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April 2006 Drivelines - 4x4 News

Posted in Features on April 1, 2006
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It was a wheeling wonderland! Dunlop's Off Road Camp, held in Dieskau, Germany, last November, gave six U.S. competitors the opportunity to motor on both two wheels and four in an event that seeks to find the best amateur drivers in Europe and the U.S.

Started in 1999 in Germany, the Off Road Camp hosted U.S. teams for the first time, following national selections held in Phoenix. Proceeding to the Dunlop Driver's Cup finals, to be held in California in March, are Discount Tire store managers Jim McCauley of Las Vegas and Albert Andrade of Upland, California; Brad Sutika, an ad agency executive for J. Walter Thompson from Farmington Hills, Michigan; and Wallace Hattanhauer, an SBC telephone company engineer from Little Rock, Arkansas.

The finals, which will take place in a variety of Southern California locations over the course of a week, will pit drivers in events that include 4WD, ATV, motocross, racetrack, and autocross.
-Sue Mead

Review: Driven by a Dream, Mark A. Smith's Journal, by Mark A. Smith, 352 pages, hardbound, published by Mark A. Smith

Jeep Jamboree founder, world explorer, off-roading consultant, environmentalist; Mark Smith has accomplished a tremendous amount during his lifetime, and this large-format chronicle of his life and adventures is a fascinating read. "Journal" is an apt description of this book. Reading it is like having a conversation with Mark while he shares photos from his own scrapbook. As you'd expect, entire chapters are devoted to the story of the Rubicon Trail and its impact on his life, as well as his "ultimate adventure" crossing the Darien Gap in South America. What's unexpected are the smaller details that Mark recounts with as much enthusiasm: being robbed at gunpoint in Panama, favorite trail-side recipes, and even photos of the storied Jeep tattoo on his bum.

PhotosView Slideshow

Copies of Mark's book are available for $49.95 from the Jeep Jamboree USA Web site ( Just click on the "gear" button on the home page.

Did you know that Thailand is the largest market for pickup trucks outside of the U.S.? Neither did we, but it explains why Ford would develop products specifically for Thai drivers. This is the 4-Trac pickup concept, recently unveiled at the Thailand International Motor Expo in Bangkok. Unfortunately, the overseas press material was light on technical details, saying only that it offers "true off-road capability, rugged features, and durable aluminum surfaces." Look closely at the photo, though, and you can see a winch hidden under the three-bar grille as well as very prominent tow loops in the front bumper. One interesting design detail not visible: the two-piece tailgate that can be used as "either a seat or ramp."

An era has passed. Citing a scarcity of good, salvageable units, Currie Enterprises has stopped tearing down and rebuilding 9-inch rearends. Since beginning operations in 1967, Currie estimates it has rebuilt more than 300,000 of the venerable 9-inch diffs, maintaining an inventory that was stacked 12-feet high and covered two acres at its Anaheim facility. At its peak, the company would disassemble, clean, and rebuild the Ford pumpkins at a rate of 55 per day. Currie customers who want the flexibility and reliability of a 9-inch can still get it in the form of the company's own 9-Plus rearend products.

For the fourth year in a row, the Chrysler 5.7L Hemi has landed on the Ward's AutoWorld list of 10 Best Engines. You've probably read and heard enough about how great the Hemi is, but here's a factoid you may not know: the "take rates" (percent of vehicles ordered with the engine) of vehicles offered with the Hemi. The Durango and Ram pickup lead the way on the truck side with 50 and 49 percent, respectively. Jeep owners aren't as enamored; Commander and Grand Cherokee take rates are 27 and 19 percent, respectively.

Four local heroes-culled from some 2,500 nominations-have won the grand prize in the nationwide Jeep Heroes program. Jeep initiated the effort to honor military, police, fire, and emergency medical services personnel who "deliver exemplary, unique, and heroic service to improve the quality of life in cities and towns across America," said the company.

The grand prize winners (who receive either a Jeep Commander or Grand Cherokee Laredo) are (from left): Bud Brinkerhoff from Placitas, New Mexico, a firefighter who spends time teaching fire safety to kids in addition to responding to more than 50 percent of the city's 400-plus calls per year; J.C. Dodd from Applegate, California, a California Highway Patrol search-and-rescue helicopter pilot; Cindy Gibson of Star Prairie, Wisconsin, a volunteer first responder and emergency medical technician for more than 20 years; and Vera Harris from Denton, Texas, who recently returned from 15 months of service in Iraq as a Commander Sergeant Major in the Army.

State and CHP regulations prohibit Dodd from accepting the vehicle, unfortunately, so he is instead donating his prize to charity. Always a hero.

DuPont has released its annual survey of the most popular vehicular colors, and bland rules the day again. Silver, white, and gray are the leading hues among all vehicles, including light trucks and SUVs, with brighter colors trailing behind. DuPont's press release claims "a trend toward mass personalization is upon us as a growing number of vehicle buyers indulge an increasing appetite for true color," but that's not how we read the chart.

By now you've no doubt heard about the tough times GM is going through, with talk of plant closures and massive layoffs. The difficulties were bound to affect GM's products as well, and here's the first casualty: An extensive revamp of the midsize Chevy TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy, originally scheduled for the middle of 2007, has been cancelled, according to Automotive News. Instead, the maker will probably restyle the truck's exterior and interior and introduce the face-lifted versions in 2008, says the trade journal. As of this writing the stretched versions of the twins won't stay in the model mix, as the Oklahoma plant that makes those models will have been shut down by the time you read this.

If you're looking to save money at the fuel pump but you're not convinced that hybrids or diesel are the answer, you may want to check into E85. That's a fuel made up of 85 percent ethyl alcohol-which comes from corn, wheat, barley, sugar cane, or beets and potatoes-and 15 percent gasoline. GM makes E85-compatible Vortec 5300 V-8s and has put them in a number of trucks, including the upcoming '07 Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon. According to a report forwarded to us by SEMA, using E85 fuel could help consumers cut fossil fuel consumption by more than three-quarters. On the downside, though, is the fact that there are only about 500 E85 stations in the United States.

Audi may be the first of the European vehicle makers to offer a hybrid SUV. Audi's Q7-which shares a platform with the VW Touareg and Porsche Cayenne-will go on sale later this year, with a hybrid version to follow in 2008. According to Automotive News, that would beat the BMW Two-Mode SUV System under development, which is expected to debut closer to the end of the decade. Porsche is considering putting a hybrid powertrain on board the Cayenne, but is concerned about weight (the hybrid system would add more than 400 pounds) and battery life.

Here is SSG Jerry Johnson (holding mag), SPC John Houtz, SSG Chad Nagel, and SGT James Fenstermaker hanging out on a rooftop observation post in Ramadi, reading our favorite mag. SPC Houtz mans the Mark 19 40mm grenade launcher for security.
Respectfully submitted,
SSG Jerry Johnson

Name game: GM has trademarked the phrase "Active Fuel Management" for its displacement-on-demand technology, which deactivates cylinders under light loads to improve fuel economy. The term will come into use when the system arrives on '07 trucks and SUVs, including the redesigned Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon. DaimlerChrysler's cylinder-deactivation technology is called the Multi-Displacement System (MDS).

Reports out of Japan indicate Honda, Nissan, and Toyota will develop diesel engines for their large pickups and SUVs. None of the companies would confirm specifics, says Automotive News, but all three are either "studying" the idea or "developing" the technology.

For the third consecutive year, the Texas Auto Writers Association has given its Truck of Texas award to the Ford F-Series. This year the '06 Super Duty got the nod for its "aggressive visual stance and take-it-to-the-ranch capability," said the Lone Star State scribes. The Lexus RX 400h captured the association's top SUV award.

As gas prices started to drop in late 2005, truck sales felt a corresponding lift, according to SEMA. Light-duty truck sales in November were up 7 percent over the previous month, though they were still down 8.5 percent when compared to November 2004.

Speaking of gas prices, because of the recent spikes, truck buyers are paying more attention to EPA fuel economy ratings-and noticing more and more that they bear little resemblance to actual mileage. The EPA is aware of this, too, and is looking to change its test procedures. Says the Washington Post, the proposed tests will consider faster driving, more idling in traffic, and more abrupt acceleration and braking in its parameters. This won't happen overnight, though; the agency has to propose the new procedures, then wait for "public comment"-from automakers, probably-before anything can be approved. The whole process could take years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will consider removing the Peirson's milk-vetch plant from the Endangered Species list. The plant, which is found only in portions of the Algodones Dunes in California's Imperial Valley, has been at the center of legal battles for a number of years. The Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area is managed by the BLM and is a popular destination for OHV recreation. Access to large portions of the 160,000-acre site has been restricted in order to protect the plant. The American Sand Association, the Off-Road Business Association, and other OHV groups have repeatedly questioned the government's contention that the plant is threatened by OHV activity, or is even an endangered species. The groups initially petitioned to delist the Peirson's milk-vetch in 2001; however, the agency ruled that at the time the plant still warranted protection. In their most recent petition, the groups assert that four years of additional data collection show that there are more milk-vetch plants than in 2001 and that the plant's reproductive capacity is stable and strong enough to warrant delisting. The groups also cited a BLM report which stated that only an estimated 0.3 percent of the plants showed evidence of OHV damage. The FWS will initiate a yearlong status review, after which the agency could propose that the plant be delisted.

SEMA reports the National Park Service has released proposed changes to its management policies that regulate OHV use within the park system. The management policies serve as a virtual handbook for park superintendents and other park officials. The Park Service considered revising their policies after receiving criticism from Congressional Republicans who stated that it had shifted too far in favor of conservation, at the expense of public access. SEMA has urged Federal agencies not to adopt "one-size-fits-all" land access policies and allow for increased involvement by state and local officials and the off-road community in the decision making. In regards to OHV access, the proposed language closely mirrors existing policies in stating "routes and areas may be designated for off-road motor vehicle use by special regulation within national recreation areas, national seashores, national lakeshores, and national preserves, and then only when determined to be an appropriate use. Consistent with the executive orders and the Organic Act, park managers must immediately close a designated off-road vehicle route whenever the use is causing or will cause unacceptable impacts."

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