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May 2007 4x4 News - Drivelines

Posted in Features on May 1, 2007
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Last month's news from the Los Angeles Auto Show was primarily about how "green" and environmentally friendly future vehicles looked. Well, the message out of the 2007 North American International Auto Show in Detroit was similar: Many of the products that were unveiled had a definite green tinge, with hybrids and clean diesels making the most headlines.

Nowhere in Jeep's press material does it describe it as such, but the Trailhawk could be a peek into styling trends for the Grand Cherokee, Liberty, or maybe even the first glimpse at a 21st century XJ. The concept SUV sits on the Wrangler Unlimited's ladder frame and shares its 116-inch wheelbase and solid-axle/multilink suspension bits. The tires and wheels are pure show car stuff-22-inch rims wrapped by 33-inch-tall 305/45s-but we like the fact that 33s fit in the 'Hawk's wheelwells. (The concept carries a "Trail Rated" badge. Do you think it crossed the Rubicon?) Jeep calls the Trailhawk an "open air" concept, because the front windows roll down leaving behind no B-pillar, the rear quarter glass retracts too, and glass panels over the passenger and cargo compartments are removable, giving it "virtually the same open-air ambience as a typical soft top Jeep," says the press release. Under the hood is Jeep's 3.0L Bluetec diesel V-6, which produces 215 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque-twisting force that's equal to the torque produced by the 5.7L Hemi. It would sure be cool to get that much torque in a Wrangler-sized package. Or even in the Wrangler, for that matter.

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Jeep wasn't the only maker exploring the "open air" theme. Hummer displayed an H3 with an Infinivu sliding fabric top designed by ASC to give the SUV a "nostalgic, safari-type experience" said Hummer. Other accessories on the concept, including the black chrome grilleguard and tube steps, are straight out of Hummer's accessories catalog. The Hummer rolled on Mickey Thompson Baja Claw 325/50R20 tires mounted on Rozzi 20x9-inch Ego wheels.

OK, it's not a 4x4. And technically it's not even a truck; it's a crossover SUV. But we thought Ford's Airstream concept was one of the most interesting at the auto show. For one thing, we liked the retro/future styling ideas of combining Airstream's mid-century travel trailer designs with a crossover's packaging. We were even more intrigued with what's underneath the shiny skin. The Airstream is powered by a plug-in hydrogen hybrid fuel-cell powerplant Ford calls HySeries Drive. It's basically an electric propulsion system fueled by a lithium-ion battery pack. The batteries can be charged by plugging the Airstream into a standard household outlet. Once the Airstream has been on the road about 25 miles and the batteries start to discharge, the hydrogen fuel cell kicks in, acting as a generator to recharge the batteries and give the Airstream another 280 miles of driving range. HySeries Drive isn't just a concept; a running version of the system is being tested in the Ford Edge prototype.

Ford isn't keeping its Escape hybrid all to itself; by the middle of the year, Mazda will sell a version of the gas/electric compact SUV as the '08 Tribute HEV. Like the Escape hybrid, the Tribute HEV can run on electric power up to about 25 mph, when the 2.3L gas engine kicks in. Combined, the gas and electric powerplants produce 155 hp, giving the Tribute V-6-like power characteristics with four-cylinder fuel economy, says Mazda.

We thought the 553 lb-ft of torque coming from VW's Touareg V-10 turbodiesel was badass until we read this: Audi has stuffed a 6.0L, 12-cylinder TDI into a concept version of its Q7 SUV that produces 738 lb-ft of torque (and a mere 500 hp). Audi recently made history as the first automaker to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans using a 650hp diesel race engine, which was also a V-12, 6.0L TDI. Audi plans to offer the Q7 in the U.S. in 2008 with a 3.0L TDI engine using Bluetec emissions technology; we can only hope that the V-12 is more than just an exercise.

Nissan's luxury brand chose Detroit to unveil the latest version of its Armada-based fullsize SUV. The '08 QX56 has new front and rear styling, standard 20-inch wheels, and a new roof rack. Interior revisions include a new instrument panel design, a third-row power-folding seat, and a standard heated steering wheel on 4WD models. Mechanically the new SUV is unchanged.

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Tis the season for handing out trophies. At about the same time we gave the new Jeep Wrangler our 4x4 of the Year award, our sister magazine Four Wheeler also named the new JK its Four Wheeler of the Year. Popular Science magazine, too, recognized the Wrangler in its annual "Best of What's New" roundup.

Not to be outdone, Chevrolet has won some significant iron for its Silverado pickup truck. Motor Trend magazine named it Truck of the Year, as did the journalist panelists voting on the North American Truck of the Year award.

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Trent McGee fans, rejoice: The four most recent seasons of the Superlift's Off-Road Adventures TV show are now available in a four-DVD set. Each season includes 13 half-hour, commercial-free shows featuring trail rides, hands-on tech, vehicle buildups, four-wheeling tips, and more. Sate your need for McGee by logging on to www.superlift.tv.


The Nevada Trophy, an off-road competition that combines 4WD driving skills and Camel Trophy-like tasks with GPS navigation and geocaching, was won for a second time by Team Walker from Los Angeles. Doug Walker and his navigator, Deakin Hodges, in a 5.0L TVR-powered Land Rover Defender 110 (seen here), and Adam Walker and Jason Walker in a '95 Range Rover Classic, took the overall honors for 2006 in an echo of their overall win in 2004.

Michael Green and John Gulliford of OffRoadExperience.com started the Nevada Trophy in 1996. The two-day race, run in the northern Nevada desert, is open to any 4WD vehicle, though Land Rovers have won every event so far. Some 18 vehicles, including Rovers, Toyotas, and a couple of Hummers, participated in the 2006 running. For more information on this year's event, log on to www.offroadexperience.com.

As of this writing in early January, competitors in the 2007 Dakar Rally had completed six of the rally's 14 stages. Volkswagen, which fielded several Touaregs in the race, occupied the first three overall positions, with the team of Carlos Sainz and Michel Prin leading the rally overall. American driver Mark Miller (seen here) finished the sixth stage with his Touareg in eighth place overall.

Further down the pack but finally running strong was Robby Gordon and his trophy-truck Hummer. After some problems with fuel early in the race, Gordon moved up from 77th to 36th position after a very fast Stage 5, and then won Stage 6 outright, the first Dakar stage victory for an American-made vehicle, and the first stage victory for Toyo Tires, Gordon's tire supplier and one of his sponsors. The win bounces Gordon's team up to 19th place overall.

At this rate, Gordon's Monster energy drink-sponsored Hummer could be knocking on Miller's Red Bull-sponsored Touareg before much longer. We wanted to make a joke here about the relative size of Gordon's and Miller's cans, but we'd rather not get our own can kicked, so we'll let it go....

Ford Motor Company may be having its financial woes, but there was one bright spot at the end of 2006: The F-Series pickup is still the best-selling truck in America. According to data published in Automotive News, Ford sold 796,039 F-Series units in 2006, which was down 11.7 percent but still strong enough to hold the sales title. (The entire pickup segment was down nearly 10 percent.) The Chevy Silverado was second with 636,069 units sold, followed by the Dodge Ram, which sold 364,177 units. The GMC Sierra and Toyota Tundra rounded out the top five.

Industry watchers think Ford will have a hard time keeping the truck sales title in '07. The all-new Silverado is bound to be tough competition, and the all-new Tundra could take sales away from the F-truck too. On the other hand, the new Super Duty pickups, including the new F-450 dualie model, should help retain the Ford faithful.

* We got word that both ARB and Toyo have totally revamped their Web sites with new designs, more interactive content, and in-depth technical info. Go to www.arbusa.com and www.toyo.com to see what's new.

* We took a deeper look at the calendar-year 2006 truck sales data from Automotive News and found some interesting stuff. Best-selling fullsize SUV: Chevrolet Tahoe, whose 161,491 units blew away the Second Place Ford Expedition's 87,203 unit sales. Best-selling compact SUV: Ford Explorer with 179,229 units, followed fairly closely by the Chevy TrailBlazer with 174,797 units. Best-selling compact pickup: Toyota Tacoma, with a huge margin over the Chevy Colorado, 178,351 units to 93,876.

* Also according to AN, Ford has confirmed it will offer a light-duty diesel engine in the F-150. As we reported in an earlier column, it will be the 4.4L V-8 turbodiesel sourced from the Land Rover side of Ford's house, and it will probably be available by late 2008.

* Porsche's Cayenne SUV has (forgive me) lost some of its spice, according to sales figures released by the Power Network. Apparently owners aren't sticking with the Cayenne when the lease is over and are instead moving on to other Porsche models or Mercedes M- and GL-class SUVs.

* Last month we showed you California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger touting clean and green vehicles at the L.A. Auto Show. Now comes word (via the Los Angeles Times) that the Governator is calling for petroleum refiners and gasoline sellers to reduce the carbon in their fuels over the next dozen or so years in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 10 percent. Supporters say this will increase alternative fuel use in the Golden State, while detractors say it will merely drive up already-high gas prices. Lucky us.

* Are old tires unsafe? Should tires have an expiration date, like a quart of milk? Those are some of the issues being debated by several government agencies in a quest to make our vehicles safer. There's a movement in Washington, D.C., to institute a six-year expiration date on tires, as some believe tires degrade over time, whether they're used or not. Before such legislation were to go into effect there would have to be some proof of this degradation. Towards that end, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently developed a test to measure a tire's durability when subjected to high temperatures in a high-oxygen environment. Yet like the EPA's fuel economy tests (which are also undergoing revisions), the NHTSA's procedures don't account for all the factors that could contribute to tire aging, such as storage and handling and climate. And really, isn't the whole issue moot for people like us? We go through tires a whole lot quicker than six years. Six months, maybe.

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