChrysler's Smart Car. But then we've also heard DaimlerChrysler wants a piece of Fiat and Peugeot. To pay off its debt, Mitsubishi has sold some of the pricey land used by its Tokyo plant, which makes light-duty trucks and industrial engines. Unfortunately, that's not enough-Mitsu is said to have had a $370 million loss for the six-month period that ended in September. Guess next month's rumor will be that DaimlerChrysler wants a chunk of that company too. Isuzu has let the Internet-savvy people out there name its newest concept SUV. It all began with the Isuzu Ultimate Naming Challenge. Isuzu is also in the news for being eyeballed by GM. The Automobile Association of America says gas prices are the highest they've been since September 1997. And that was before the recent price hikes in December.

DaimlerChrysler has stated that it will not have platform sharing like other manufacturers have been doing.

Daewoo will begin selling its vehicles directly on the Internet. Warner Bros. has bought a script called "Motor City," a murder mystery. The backdrop is Ford Motor Company's troubled and often-mocked Edsel launch.

An Illinois jury awarded State Farm Insurance policyholders $456 million in damages because they were forced to use less-expensive non-OE parts on their vehicles. State Farm is going to appeal.

A German supplier is developing a six-speed automatic transmission. For now, it's set for midsize and large cars.

DaimlerChrysler scientists have developed a computerized voice recognition system capable of understanding speech, regardless of accent or tone, and the content of entire sentences. Current systems are able to understand only words. The Mercedes C and E Class and CLK coupes already have similar systems. The Ford Ranger became the fastest-selling pickup in the U.K. since going on sale in 1999.

Hybrid Durango
Lower emissions and a 20-percent drop in gas consumption are two features of a new Dodge Durango that DaimlerChrysler is planning. It would have a hybrid powertrain, including an electric motor powered by lithium-ion batteries to turn the front wheels and a 3.9L gassed V-6 for the rear, but performance would be on a par with a V-8. DC says it would get 18.6 mpg versus the current 15.5 mpg.

The only catch? It would cost $3,000 more than the 5.9L V-8-equipped Durango that's available now. DC says it is hoping for passage of the Energy Efficient Technology Tax Act by Congress, which would give hybrid owners a $3,000 tax credit.

Political & Environmental Beat
*Illinois' EPA will soon propose a vehicle-scrappage program.

*Also in Illinois is a request from the governor to figure out how to eliminate the hassles of tollways, which are causing congestion. A nonprofit group introduced a No Tolls Action Kit, which is a campaign to convert tollways into freeways and eliminate the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority. The kit tells how to contact representatives and has preprinted postcards to send in. For info, call 630/4NO-TOLLS (466-8655).

*Ford has announced that it's the leading manufacturer of commercial electric vehicles in North America-its Ranger version is the most widely distributed on the continent.

*The European Commission has OK'd a plan to make carmakers (not consumers) pay for the recycling of every car on Europe's roads. If the parliament approves, all passenger cars registered from 2001 will have to be recycled, followed by all vehicles in 2006.

*The Journal of the American Medical Association says the results of a study it conducted found that 57 percent of unintentional deaths caused by carbon monoxide poisoning were from vehicle exhaust. Quantum Group Inc. has developed Costar, a CO sensor for vehicles that clips onto the sunvisor.

*The Sierra Club has decided that mountain bikes are just as dangerous to the environment as other OHVs. The club claims they're not viable forms of backcountry recreation because, among other things, they increase erosion and make it easier for people to get farther into the backcountry.

*The gas-powered 2000 Honda Accord is the first-ever "Super ultra-low emission" vehicle.

*Apparently a bunch of people from the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association and the Tire Association have created the Spare Tireless Working Group, which is drawing up guidelines for standard tires, in an effort to make it possible to eliminate the spare tire. They say that radial tires and other technology have made flats more rare, and skipping the spare would be good news for the environment, since there wouldn't be a need to destroy or recycle them.

*The EPA is proposing rules for tougher emissions regulations for the big ol' SUVs and passenger vans (over 8,500-pound gross vehicle weight), compared to those for cars and light trucks.

To voice your support of or objection to a cause, visit Congress.org, a Web site that will help you contact your state rep. You can also check out the Bureau of Land Management (www.blm.gov) for information on this land that's your land.

Lincoln Blackwood Pickup
Hey, we just realized we've been taunting you over the last year or so with stories of a concept coming from Lincoln based on its muy-popular Navigator sport/huge. How'd ya like to finally see what it looks like?

The concept is to mix the luxury of a sedan with the convenience of an SUV. Hmmm, the folks never mention the bonuses that come with having a pickup bed too, but then we guess that's obvious. It has four doors (one for every passenger!) and an enclosed 4-foot 8-inch box "that serves as a trunk." In our circle we might say it serves as a bed. That trunk/bed area is slathered in more than 20 square feet of dark, striated Wenge wood from central Africa, which is sealed with clear epoxy.

The hard top of the trunk/bed opens hydraulically to a 45-degree angle, and once it's lifted, the rear double-door tailgate can be opened to the sides, exposing a lighted trunk/bed. There are two storage compartments to boot.

The interior is mostly Navigator, with Wenge wood accenting the steering wheel and instrument panel. The buckets are leather-trimmed, and a GPS unit is in the floor-mounted console.

Under the hood is a 5.4L DOHC V-8, allowing the Blackwood to fall into the Class III trailer tow group. This particular concept made its appearance in lowered, two-wheel-drive form.

Did You KnowComerica Bank compiles a quarterly Auto Affordability Index, and it has discovered that vehicles are more affordable now than they've been in the last 20 years. Basically, your income is increasing, but vehicle pricing is not. It sure doesn't feel that way, does it?

Big Jeep NewsCould the Wrangler of the future be cheaper, weigh less, and even get better fuel economy? A new recyclable thermoplastic technology will be used on the Jeep's hardtops, possibly as soon as next year. It'll knock off about 23 pounds from the production version. This composite is lighter and cheaper than steel, and can even be used for doors, quarter-panels, and bumpers. An entire exterior made of this is not likely tomorrow or even the next day, but DaimlerChrylser may be on to a whole new way to make automobiles.

Before jumping into the future, DaimlerChrysler has a few things to work out with its existing line. Because thousands of Jeep owners have been bringing their new Grand Cherokees back to dealerships for warranty repairs as a result of a loud rear-axle sound at highway speeds, engineers have assembled a correction kit for the dealers, which includes a few metal pieces that will absorb the axle noise and prevent it from reverberating into the cabin. A Jeep quality-control official called it "conventional axle rumble," although in some cases it can be "imprecisely machined axle parts," making it seem louder.

The axles are said to be the same ones used on the previous generation, but with the all-new design and smoother engine, the noise is more apparent to '99-and-newer vehicles. Via computer, the axle design has now been refined so that everything fits a bit better for future assembly.

Is Nissan Going To Build A Fullsize Truck?A lot of stuff is up in the air at Nissan lately, but we're hearing that the concept sport/ute/pickup (SUT) based on the Frontier and Xterra is dead. Actually it has just sort of been left for dead. The suits would prefer the SUT be built on a larger platform, based on the...er, well, that's the problem. There isn't a fullsize Nissan pickup, nor is there a midsize. The goal for this larger platform and its offspring models is 2003. We have to contribute this to the great sales Toyota has found with its V-8-powered Tundra. By the way, has anyone seen a V-6-powered Tundra? They are available but it seems everyone buying a Tundra is doing the right thing.

An Industry First
Ever heard of the Ikon? Probably not, unless you're living in India. Ford is the first multinational company to create a car specifically for a country other than the United States. It was designed, engineered, and built specifically for India's consumers. The Ikon features a stiffer suspension to handle the country's roads, roomy backseats and additional vents, best-in-class headroom for turbans, and large door openings for women in saris. It's also 85-percent recyclable, making it quite environmentally friendly.

OK, But What's Going On In The Backseat?According to Farmer's Insurance Group of Los Angeles, its survey of American drivers revealed the following stats of how they passed the time to and from work:

Talked on the phone, 31%
Put on makeup, 19%
Changed clothes, 6%
Shaved, 5%

Oh, that's not all. One percent of the men surveyed claimed to also apply makeup, and two percent of women also admitted to shaving.

Solution To Road Rage?
State troopers in Colorado have launched a campaign to pull over slow-go drivers. Because they're holding up the flow of traffic. The Colorado State Patrol says the Sunday drivers will get a talking to and probably a ticket.

Built In...Thailand?
The country has announced that it wants to step up its role as one of the main producers of food and cars, among other ventures. It's currently a major player in the shrimp, rice, and electronic-component export business, and it wants to go more technology-based, including vehicles. In fact, Australia is currently where it gets the majority of its truck business.

What Were The Best Inventions Of The Last 1,000 Years?
Popular Science surveyed its readers with exactly that question, and the automobile made it to number six on the top 10 list. The TV was at the bottom, with electricity coming in first. The toilet/indoor plumbing was number three.

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