Hybrids On The Way
Toyota believes in the hybrid gas/electric powerplant in a big way. Very big. Right now it sells only one hybrid model in the U.S.-the Prius compact car-but by 2015 the company plans to have gas/electric versions of all of its vehicles. That's right. All of them.
"Hybrids are our core technology for the solution of environmental problems," said Masatami Takimoto, Toyota's managing director for engine engineering at a conference in Detroit. That means the fuel-efficient, clean-burning motivation will be used throughout the line, from sports cars to SUVs.
It will have to be, to meet the aggressive goals set by Fujio Cho, president of Toyota in Japan. He wants to sell 300,000 hybrid vehicles worldwide by 2005, including a bunch here in the U.S. No one at Toyota will confirm which vehicles are next in line to receive a hybrid powerplant, but a report in the Chicago Tribune said the next-generation Lexus RX300 is a likely candidate.
Of course, Toyota isn't the only maker exploring the hybrid option. Ford has plans to sell a hybrid Escape SUV by the end of this year, and Dodge is on track to apply some sort of gas/electric powerplant to the Dakota and/or Durango.
Why do hybrid propulsion systems look so good to the auto and truck makers? They use existing technology for one thing, which makes them far more feasible in the short term than other alternative fuel systems (like hydrogen-based fuel cells, which always seem to be "5 to 10 years away"). They also fit well within our current automotive infrastructure. Half of the system is the good ol' gas-powered internal combustion engine. The other half is run by electric batteries that are self-charging, so there's never a need to plug into a charging station as full electric vehicles must do. Yet even though hybrids still use fossil fuels and emit pollutants, they do so at rates far below conventional gasoline engines, so they can be used to meet ever-stricter emissions and fuel economy standards.
Tractech Ships Electric Locker
Heard about the new electric locker from Tractech? The unit, called the Detroit Electrac, operates as either a helical-gear, Truetrac-like limited slip or a fully locked differential, depending on which mode the driver has selected. The shift from LSD to locker happens at the push of a button. A shift fork engages a trigger ring to either lock or unlock the unit.
The first Detroit Electrac lockers, for Dana 44 axles, hit dealer shelves in late 2002. The next application, for Dana 60s, should also be available at your favorite drivetrain supply house by the time you read this.
This Just In...
*The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California has ruled that Suzuki can proceed with a jury trial against the Consumers Union for its defamation of the Samurai. Remember? Consumer Reports tested the mini-ute in 1988 and said it was prone to rolling over. Sales plummeted, Suzuki nearly went belly-up, and the maker moved to sue the organization for what it saw as an invalid test. The lawsuit has been tied up in red tape for years, and it may still be, as CU has asked for a rehearing of the judgment. Can you say "moot point"?
*Ford has again delayed the redesign of the Ranger, says Automotive News. Originally slated for next year, the re-do may now come as late as 2008, as Ford is looking for any way possible to staunch the flow of red ink draining from the Blue Oval. GM and Dodge, on the other hand, plan to introduce all-new midsize pickups in 2004, which could infringe on sales of an outdated Ranger.
*Ford's mighty 6.0L Power Stroke diesel is available only on heavy-duty trucks, but a V-6 version of that engine may come to the light-duty side of the house in a couple of years. Details of the new motor haven't been released, but it will be manufactured by International Truck and Engine Corp., the supplier of the new Power Stroke.
*Goodyear has a winner on its hands with the Wrangler MT/R. Sales of the rugged tire are up 35 percent compared to last year-and last year's sales were 47 percent higher than the year before. Goodyear says the tire's popularity among rockcrawl competitors is the reason for its success.
*New product briefs as reported by Automotive News: The Ford F-150 is slated for a redesign next year, while the Super Duty will get its new look in 2006-a look derived from Ford's Tonka concept truck. In the GM camp, the Tahoe, Suburban, and Silverado will be redone for 2008, while a truck version of the Hummer H2 is "likely" for 2005. Honda may add to its linepu a midsize SUV with a small truck bed-think Explorer Sport Trac. Lexus may replace the Land Cruiser-based LX 470 with a gussied-up version of the Sequoia. Speaking of which, Toyota may add a more powerful engine to its biggest SUV during a mid-cycle revamp in 2006. Tacoma gets redesigned next year; Tundra in 2007, when it will get a true four-door crew cab. A 1-ton Tundra may appear as early as next year. Finally, Nissan will have an F-150-sized pickup late this year and a big SUV, based on the same platform, in 2004.
*Speaking of H2, Arnold Schwarzenegger got one for his 55th birthday from AM General and GM. He "unwrapped" the present at the Hummer Homecoming this summer in South Bend, Indiana.
*Apparently the safety worries about the Ford Explorer are over. FoMoCo announced that August 2002 was the best sales month in the vehicle's history, with more than 51,000 Explorers finding new homes that month. That represents a 33-percent increase over August 2001
*According to Jeep, some 560 of the first 4,000 orders for the Wrangler Rubicon came from registered players of the Evo2 online video game, which featured the new Jeep model. The game could be played through Jeep's Web site last spring and summer, and it was the only place (other than the Web site itself) where the company advertised the Rubicon prior to its August launch.
Win This Jeep!The California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs (Cal4Wheel) will be giving away this brand-new '02 Jeep TJ at its annual convention in Ontario, California, February 8. David Douglas, the association's president, says the Jeep will be "totally equipped with every conceivable aftermarket product." Well, we don't see stick-on flames or 20-inch rims, but we'll forgive Douglas for the exaggeration since he was probably pretty excited about the whole deal when he blurted out his quote. The parts actually on the Jeep include a 211/42-inch lift kit, front and rear air lockers, a Pro Rock 60 high-pinion rear axle, a custom-built rollcage, and an underhood welder.
Depending on when you read this, there may still be time to enter the drawing. Tickets cost $2 each, and you can get them by visiting www.cal4wheel.com and clicking on the Sweepstakes link. Good luck!
Ford Adds New SUV In 2004Ford dealers at a Las Vegas meeting last October previewed a crossover SUV, the Freestyle, that will join the Blue Oval lineup in 2004. The project, first code-named "CrossTrainer," was originally announced at last year's Chicago Auto Show.
The Freestyle will share its platform with Ford's Five Hundred sedan, also scheduled to debut in 2004, and will accommodate up to seven passengers in three rows of seats. No powertrain details have been released, except that the Freestyle will be available in AWD and 4WD versions.
Ford considers Freestyle a "breakthrough vehicle," as it "combines the best attributes of a sedan with the versatility of a sport/utility vehicle," says the maker. "Freestyle is a great name for this vehicle because it doesn't follow any existing automotive paradigm," said Steve Lyons, Ford Division president, at the SUV's unveiling in Vegas.
That's funny. We thought all the crossover SUVs were sedan/SUV combos. Silly us.
Coolest Reading PlacesThere is so much cool stuff going on here we don't know where to start. First, the obvious: Harold and Theresa Sturges are reading their favorite off-road mag "at the sign on the Alaska Pipeline (Dalton) Highway marking the Arctic Circle," wrote Harold. "While the photos were taken in mid-July and the weather was very pleasant, there probably are few places any cooler than this six months either way from that date." Like right about now, for instance.
Sturges' name may sound familiar, and it should. He originated the Ready Air underhood compressor system. He told us he sold the business back in 1995 and is enjoying his retirement at 79 years young.
And then there's Sturges' rig. His Duramax diesel-powered pickup (with the "MR 4WD" license plate) is towing a 31-foot travel trailer that was custom-built for trips to Baja California, "which is about right for much of northern Canada and Alaska," he said. "It weighs 6 tons when ready to go on a trip, carrying enough water and other supplies that we can have a hot shower every night while dry camping for two weeks without any outside input. It has full air suspension-no springs-a 4,000-watt generator, and a 27-gallon gasoline tank which has an auxiliary pump to fuel my quad. All 10 wheels and tires on the truck and trailer are the same for full interchangeability. The trailer is just now 3 years old and has been to Central America, La Paz in Baja, around Lake Superior in Canada, to the Arctic Circle, and on many nearby desert and beach trips."
May we'll all live to have this much fun.
NHTSA Upgrades Grand Cherokee InvestigationDo you own a '97 Grand Cherokee? Ever had a problem with the hood flying open unexpectedly? If you have, the feds want to talk to you.
Apparently the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been checking into reports of just this kind and found that 19 people complained of unexpected hood-opening incidents. No accidents or injuries were reported as a result of the errant hoods, but the complaints were enough for the agency to "step up" its investigation, which means it has moved from the "preliminary inquiry" phase to actually checking vehicle parts for a defect.
The vehicles covered in the inquiry include Grands made from 1996 to 1998, but the NHTSA found that most complaints and insurance claims centered on the '97 model.
That's 19 people out of a total of 262,135 Grand Cherokees made during those years. You don't suppose less than 0.01 percent of those owners were just not latching their hoods correctly, do you? Log onto www.nhtsa.com for all sorts of recall information.
'03 Jeep Jamboree Schedule AvailableIt's never too early to plan ahead. The 2003 schedule of Jeep Jamborees is available on the Jeep Jamboree USA Web site, www.jeepjamboreeusa.com. Or if your computer isn't handy, give the folks in Georgetown a call at 530/333-4777 to get your 2003 guidebook.
There will be 36 Jambos this year, including three new events: a fall run in the Ozark Mountains, an Iron Range Jambo in Minnesota, and a Red Rock Canyon run outside of Las Vegas. Plus, the Hole in the Rock and Ouachita Jamborees are back on the schedule. Don't miss out!
Calendar Of EventsFeb. 7-9 California Association of Four Wheel Drive Clubs Convention 2003, Ontario Airport Marriott, Ontario, CA. Information: 800/4X4-FUNN, www.cal4wheel.com
Feb. 7-9 Best in the Desert Blue Water Resort & Casino Parker 425 off-road race, Parker, AZ. Information: 702/457-5775, www.bitd.com
Feb. 15 4x4 Quest Off-Road Drivers Education and Training, Hungry Valley SRVA, Gorman, CA. Information: 818/705-3930, www.4x4quest.com
Feb. 22-23 30th Anniversary Sand Drags & Mud Bog, by the West Texas Outlaws Off-Road Club, Amarillo, TX. Information: 806/383-0239, www.westtexasoutlaws.com
Feb. 28-Mar. 2 10th Annual YO Ranch Jeep Jamboree, Mountain Home, TX. Information: 530/333-4777, www.jeepjamboreeusa.com
Note To EventOrganizers: We need your 2003 listings! If you are planning any sort of four-wheeling event, from trail rides and club runs to races and rockcrawls, send us the scoop so we can run it in our calendar. Please submit the event name, date, location, and contact information (phone number, Web site) to Calendar of Events, 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine, 6420 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, our print deadlines are three months ahead of time, so send the notices asap!
New H2 Suspension SystemThose 35s under your new H2 just not tall enough? Rancho Suspension has a system that'll let you run 37s under that new Hummer. The system includes a one-piece, MIG-welded subframe with tubular subframe braces, CNC-machined cast-nodular-iron knuckles, a torsion-bar crossmember and front differential crossmember drop brackets, extended front and rear swaybar links, and either extended-rate progressive coil springs or aluminum spacers for the rear air springs.
The only drawback is that to fit the 37s you'll have to swap out wheels; Rancho used 17x10 wheels with 5 inches of backspacing instead of the stock rims to make it all fit.
The systems will be made in limited numbers, says Rancho, with either black or red finishes. For more info, check out www.gorancho.com.
Honda Pilot Earns RavesHonda's new Pilot SUV and its upscale cousin, the Acura MDX, recently earned five-star safety ratings from the NHTSA for the driver and the front- and rear-seat passengers in both front and side crash tests. They are the first midsize SUVs to earn such high marks in the crash-test program. (Honda's CR-V compact SUV was also awarded the five-star rating in NHTSA crash testing.)
On the heels of that good news came a press release from Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, saying the Pilot had earned an "excellent" rating in a recent comparison test of four eight-passenger SUVs. In doing so the Pilot became the magazine's highest-rated midsize SUV, unseating the Toyota Highlander for the top spot.
Advance Adapters Sells Crate MotorsWell-known for its transmission and transfer-case adapter kits, as well as its low-geared Atlas transfer cases, Advance Adapters is now selling engines. Turnkey GM Vortec engines, to be exact. They are 49-state-compliant motors that include a stand-alone computer and wiring harness. "Introductory" prices range from $4,690 for the 300hp, 300 lb-ft Vortec 4800 to $6,255 for the 390hp, 380 lb-ft Vortec 5700.
While we're on the subject of Advance Adapters' new products, the company has introduced a twin-stick upgrade for Land Cruisers, which allows the Toyota to be shifted into 2WD low without engaging the front axle. Designed for the new Rock Box 3.44:1-geared transfer case, the sticks should also work with AA's entire adapter line.
But that's not all. AA has also developed new V-8 engine mounts for '97-'02 TJs. Mounts for GM V-8s bolt in, while Dodge V-8 mounts are of the weld-in variety. More information is available on the company's Web site (www.advanceadapters.com).
Environmental & Political Watch*We don't often hear about a company working to combat noise pollution. But exhaust manufacturer FMF is doing just that with the introduction of its Q exhaust systems for dirt bikes. Billed as "the world's first two-stroke off-road silencers and four-stroke off-road mufflers that combine strong performance while minimizing noise output," the Q systems were designed to meet California's 2003 96-dB noise limit. In addition, FMF is teaming up with the land-use advocate Blue Ribbon Coalition (BRC) to educate off-road riders about the new laws. Don Emler, FMF's owner and president, said, "[We are] very happy to support the BRC in this program. By offering a quiet performance exhaust system and joining forces with the BRC, we expect an awareness and willingness by the riding public that will only benefit us all to keep areas open for motorized recreational use." Or, as the BRC's Don Amador put it, "Less sound equals more ground."
*Ever wonder why your fuel economy is so different from the mileage figures quoted by the EPA? The lab's testing procedures haven't changed in decades, says the Chicago Tribune, which may lead to the agency overstating fuel economy figures. For example, the EPA's highway test cycle simulates 48 mph, though posted speed limits across the U.S. have risen to 65 or even 75 mph. On the other hand, the EPA's city test cycle simulates a constant 20 mph, which most gridlocked urban drivers these days would kill to reach. Plus, the EPA testing is done on a chassis dynamometer, not on real roads, so a computer is calculating variables like climate conditions and the tires' rolling resistance. The agency did institute correction factors for its numbers-10 percent for city driving, 22 for highway-but that was back in 1985.