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September 2007 4x4 News - Drivelines

Posted in Features on September 1, 2007
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The SUV you see above is the Dodge PowerBox concept truck. Back in 2001 it made a splash on the auto-show circuit with its unusual styling (which we now recognize as a precursor to the current Durango) and its hybrid powertrain, which teamed up a CNG-fueled V-6 and an electric motor. Well, it took a while, but it looks like Dodge will finally offer a hybrid in the Durango. The production version, available in 2008 as an '09 model, will couple a 5.7L Hemi with the two-mode hybrid system developed jointly by DaimlerChrysler, GM, and BMW. The combo should improve the current Hemi Durango's fuel economy by 25 percent overall and 40 percent in the city, says Chrysler.

There is some question as to how the DaimlerChrysler split will affect the hybrid's launch, though all current indications point to an introduction on schedule next year.

Probably, if you agree with the conclusions from a recent wind-tunnel test conducted by SEMA's Market Research Department. SEMA's testers put Ford, GM, and Dodge fullsize pickup trucks with 13 different tonneaus from nine different manufacturers into a wind tunnel in Mooresville, North Carolina. Their goal was to see what effect the tonneaus would have on the trucks' drag coefficient-its slipperiness through the air. Their thinking was that an improvement in drag would translate into better mileage, since drag is a big drag on fuel economy.

All 13 tonneaus did improve the trucks' drag coefficient, by an average of 5.73 percent. How that improvement would translate to fuel economy is difficult to peg, though, because so many other factors affect fuel economy, such as powertrain efficiency, rolling resistance, and vehicle weight-including how much weight the tonneau adds to the vehicle.

"Other tests would need to be conducted in order to determine the exact effect on fuel economy," wrote SEMA's Megan McKernan about the test. "Aerodynamicists often say that a 10 percent improvement in aerodynamic performance is good for a 2 to 3 percent improvement in gas mileage, based on an EPA road speed of 48 mph. Therefore, an improvement in Cd of 5.73 percent could account for a 1.8 percent improvement in gas mileage."

They hoped it would be a match made in heaven. As it turned out, not so much. So after a rocky, nearly-10-year marriage, Daimler went looking for a buyer for Chrysler. That search ended in May when an "affiliate of private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, L.P., New York, [made] a capital contribution of $7.4 billion in return for an 80.1-percent equity interest in the future new company, Chrysler Holding LLC," said the official press release. DaimlerChrysler will hold a 19.9-percent equity interest in the new company. The Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep brands will be part of the "future Chrysler Corporation LLC," as it's being called, solely held by Chrysler Holding LLC.

What does all this mean to us? Too early to tell. The sale won't be final until later in the year, but corporate types already sound upbeat. "We are confident that this transaction will create a standalone Chrysler that is financially stronger, with a winning combination of people, industry know-how, operational expertise, and spirit of innovation that will accelerate the company's recovery and help us regain our position as a competitive industry leader," said Tom LaSorda, president and CEO of the Chrysler group, in a statement to the press.

Even more encouraging was this from LaSorda: "As a private company, Chrysler will be better positioned to focus on its long-term plan for recovery, rather than just short-term results. It will allow Chrysler to renew its focus on what has always made us special-our passion, creativity, and commitment to delivering exciting Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge vehicles and quality Mopar parts to our customers, along with unparalleled customer service." Let's hope "long-term plan for recovery" means exciting new 4WD product that doesn't further "minivan" a certain Trail Rated brand we know and love.

On a waiting list for one of Jeep's new Wrangler Unlimited hardtops? Join the crowd. According to a recent Automotive News, DaimlerChrysler has been "stunned" by the popularity of the option and is revamping its product mix to add more hardtops.

By the end of the year you'll be able to buy hybrid versions of the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon, both using the two-mode hybrid transmission GM developed in conjunction with DaimlerChrysler and BMW. Paired with GM's 6.0L V-8, the tranny's low-speed mode allows the SUV to operate on electricity alone or in combination with the V-8. In highway mode the transmission's electric motor boosts the V-8's performance. The hybrid propulsion system, along with Active Fuel Management on the V-8, aerodynamic changes to the SUV's body, and other modifications, should achieve a 25-percent overall improvement in the truck's fuel economy, says GM.

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In a recent press release, Ford committed the journalistic sin of burying the lead. The release trumpeted the fact that the Discovery Channel's Mike Rowe (host of one of our favorite shows, Dirty Jobs) was doing another commercial for the F-series truck. As we read further, we spotted the much more significant factoid: The F-150 recently earned a five-star driver and front-passenger crash rating from the NHTSA, no small feat. Plus, we'd much rather run this cool crash photo than another picture of Rowe. No offense, Mike.

Modern factories could churn this number of vehicles out in just a few years, but Land Rover recently celebrated the manufacture of its four-millionth vehicle, an LR3, after being in business nearly six decades. (Look, we don't mean to knock LR at all. We've been to the factory in Solihull, and it's pretty old-school-very cool, but very old-fashioned compared to the robotic and computerized facilities we've seen in the U.S. and Japan.) The milestone Rover was donated to the Born Free Foundation, which is dedicated to wildlife conservation. Actress Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous), Born Free's founder patron, "collected" the Land Rover, which will become a Rapid Response Rescue vehicle for deployment across the U.K. and Europe.

The Lucas Oil World Series of Off-Road Racing (WSORR), the new sanctioning body for short-course off-road races at Crandon and other Midwest venues, recently signed a deal with Nissan making it the official vehicle of the newly-formed series. As a result, Nissan will "concentrate its off-road racing efforts on this challenging series," says Nissan, not only as official vehicle but through contingency awards to Nissan drivers. Titan-based race trucks (like Carl Renezeder's 2006 championship truck, seen here) run in WSORR's Pro 2WD Pickup class, while Frontiers battle in the Pro Light Pickup class.

Airbags. That's why we can't get our hands on a Land Rover Defender in the States. According to a recent story in AutoWeek, it would be too expensive to fit them, despite recent, significant improvements to the SUV. The Brit SUV now has a 2.4L turbodiesel four under its squared-off hood, making 121 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. Other improvements include a six-speed transmission with a super-low First gear, suspension revisions, and something wholly new for Defender: air conditioning.

Got your eye on one of those new, V-8-powered Pathfinders? Nissan just announced that the new model, which shares the 5.6L, 310hp Endurance V-8 with the Titan and Armada, will start at $32,850 for the 4x4 SE version. V-6 4x4 models start at $27,700. Unfortunately, the Pathfinder's Off Road edition, with its 4-Wheel Limited Slip system and other traction-enhancing aids, is available only with the 4.0L, 266-horse V-6.

During the third annual Camp Jeep New York, Jeep raised more than $16,000 for the "Tigers Forever" initiative, a collaboration with the Wildlife Conservation Society, whose goal is to raise the number of tigers in key habitats by 50 percent in the next decade. The money was earned through pledges made by Jeep, which donated $5 for every person who took a ride on the Camp Jeep test track. Nearly 3,300 passengers took the ride, and Jeep ponied up $16,470.

Kevin McNulty, editor of our sister magazine 4Wheel Drive and Sport Utility, catches up on mandatory peer review paperwork somewhere on the Iberian peninsula.

* So how's the new fullsize Tundra selling? We're getting mixed signals. Studies by J.D. Power are showing increased owner loyalty to the Toyota truck, and the researcher expects Tundra sales to nearly double, from 124,000 in 2006 to 210,000 in 2007. A survey by Autobytel also indicates that, among those planning a fullsize truck purchase, more consumers are interested in buying a Tundra CrewMax than an F-150, Silverado/Sierra, or Ram. However, Automotive News reports Toyota dealers are already incentivizing the Tundra, offering up to $3,000 cash back, depending on the model. (The CrewMax is the only Tundra not carrying some sort of rebate offer.) AN attributes the rebates to Toyota's eagerness to go toe-to-toe with the Detroit Three on fullsize truck sales. And, the trade paper says Toyota's rebates "pale in comparison" to the cash-back offers from the domestics.

* More Tundra bugs to work out: Automotive News reports that Toyota is having trouble adjusting Tundra production to buyer demand. There aren't enough CrewMax or 5.7L V-8 trucks to meet demand, while the two-door base model isn't selling as well as expected. Most vexing to Toyota dealers is the number of days the new trucks sit on their lots, waiting for a new home (which would explain the incentives mentioned above). Tundra buyers seem to be willing to wait for just the right truck with just the right options.

* George Bush is stepping up his timetable for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In his State of the Union address in January, he put forth a "20 in 10" program that would reduce gasoline consumption-and therefore greenhouse gases-by 20 percent in 10 years. In May he issued an executive order calling for "the EPA and the Department of Transportation, Energy, and Agriculture to take the first steps toward regulations that would cut gasoline consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles, using my 20-in-10 plan as a starting point." Bush said he wanted "members of my administration to complete the process by the end of 2008," which would coincide with the end of his presidency. Bush did not call specifically for any change in fuel-economy legislation-for example, raising Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) levels-since he prefers "innovation" rather than a "mandatory system," said Tony Snow, his press secretary.

* Bush may not have mentioned a CAFE increase, but the Senate is considering just that. According to SEMA, the Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation (S. 357) to raise CAFE standards. If enacted into law, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would be required to increase the combined CAFE standards for passenger cars and light trucks by 4 percent a year. The current standard is 27.5 mpg for cars and 21.6 mpg for light trucks. The combined average would jump from 25 to 35 mpg by 2019. With that new level they are also debating the use of "off-ramps," or exceptions to the rules, "if they prove too costly or difficult to achieve," reports Automotive News. Environmentalists, of course, aren't happy that exceptions are already being considered, while the automakers (and SEMA) feel this plan is too aggressive and shouldn't be up to the Senate to decide. They'd rather that transportation experts, like members of the NHTSA, figure this out.

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