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December 2006 4x4 News - Drivelines

Posted in Features on December 1, 2006
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The premium interior is standard on Silverado LTZ (shown), Sierra SLT, and Sierra Denali. It features amenities like heated power seats, leather seating surfaces, and a distinct instrument panel.

After first releasing a fleet of SUVs based on the new GMT900 fullsize truck platform (Tahoe, Yukon, Suburban, Avalanche), GM finally unveiled the pickups that share those new underpinnings. The light-duty versions of the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra are rolling out in the last quarter of 2006; heavy-duty models will follow in early 2007.

GM considers these trucks "comprehensively redesigned," with new styling inside and out; extensive chassis revisions that include fully boxed framerails, wider track widths, and coilover front suspensions; and eight different powertrain combinations, ranging from a 4.3L, 195hp V-6, through no fewer than four 5.3L V-8s (iron- and aluminum-block versions of standard gas and E85-capable engines), to the 400hp, 6.2L V-8 that's exclusive to the Sierra Denali. GM claims its new trucks offer "more power and better fuel economy than the vehicles they replace," thanks to technology that includes Active Fuel Management, variable valve timing, and flex-fuel capability.

The new GM pickups offer a choice of two interiors. This is the "pure pickup" interior found in the base and mid-level trucks, like this Silverado LT.

The trucks are available in three cab styles-regular, extended, and crew-and three box lengths-short (5 feet 8 inches), standard (6 feet 6 inches), and long (8 feet). There are five different suspension systems to choose from, including the familiar Z71 off-road system, now with package-exclusive monotube shocks front and rear. Plus, there are two different interior designs: the work-oriented "pure pickup" version in base and midlevel trucks, and the premium interiors standard on the Silverado LTZ, Sierra SLT, and Sierra Denali.

GM has packed more new stuff into these trucks than we have room to detail here. Log on to www.chevrolet.com and www.gmc.com for the full scoop.

PhotosView Slideshow

With the buzz coming from GM's new pickups, Ford is gonna have to work to hang on to the F-series' "best selling truck" status in '07. Towards that end, Ford is dropping the pickup's retail prices by as much as $1,400 below '06 levels and increasing the length of its powertrain limited warranty and complimentary roadside assistance package to 5 years or 60,000 miles. Two new models are joining the F-truck lineup-the FX2 Sport and Harley-Davidson edition F-150 SuperCrew. And Ford has bumped up the F-150's maximum towing capacity to 10,500 pounds, coincidentally the same figure GM is touting for its new pickups. That kind of tow capacity is available only on a properly equipped 4x2, of course. The highest tow rating for a 4x4 F-150 is 9,500 pounds for a regular-cab with the 5.4L Triton V-8.

Industry insiders at Automotive News have ferreted out long-range product plans from two of Detroit's Big Three automakers. According to the AN crystal ball, here's what you can expect in the coming years from Chrysler and Ford (GM's prognostications are still to come):

2008: Dodge Durango (shown) receives hybrid gas/electric powertrain; Ford F-250/350 redesigned; Jeep Liberty redesigned
2009: Dodge Ram redesigned; Jeep Commander restyled; possible introduction of Wrangler-based Jeep Gladiator pickup; Ford Explorer and F-150 restyled
2010: Dodge Dakota redesigned; light-duty diesels available for Durango/Ram; Jeep Grand Cherokee restyled

That's the name Volkswagen has given its upcoming small SUV, which should reach the States by 2009. Technically, VW didn't give the truck that name; readers of a German car magazine picked it out of five potential badges VW's marketing department entered in a contest-Tiguan, Nanuk, Namib, Rockton, and Samun. The winner is a contraction (or is that combination?) of tiger and iguana. After drawing fire for giving the Touareg a name that's hard to pronounce, it looks like the German automaker won't do much better when the Tiguan bows.

If someone wanted to give you a four-wheel-drive truck, you wouldn't complain would you? Well, it just so happens that Goodmark and Stylin' Concepts want to give one lucky winner a tricked-out '06 Chevy Colorado as part of their Goodmark/Stylin' Concepts Offroad Truck Sweepstakes. Best part is, there's no purchase necessary to enter or win. For more details about the sweepstakes see page 133 of this issue.

Ford has begun production of a supercharged, hydrogen-fueled, 6.8L V-10 engine that will see its first use in E-450 shuttle buses. Note that this isn't a hydrogen fuel-cell powerplant, but an internal combustion V-10 using hydrogen as fuel. According to Ford, this technology "represents an important step toward enabling hydrogen to become a viable motor fuel."

Hydrogen's advantages in an internal combustion engine include "high efficiency, all-weather capability, and near zero emissions of regulated pollutants and greenhouse gases," says Ford. We'll go along with the second two, but the first is suspect. We had heard that one major stumbling block to hydrogen's internal combustion use was its energy content, which is lower than gasoline's. Ford's specs for the hydro V-10 seem to bear this out: Despite displacing 415 cubic inches and getting 18 to 20 psi of boost from a twin-screw supercharger, the engine puts out just 235 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. Compare that to the 231 horses and 293 lb-ft that come from Ford's naturally aspirated 4.6L (281ci) gas V-8 in the F-150.

Ford gets two thumbs-up for being the first to produce this leading-edge technology. Let's hope the development continues so we can see even greater efficiency-and power.

SPAL, a company best known for its cooling fans, is taking aim at the C/diesel pickup land speed record. The current mark-213.583 mph-was set by Gale Banks Engineering in 2002 with a highly modified, Cummins-powered Dakota. SPAL is using a similar big-engine/small-pickup formula for its attempt, having shoehorned a Power Stroke into an extended-cab Ranger. The engine is equipped with HyperMax intercooled twin turbochargers, dual SPAL 12-inch high-performance cooling fans, and a ZF six-speed transmission.

SPAL's "Rocket Ranger" has already gone over 200 mph at the Bonneville Salt Flats, setting a 205-mph Modified Mid/Mini Pickup record in 2001 using a NASCAR-type gas V-8. In 2003, with a Power Stroke on board, the Ranger was clocked at 222 mph, but it failed to back up the number with a second run (needed to set an official speed record) due to electrical problems.

Martin Walsh, Hummer General Manager

Drivelines: The Hummer brand has become, in the eyes of environmentalists, a poster child for all that's wrong about gas-guzzling SUVs. What's your side of the story on Hummer's environmental impact?
Martin Walsh: Hummers are an easy target for anti-SUV organizations because they stand out from the crowd, and most people can recognize a Hummer. What people don't know is that the fuel economy and emissions of our vehicles are actually very competitive with other vehicles in their segment. For example, the H3 delivers city fuel economy ratings better than or equal to 11 other midsize SUVs. The H2 represents only 2.2 percent of the total unregulated heavy-duty vehicle market, and versions of the higher-volume competitors have a much greater negative environmental impact than the low-volume H2. We are committed to educating Hummer owners about responsible off-roading, and we are helping preserve ORV trails through our partnership with Tread Lightly! and our involvement with groups like the Friends of the Rubicon.

DL: What do Hummer racers Rod, Chad, and Josh Hall do for Hummer as a brand? Purely marketing and product exposure, or are there engineering benefits as well?
ML: Hummer off-road racing is an area of great pride for us. Team Hummer competes in Best in the Desert's and SCORE International's Baja 1000 stock class, which features production-based vehicles with stock frames, stock suspension designs and production-based engines. The team's H2 and H3 were built by GM engineers at the Desert Proving Grounds in Arizona. The close-to-stock configuration of the race trucks provides engineers a valuable method of observing the H2 and H3 in extreme driving situations. Engineering participation in racing has resulted in many improvements to the trucks we sell to customers at Hummer dealerships, including improved components, especially in the areas of suspension bushings, exhaust systems, and wiring harness routing and configuration.

DL: Speaking of engineering benefits, does much tech trickle down from the military applications to the civilian vehicles?
ML: Just as the original HMMWV had to meet certain criteria-travel at least 60 miles per hour, with a range of at least 300 miles, climb a 60 percent grade and ford 30 inches of water-the H2 and H3 were held to the same strict standards when they were developed. They may not have to parachute out of a military cargo plane, but they have to be rugged enough to drive home after making their way over the rocky trails at Moab and the Rubicon. In addition, they have to do all those things while wrapped in sheetmetal that expresses the brand's iconic design.

DL: Why was the H1 Alpha discontinued? What kinds of parts and service support can current owners expect going forward, and will Hummer replace it with another fullsize entry, or perhaps move into different market segments?
ML: While the H1 was the foundation for the brand, Hummer sales continue to grow primarily thanks to the smaller H3, with its appealing price, fuel efficiency, and off-road merits. Rather than continuing to invest in the niche-market H1, we decided to dedicate our resources to creating new models with broader market appeal. H1 owners can continue to have their vehicles repaired and serviced at Hummer dealerships for many years. Looking to the future, there's room for us to expand beyond the segments in which we now compete. All Hummer models will include two key ingredients: iconic design and unparalleled off-road capabilities.

* This year's Hummer Homecoming did more than just bring Hummer enthusiasts together for their annual get-together in South Bend, Indiana. In addition to driving classes and a Lee Greenwood concert, the Homecoming included a fundraising silent auction for Tread Lightly!, as well as an awareness workshop hosted by the outdoor recreation advocates.

* Tom, we hate to see you go: Tom Reider, long-time manufacturer and retailer of differential and axle components, is planning to retire from the gearing business. In preparation for that change, Precision Gear/Reider Racing is merging with Alloy USA. According to a joint press release, the move "will provide additional reach for both company's brands into the drivetrain marketplace while adding efficiencies in operations." Following a transition period and Reider's retirement, Alloy USA's president, Ron Stobaugh, will take the reins of all three companies.

* Cummins has brokered an agreement with one of the Detroit Big Three to produce a light-duty diesel engine family for use in pickup trucks and SUVs by 2010. While the engine maker won't confirm the client, and none of the automakers are talking, conventional wisdom points to Dodge as the most likely recipient. Automotive News is reporting that a 4.2L V-6 and 5.6L V-8 are being developed for the Ram and Durango. This would give Dodge a diesel to compete with the 4.4L diesel-sourced from Land Rover-that Ford is rumored to be readying for the F-150. AN says the 4.2 will produce 190 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque, while the 5.6 will make 260 hp and 597 lb-ft of torque, not all that far away from the 325 hp and 610 lb-ft made by the current 5.9L H.O. Cummins I-6.

* BlueRibbon Coalition's Del Albright sent word that Hummer has made a donation to the Rubicon Trail Foundation in the form of cash and much-needed supplies, including "dozens of pairs of quality work gloves, a first aid kit, dozens of hooded ponchos (not that it ever rains when you have an open rig on the trail), and even some skeeter spray. This is the kind of support that really makes saving the Rubicon a lot easier. And to top this off, several Hummer folks (and even some of the engineering staff) volunteered to help out with a Friends of the Rubicon work weekend. Now that is what we call a manufacturer who really knows how to step up to the plate and help keep a trail alive and well."

* Environmental news courtesy of SEMA: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger petitioned the federal government to set aside 4.4 million acres of national forest in California as "roadless." The petition was in response to a rule that gave states until November 2006 to request the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to open areas previously closed under the Clinton Administration's so-called "roadless rule." Of California's 20.7 million acres in 18 national forests, the petition will prohibit development (and potentially deny access to off-roaders) on over 20 percent of these areas. If the petition is accepted, California and the USFS will work to write state-specific rules that will be subject to public review and National Environmental Policy Act analysis.

* The U.S. House of Representatives approved three measures that would create over 677,000 acres of new wilderness areas in California, Idaho, and Oregon. While OHV use is traditionally restricted in wilderness areas, provisions were included in the three bills to establish adjacent or nearby areas which would be open to OHV use. Introduced by Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA), 275,000 acres in five Northern California counties (Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino, and Napa) would be designated as wilderness. As part of a compromise reached with House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA), approximately 79,000 acres would be set aside as recreation management areas for off-road vehicles. The bill goes to the Senate, which has already approved a wilderness designation for these areas, but now must agree to the changes made under the House compromise. House lawmakers also approved legislation that would create three wilderness areas in Central Idaho totaling almost 300,000 acres. As part of a compromise reached by the bill's sponsor, 130,000 acres of wilderness study areas would be opened to off-road use. In addition, the bill provides for the creation of a state motorized park. The House also approved a separate measure which would increase the Mount Hood Wilderness Area in Oregon by 41 percent. Included in the bill were provisions for the conversion of old forest roads into new recreational trails and to provide for a revenue sharing system for the fees collected from recreation and land use. Both the Idaho and Oregon measures now move to the Senate for consideration.

* Missouri has signed into law SEMA-backed legislation to exempt vehicles manufactured prior to 1996 from the emissions inspection process. Under the new law, motor vehicles manufactured prior to 1996 will only be subject to a gas-cap pressure test as part of the state's biennial safety inspection program. In addition, newer motor vehicles that have not been previously titled and registered will be exempted from emissions inspections for the four-year period following their model year of manufacture, provided they are driven less than 40,000 miles for the first two years. All motor vehicles driven less than 12,000 miles between the biennial safety inspection are also exempt.

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