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June 2007 4x4 News - Drivelines

Posted in Features on June 1, 2007
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Detroit may be the biggest, but Chicago's annual auto show is traditionally where many of the major automakers unveil their latest truck offerings. This year was no exception, as Dodge, Hummer, Toyota, and Nissan all chose the Windy City to debut some cool new products. If you went to the Chicago show, you know what we mean by "cool."

The latest Dakota is new inside and out, with revised sheetmetal that's decidedly Nitro-esque, to be "better aligned with the rest of the Dodge truck lineup," says DaimlerChrysler. The truck will be offered in two cab lengths-extended and crew-and six trim levels. A new version of the 4.7L V-8-with two spark plugs per cylinder, like the Hemi-puts out more horsepower (290) and torque (320 lb-ft) than last year's H.O. version, while returning better fuel economy. The new 4.7 is also E85 capable. Look for the new truck at dealerships in August.

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Dodge also chose Chicago to unveil its latest commercial trucks-the Ram 4500 and 5500 (shown here) chassis cabs. Both are powered by 305hp/610-lb-ft, 6.7L Cummins turbodiesels and can be backed by six-speed manual or automatic transmissions, both with PTO capability. The chassis cabs will compete within the Class 4 and 5 segments with a gross vehicle weight range of 14,000 to 19,500 pounds. We're guessing the cool old Wagoneer is an extra-cost option.

Nissan's fullsize trucks receive a facelift for the new model year. More significantly, the Titan also gets a long-wheelbase chassis, allowing for bigger beds behind the King- and Crew-Cab bodies. The trucks are still powered by the 5.6L, 317hp Endurance V-8, though if industry rumors are true, a diesel should be available in the pickup in another couple of years. Among Titan's trim levels is a new PRO-4X model, which includes off-road-ready equipment like lower gears, an electric locking rear diff, Rancho shocks, and extra skidplates.

PhotosView Slideshow

Nissan's midsize SUV also got a visual freshening for '08, but the biggest news is underhood: The 5.6L Endurance V-8 is now an option, giving it "300-plus" horsepower and torque (sounds like the engineers are still sorting out the tuning) and 7,000-pound towing capacity. Should you not need all that grunt, the 266hp, 4.0L V-6 is also available.

Both the H2 SUV and SUT will be available with a new Victory Red appearance package for '07. In addition to the special color, the new package includes body-color fender moldings and rocker moldings with an integrated assist step; a lower-profile, roof-mounted lightbar with integral lamps; a rear-vision camera; chrome hood handles, hood latches, a hood louver, exterior side vents, rear D-rings, and fuel filler door; and 17-inch flangeless chrome wheels. Prices for the new H2 models, which hit showrooms in February, are in the mid-$60,000 range

Toyota describes this midsize SUV as "significantly larger, roomier, and more powerful than the vehicle it replaces," though its fuel economy is virtually unchanged. The latest Highlander is 4 inches longer overall (with 3 inches added to its wheelbase), 3 inches wider, and offers an inch more ground clearance. A new, 3.5L, 270hp V-6 will power the base, Sport, and Limited models. Two months after the Highlander's July introduction, the hybrid version will go on sale, powered by Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive. Net horsepower for the gas/electric hybrid will be 270, and it will deliver 31 mpg city, 27 highway.

SEMA and Shell joined forces to display some highly modified vehicles at the Chicago show, including Skyjacker's eye-catching '07 Jeep Wrangler project vehicle. Unveiled late last year at the SEMA Show, the Rubicon Unlimited sits on a 6-inch long-arm suspension that clears 37x13.50-20 Toyo Open Country M/Ts and tows a Tentrax trailer on matching rolling stock.

The 6.7L Cummins turbodiesel going into Dodge's '07 Ram 2500 and 3500 pickups is not just the strongest engine Cummins has made for Dodge, it's also the cleanest. Cummins announced that the new diesel engine meets the EPA's NOx standards for 2010-a full three years before it's required to do so.

The new heavy-duty Rams, which went on sale in March, were recognized by the EPA and the Department of Energy as the cleanest mass-production diesel-engine pickup trucks on the market. They also represent the first Chrysler group vehicles to utilize Bluetec technology to help clean diesel emissions.

The 2010 EPA standards for NOx and PM met by the Ram trucks represent a more than 90 percent reduction in each pollutant, compared to the 2004 standards.

Despite winning 10 of the 14 total stages that made up the 2007 Dakar Rally, Volkswagen's dominating Touaregs fell victim to late-race problems and weren't able to clinch the overall victory that seemed so certain earlier in the event. VW's highest finisher in the race was American driver Mark Miller and co-driver Ralph Pitchford (shown here), who finished a very respectable fourth overall. The overall win went to Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution driver Stphane Peterhansel, who has won the rally three of the past four years.

Just a few spots down the winner's list were Robby Gordon and his Monster/Toyo-sponsored Hummer, who finished eighth overall and first in the Open Class. This marks the highest finish in the Dakar rally for American drivers competing in an American-made vehicle. Gordon said he has a "long list of notes" he's going to refer to when mounting an effort to not just race, but win overall, Dakar 2008. Toyo has already agreed to sponsor next year's effort.

Earlier this year, Superlift's Off-Road Adventures changed networks. Now it can be seen on the Men's Outdoor & Recreation Channel (MOR), which is distributed by Dish Network, DirecTV, and via select Time Warner cable providers. Additionally, the show can be seen on iDriveTV, also on the Dish Network and carried by various local cable providers. Check your local directory for show times

Well, we flubbed up pretty good in our Apr. '07 issue. First, in our Supercrawl coverage (page 102), we mistakenly reported Brad Lovell as the Modified Class winner, when in fact Brian Errea and Joachim Schwiesow won that class.

Also to appease our reliable reader and the Duke of Distorted Info, Sir Jimmy, who caught our mistake in the trailer story ("Crawler Hauler," page 52): No, our trailer is not over the legal limit at 105 inches wide. In fact it is only 102 and thus still legal for highway use.

Thanks for catching us, guys

Sometimes rumors you find on the Internet are just that, rumors. Sometimes, though, chatter on a message board proves to be true. We picked up a message thread on a 4x4 forum that sounded legit enough to check out, and it turned out to be real.

Lion's Back, arguably Moab's most famous slickrock obstacle, has been closed to the public. According to Teresa Wyatt, administrator for the Moab Chamber of Commerce, the lease on the property that includes Lion's Back has been sold to a private owner, who may develop the land for use as housing. Wyatt did say that the adjacent Hell's Revenge Trail should be unaffected by the closure.

Until now the land lease had been held by the School & Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), a Utah state agency that manages real estate trusts granted to Utah by the U.S. government when it became a state. SITLA can-and does-sell these real estate trusts to private owners, and that's what happened to Lion's Back.

Said Wyatt, "The property lease has been sold, and the new leasers are probably going to close Lion's Back off due to liability issues." According to the message-board posts we've been reading, that has already happened. Rocks have been pushed into place to block access to the trail.

The rumor mill also guessed that the land was going to be developed for condominiums. According to Wyatt, "I don't know about condos, but some type of new housing will be going in, and the property is being looked at for annexation into the city limits."

Now, some chuckleheads on the message boards are already inviting wheelers to run Lion's Back anyway, seeing the blockade as just another obstacle. Please, please don't. Ignoring private property closures only makes the problem worse and gives us all a bad name. Yes, we'll miss Lion's Back, and it's a shame we don't have the right to drive on it anymore. But don't do anything stupid that could jeopardize the other trails we enjoy in Moab and elsewhere.

Gale Banks, Gale Banks Engineering
(Editor's note: Gale Banks knows how to make power, whether he's land-speed racing or improving the performance of an anemic motorhome. Light-duty diesel truck engines are a big part of Banks' business, so we asked him about the current, and future, state of the diesel marketplace.)

Drivelines: Have you received any feedback from customers as to how their diesel trucks are running on the new ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuel?

Gale Banks: The change to ultra-low-sulfur diesel is seamless. At Banks, we have been running ULSD for more than two years. Our test results have shown close to a 1 percent power gain at higher engine speeds when tuned for this fuel. The ULSD fuel has a higher cetane rating, which speaks to volatility and burn rate improvements. Those improvements become important as engine speed increases, leading to the improvement in power.

DL: How has the new diesel fuel impacted your product planning?

GB: ULSD is important to our planning as regards upcoming diesel engines for racing and military usage, as well as our upcoming line of Gale Banks Marine Diesels. Based on the new Duramax LMM engine, the racing versions will take engine speed to 6,000 rpm or more. ULSD fuel is very important for these high-rpm builds. I have a personal quest to further the concept of lightweight, high-speed diesel engines for American vehicles-1/2-ton trucks and lighter, plus all SUVs, SUTs, crossovers, and cars. Diesel has the opportunity to become the automotive performance option, the status engine type. Diesel engines cost more, but they do more-power, performance, mileage, and durability all in one. We're calling it "Guilt Free Performance(r)."

DL: Is bio-diesel popular with your truck customers?

GB: Bio-diesel is way behind its buzz. Most bio-diesel press coverage involves aging hippies brewing the automotive equivalent of moonshine. A new front seems to be hipsters converting tired Mercedes Benz diesels to burn commercial vegetable oil. And the latest hot item is chicken fat. The problem with all this is that most of this "high visibility" bio-diesel is manufactured to no common standard. The long-term drawbacks to running this stuff are never explored by the press. But the drawbacks are there. Running this stuff is automotive Russian roulette. Just because the hammer keeps falling on an empty chamber is no insurance that it won't hit the live round sometime soon. Some dude who has run his 6.2 Suburban on diesel moonshine and avoided the bullet is no test of modern diesel durability.

DL: We hear rumors about the OEs developing "light-duty" 1/2-ton diesel powerplants. Do you see this as a viable market for Banks?

GB: Light-duty 1/2-ton diesels are a fact. GM, Dodge, Ford, Nissan, and Toyota all have diesel 1/2-tons in development or just around the corner. I have been in consultation on one of them for a number of years and recently was shown full-scale mockups of another in Detroit. The 2007-year diesels have a new suite of emissions solutions that complicate the aftermarket enhancement of these powertrains. No longer will the "smoke boys" be able to sell their "gross polluting" products. It's going to take some smarts to design products that do not violate these emissions systems yet improve performance. Of course, the "smoke boys" will try, and may even cheat. But I predict only those with the technical and engineering knowledge will survive. Old-school hacking and overfueling was stupid in the past and idiotic in the future. As for Banks, this is a market we will produce products for.

DL: What's the status of the Sidewinder diesel Dakota these days?

GB: The Banks Sidewinder Dakota remains the World's Fastest Diesel Pick-Up at 222 mph, and it got 24.5 mpg on the Hot Rod Power Tour. We plan to freshen the truck, install an automatic transmission, update the engine management, and drag race it. We have the world's fastest diesel pickup and it's street driven. I would like to see if we have the quickest as well.

* RIP TDS? Late in January we got word that off-roading events in the Truckhaven area of Southern California, including the Tierra del Sol Desert Safari, were either being cancelled or moved because of a change in land ownership in the area. Last September, some 4,000 acres owned by the Freeman Trust were acquired by the California State Parks Off Highway Motorized Recreation Division. As these state agencies tend to do, there's now a planning process underway to determine how best to use the land. According to the Tierra del Sol Four Wheel Drive Club of San Diego, which runs the annual Safari (and has since 1964), the process could take several years and will involve archeological, geological, and biological studies. In the meantime, the California Off-Road Vehicle Association (CORVA) voluntarily cancelled its Truckhaven Challenge in January, and the TDS Safari was moved to the nearby Ocotillo Wells SVRA.

* SEMA's Washington, D.C., watchdogs have turned up some disturbing legislation. In Hawaii, a bill has been introduced that would ban vehicles equipped with an exhaust system "that has been modified to make more noise or sound than the vehicle made when manufactured." H.B. 1447 would allow law enforcement officers to seize and impound a vehicle upon making a subjective determination that a vehicle was in violation. In other words, if Hawaii's finest thinks your new muffler is too loud, aloha pickup. SEMA urges Hawaiian residents to contact their representatives (a contact list is available on to oppose this bill in favor of SEMA-model legislation that sets an objective standard for exhaust noise.

* Also ugly: SEMA reports that legislation to prohibit the use of grilleguards attached to a motor vehicle's chassis has been reintroduced in New York for the 2007 legislative session. The measure relies on unsubstantiated claims that grilleguards create the potential of greater harm to other vehicles in the event of a collision and obstruct airbag sensors, rendering the airbags useless in an accident. The bill would require owners of vehicles currently equipped with grilleguards (including those purchased with this equipment from a dealership) to remove these guards. As with the Hawaiian exhaust bill mentioned above, SEMA opposes this legislation and asks that New York residents contact their reps to voice their disapproval

* More diesel news from Dodge: The company has confirmed it will offer a Cummins turbodiesel engine in light-duty (1/2-ton) pickup trucks for 2010. No details about the engine were available, only that it will provide "a dramatic increase in low-end torque, up to a 30 percent improvement in fuel efficiency, and a 20 percent reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions when compared to an equivalent gasoline engine," according to the release.

* The 1/2-ton '10 diesel Rams may have some competition from Nissan. Industry reports are saying the Titan will get a light-duty diesel in its next generation, also scheduled to hit the street for 2010.

* Insiders are also talking about the next-generation Ford F-150, due in 2009. Already we've heard rumors that they'll be fitted with diesel engines sourced from Land Rover. Now comes word that the new trucks may get six-speed transmissions, to keep up with the GM and Toyota trucks already shifting through six gears.

* Is this good news? According to SEMA, a company is developing a Bluetooth-enabled device that will allow drivers to check their e-mail while on the road. The iLane is being touted as "the world's first hands-free and eyes-free email solution for in-vehicle use," according to Intelligent Mechatronic Systems, the iLane's developer. The "voice-based interface" reads a summary of e-mails to the driver and can accept a response

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