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May 2006 Drivelines - 4x4 News

Posted in Features on May 1, 2006
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Wild and wacky concept trucks were hard to find at the new year's auto shows. Only Ford brought a "what if" styling and engineering exercise to the party; every other truck debut was for a production model or one that was soon-to-be. That's not to say the auto show offerings weren't significant, but for those of us who like our show trucks a little more "out there," for the most part these weren't.

Ford's concept 4WD pickup, named for the famous Super Chief trains, was a mind-blower. If the carved-from-solid-billet looks didn't grab you, the powertrain certainly would. Talk about flex fuel: The 6.8L supercharged V-10 can run on hydrogen, E85, or gasoline, though the 'charger only works when hydrogen is fueling the motor. Hydrogen's energy content is somewhat lower than gasoline, so in that mode the engine produces 280 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, compared to 310/425 when using gas or E85. Hydrogen is definitely the "greener" way to go, though; when burning hydrogen, the truck turns in 12 percent better fuel economy on an "energy-equivalent basis versus a non-supercharged gasoline V-10," says Ford, and produces 99 percent fewer carbon dioxide emissions. In a way, the tri-fuel engine is a neat answer to the Catch-22 of hydrogen as an alternative fuel. Until hydrogen filling stations become more plentiful, drivers can use gasoline or the E85 gas/ethanol blend to get around. About the Super Chief's styling, Ford says it "projects the next level of rugged elegance for fullsize pickups."

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General Motors showed off its new-generation fullsize SUVs in both Los Angeles and Detroit, introducing the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, and the GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, to two huge potential markets. All of the new SUVs are built on a brand-new platform that features a fully boxed frame, wider track widths than previous models, and coilover front suspensions. When they go on sale-the short-wheelbase versions in the first quarter of 2006, the longer ones (pictured here) in the second quarter-the SUVs will be powered by a new version of the Vortec 5.3L V-8 equipped with GM's Active Fuel Management displacement-on-demand technology. Initial fuel economy testing of a 4WD Tahoe with the new engine turned in a combined rating of 20.5 mpg, the best of any fullsize SUV, says Chevy. Later in the model year, a 6.0L V-8 with the cylinder deactivation feature will be available for Suburban and Yukon XL.

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Yes, we know Editor Rick Pw gave you the full scoop in last month's issue. But we couldn't resist showing you this photo of the new Jeep "crashing" the party at the Detroit show. Scant seconds after its press conference unveiling, the Jeep drove off the stage with Tom LaSorda, the Chrysler Group's president and CEO, inside. It motored through Cobo Hall, blasted out a plate-glass window, and then scaled "Jeep Mountain," a man-made obstacle set up outside the convention hall. Oldtimers will probably recall that Jeep staged a similar window-crashing stunt for the original Grand Cherokee's debut.

Elsewhere in this issue we talk about the clean diesel fuel that'll hit the market in the fall. DaimlerChrysler chose the Detroit show to debut the first vehicle to take full advantage of clean diesel and the powertrain technology that comes with it. DC claimed its Bluetec Grand has the "cleanest diesel powertrain in its class" thanks to "completely modern, efficient diesel engines" (this Jeep had a European 3.0L diesel under the hood) plus particulate traps and NOx- scrubbing catalytic converters. Though the maker demonstrated the new diesel componentry on a Grand Cherokee, the same technology will be shared with other brands in the company.

We told you about this truck in last month's article on hybrid technology; Chevrolet showed it to the public for the first time at the Detroit show. "Dual-mode" refers to two different operating parameters for the gas/electric hybrid-one for low speeds and stop-and-go traffic, another for highway cruising. When combined with GM's Active Fuel Management system, the truck should deliver a 25 percent fuel economy improvement. Chevrolet and GMC versions will go on sale in 2007 as '08 models.

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Want to buy an H3 accessorized by the factory? Check out the special "x" model. Starting with an H3 upfitted with the Luxury package, Hummer adds chrome tube steps; a chrome appearance package; a body-color grille and spare tire cover; unique tires, wheels, and center cap; and a brushguard. Look for the x in late summer.


The Compass is Jeep's first FWD-based product, an SUV that'll drive more like a small car and, as such, attract a whole new type of buyer to Jeep. At least that's what DaimlerChrysler hopes. Purists will be glad to see that it still has an available 4WD system, though it's more suited for inclement-weather duty than off-roading. Power comes from Chrysler's new World Engine, a 2.4L, 172hp four-banger. A five-speed manual trans is standard; a continuously variable automatic is optional. The Compass goes on sale in summer 2006.

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Not your typical double-wide, the PAD is an "urban loft with mobility," say its designers. And no, the PAD won't go on sale next year; it's on paper only, a design study from GM's West Coast Advanced Design Studio and the winner of this year's Design Challenge at the L.A. Auto Show. Were it to come to fruition, the PAD would be equipped with a diesel/electric hybrid system that propels the vehicle when in DriveMode and serves as a power grid for LifeMode. It'll need the power: on board are Direct TV, On Star, XM satellite radio, and a Wi-Fi Internet hookup, all constantly on. Why commute to work when you can already be there in the PAD?

Watch out, International CXT. You've got some company in the megapickup world. Monroe Truck Equipment modified this medium-duty Kodiak for the Detroit auto show with a "super luxury exterior finish" in White Diamond Pearlcoat, a raft of stainless steel accessories, and a DVD/navigation system mated to some thumpin' speakers. Monroe figures the whole rig is worth some $120,000 and is fielding "serious inquiries only" for this show truck. But it will donate a portion of the selling price to the buyer's charity of choice.

Need to swaddle six of your closest friends in Teutonic luxury as you travel the outback? Then Mercedes' big GL-Class SUV is for you. The GL is a tad longer than a Chevy Tahoe, a bit shorter than a Ford Expedition, and not as tall or as wide as either, but close. Across the pond they'll be able to choose between two diesel and two petrol engines; here we'll probably just get the two gas V-8s. The GL rides on an Airmatic automatic leveling air suspension, disperses traction via a 4Matic fulltime 4WD system, and is available in an Off Road Pro options package that includes low-range transfer-case gearing, center and rear diff locks, modifications to the air suspension to give it more clearance, and "underguards," which we think are skidplates.

Robby Gordon's effort to win the grueling Dakar Rally came to a premature end during the race's seventh stage, when he crashed his specially prepared Hummer H3 into a clump of camel grass hidden behind a huge sand dune in North Africa. Apparently grass over there is stouter stuff than here; the foliage, hard-packed with sand, pushed the Hummer's front bumper bar through the grille and nearly destroyed the radiator. Gordon and navigator Darren Skilton tried to fix the cooler, but heat generated when they tried to extricate the Hummer from its hole in the sand blew apart their repairs.

Until then Gordon had been running well, especially considering this was his first effort as a team owner, and that he was competing in a brand-new race truck. Despite some mechanical setbacks, there were times he was running in the top 10 and finished one stage in Fifth Place overall.

Last we heard, the team, sponsored by Hummer, Toyo Tires, and Jim Beam, was shipping the race truck back to the States so Gordon and his crew could perform repairs before he runs it in the Baja 500 in June.

Industry trade journal Automotive News recently reported on a huge amount of trouble Ford's Power Stroke diesel engine has created for some owners of '03 and '04 F-Series trucks. Apparently the company has been sued nearly 60 times and has received in the order of 12,000 consumer complaints stemming from problems with the engine's fuel system, turbocharger, and other issues. Ford has issued 77 technical service bulletins to address the problems; by comparison, there have been eight TSBs issued for GM's Duramax over the same period, and none for the Cummins used in Dodge trucks.

* When we got our first look at the new FJ Cruiser, Toyota said its price target was around $22,000 for a "nicely equipped" model. We hoped that would be true but were skeptical, given the new SUV's quality and high level of appointments. Well, guess what. When it comes out this spring, pricing for the FJ Cruiser 4x4 with a six-speed manual will start at $22,890, while the automatic version will start at $23,300. Let's hope dealers keep gouging to a minimum.

* If you just gotta have a seven-passenger Isuzu Ascender, better get one quick: GM discontinued making the TrailBlazer-derived SUV when it closed its Oklahoma City plant in February. That leaves Isuzu with only three vehicles on sale in the U.S.-the five-passenger Ascender and two pickups, the i280 and i350, both derivatives of the Chevy Colorado.

* We hear from SEMA that an entirely new tire technology utilizing polyurethane instead of rubber has been developed by Amerityre. A polyurethane tire has many advantages over rubber, says the company: It runs cooler, has less rolling resistance, and is safer because it is all of one piece and can't separate like a traditional tire can when it fails. The tire is also cheaper and faster to make. "We are not going to compete with rubber; we are going to replace it," says Amerityre's sales and marketing manager Craig Hooks.

* Hella will begin marketing new aftermarket taillamp kits that feature a combination of Hella's Central Lighting Systems (CELIS) and LED technology. They'll first be introduced for '03-and-later Chevrolet Silverados and '04-and-later Ford F-150s. Similar kits for SUVs will be introduced later this year. LEDs use less power, last longer, and come on quicker than traditional incandescent lights.

SEMA's Washington watchdogs report the OHV community, land developers, and environmental groups are gearing up for a debate this year over the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) have introduced legislation that would give states greater authority under the ESA and add new incentives for conservation efforts. Known as the Collaboration for the Recovery of the Endangered Species Act (CRESA), the bill (S. 2110) allows states to enter into cooperative agreements with the federal government for the development of state-run programs to conserve endangered and threatened species. The bill would also allow federal officials more time to make listing decisions and propose critical habitat for species. SEMA has made passage of the ESA reform bill a legislative priority. Since it was enacted in 1973, the law has eliminated access to millions of acres of land, including many roads and trails responsibly enjoyed by OHV enthusiasts, while providing little benefit for species. SEMA has urged lawmakers to revise the existing law to meet its goal of species preservation without unnecessarily depriving the OHV community of recreational opportunities.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the EPA may finally be altering its fuel economy tests to better reflect the mileage drivers can achieve in the real world. If the proposed changes go through, tests beginning for '08 model-year vehicles will include simulations of high-speed driving, rapid acceleration, and stop-and-go driving in heavy traffic. The new tests would also consider conditions like cold-weather starts and air conditioning use and how they affect fuel economy. Should the new tests be implemented, expect to see highway fuel economy numbers drop by 20 percent and city numbers by 15, says the Times.

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