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May 2008 4x4 News - Drivelines

Posted in Features on May 1, 2008
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Photographers: David KennedySue MeadGM Corp

Sneak peeks at future products are the best part of auto-show season, and the '08 North American International Auto Show in Detroit was full of on-the-way trucks. Some were concepts that may, in some form, see the light of day years from now. Others, like the '09 F-150 and Ram pickups, will be available a lot sooner than that. We can't wait.

Were it to come to market, Hummer's HX could be a worthy competitor to the Wrangler. It's slightly smaller than a Wrangler Unlimited, sits on a full independent suspension and 35-inch Bridgestone Dueler tires (which help give it its 13-inch ground clearance), and has removable doors and roof panels for open-air wheeling. Its full-time 4WD system includes locking differentials front and rear, and it even has an electronic-disconnect front stabilizer bar. Power comes from a 3.6L, E85-capable V-6 making an estimated 304 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque, numbers that are better than the Jeep's 3.8L V-6 (though we'd like to see the torque number higher than the hp). The HX even carries a shovel, flashlight, fire extinguisher, and first-aid kit styled to match the vehicle.

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Ford calls its new F-150 "redesigned inside and out," with a freshened exterior bolted to a lighter, stiffer, fully boxed chassis that gives the truck greater payload and towing capacities while also improving its fuel economy. Buyers will be able to choose from a wide range of models, from the workhorse XL to the high-end Platinum (seen here). Three engine options will be available: the familiar 5.4L V-8, which will be E85-capable; and two 4.6L V-8s. A three-valve 4.6, new to the truck lineup, will be the more powerful of the two (though Ford hasn't released output numbers yet); the two-valve will deliver "more horsepower" but with the fuel economy of last year's V-6. Available in three cab styles, four box options, and seven trim levels, the F-150 can be configured in 35 versions when it goes on sale in the fall.

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Toyota claims its A-BAT concept pickup is a return to its compact-pickup-truck roots. What we see is awfully Honda Ridgeline-esque, a suspicion we confirmed later in Toyota's press release when it said the A-BAT "integrates truck features with car fundamentals," like unibody construction. A-BAT is slightly smaller overall than a two-door Tacoma and has a 4-foot bed that grows an additional 2 feet when the cab-back midgate is folded down. Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive gas/electric powertrain drives the A-BAT.

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Land Rover is celebrating its 60th anniversary in 2008, and the LRX Concept demonstrates "a bold evolution of Land Rover design that indicates the brand's progressive shift into new areas of the market, while remaining true to its core values," says the company. Translation: Further evolution from SUV to crossover. The LRX is smaller than the LR2/Freelander but is still positioned as a premium vehicle. Its turbo-diesel/electric hybrid powertrain includes a 2.0L, biodiesel-capable engine and an Electric Rear Axle Drive system that would allow the LRX to operate on electricity alone at low speeds.

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The Renegade concept two-seater is colored green for a reason: "Green" technology is one of the Jeep's key themes. Much of its interior, for instance, is made from environmentally responsible materials, including soy-based foam seats. More important is the full independent suspension. An electric motor powers each axle, charged by a lithium-ion battery pack with a 40-mile range. There's also a 1.5L Bluetec diesel engine on board to charge the batteries and provide extra power when needed. Jeep figures when the electric/diesel hybrid propulsion system is working in tandem, the Renegade will have a 400-mile range and can achieve fuel economy of 110 mpg. The Renegade is about the same size overall as a two-door Wrangler, though its longer wheelbase gives it shorter front and rear overhangs.

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The Ram 1500 is also new for '09 with "get-out-of-the-way" styling, says Dodge. (We love that line!) Intimidation factor aside, the new Ram offers many new features, including a multilink, coil-sprung rear axle that improves the truck's ride and handling without compromising payload or tow capacities, according to Dodge. Also new this year is a crew-cab body style and a RamBox cargo management system (available only on the crew-cab) with lockable and drainable storage bins built into the box sides. There's more waterproof storage inside the crew cab with new "store-in-the-floor" bins. Ram's powertrain choices include a new-generation Hemi (producing 380 hp and 404 lb-ft of torque), a 310hp 4.7L V-8, and a 215hp 3.7L V-6. New interior features include the Ram's first floor-mounted automatic transmission shifter, heated and ventilated front seats, the option of a heated rear seat, and (we kid you not) a heated steering wheel. The new Ram goes on sale in the fall.

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Back in March we reported that Gale Banks' Duramax-powered Sidewinder Type-D drag-race S-10 made an 8.648-second quarter-mile pass at 150.06 mph, setting an NHRA record. Banks' crew took the same truck to the Speedworld Motorplex Dragstrip in Arizona to test their torque converter setup and wound up bettering their own record with a 7.96-second pass at 167.34 mph. This, by the way, was only the 15th pass the Banks team has made with it.

Chevrolet has both ends of the powertrain spectrum covered for its Tahoe fullsize SUV. Not only is it offering a hybrid version (with its Camry-like 21-mpg city fuel economy), power-hungry buyers can now opt for a 380hp 6.2L V-8 in Tahoe LTZ models. It's 2WD only, though. Sorry, folks.

Industry analysts say this vehicle gives us a solid preview of the Explorer's future. We like the squared-off styling; we're less thrilled about the prospect of the midsize SUV becoming just another unibody crossover, as this concept is. Ford spent a lot of time working on this vehicle's powertrain efficiency; engine options include a four-cylinder, 2.0L engine with EcoBoost technology-direct fuel injection, turbocharging, and more-that delivers 275 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque while improving fuel economy by 20 to 30 percent. (Look for a variety of EcoBoost engines on several upcoming Ford products, including fullsize trucks). A 340hp, 3.5L V-6 will also be available.

AMopar Hemi-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited driven by American Clive Skilton and navigated by Australian Gordon Trigg took first place honors in the Showroom Stock Division of the 2007 Australian Safari Rally. The race is a nine-day event across 3,300 miles of Western Australia outback. The format is similar to the Dakar Rally with special stages, liaison stages, and overnight bivouac service.

Skilton told us his Grand was stock except for a few accessories, including King Racing shocks, a remapped ECU, Borla exhaust, BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires, Soltek HID lights, a 26-gallon full cell, extra skidplates, and full rally safety equipment installed by Temper Mental Racing. The chromoly rollcage assembly and other fab work were done by Brandon Briscoe of Twisted Tin.

For the first time in its 30-year history, the Dakar Rally was canceled this year due to security risks. The Rally's organizers made a last-minute decision to scrub the race after it received threats from terrorist organizations. Compounding the concerns were the murders of four French tourists, by gunmen linked to Al-Qaeda, in the northwest African country of Mauritania, where 8 of the Rally's 15 stages were to be held.

Two friends of ours were going to cover this year's Rally, so we heard firsthand accounts of the cancellation's aftermath. Former 4WOR staffer (and current Diesel Power editor) David Kennedy and freelance journalist Sue Mead were in Lisbon to start the Rally in a VW Touareg. The VW team, one of more than 500 registered for the event, included 80 people and at least 50 vehicles and represented a "$40 million venture," said Mead, giving you an idea of the economic impact the cancellation had on the race teams-and the logistical nightmare of getting them home.

"I was completely shocked that terrorists could bring about the multimillion-dollar loss to the organizers, racers, and other participants, as well as the loss of dollars and goodwill to the countries that had prepared for us," Mead said.

Race organizers claim the Dakar Rally will return next year. "Cancellation does not endanger the future of the Dakar," they said. "The Dakar is a symbol, and nothing can destroy symbols."

Dakar may return, but one racer, Robby Gordon, won't. "All of this energy and there's no place to go," he told Mead. "I am very disappointed. A part of me feels like crying and another part is angry. To cancel it is not a solution. This is my last time coming. This is not a hobby; I do it full time and I can't afford to do it without my sponsors. I know my sponsors aren't going to pay to come again."

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(Detroit version)
* Dodge confirmed its Ram 1/2-ton will receive a Cummins-built, light-duty diesel engine "after 2009." By 2010 the truck will also be available with a two-mode hybrid drive system, the same hybrid drive developed in conjunction with GM and currently available in the Tahoe hybrid.

* Toyota, too, confirmed diesel plans for its trucks. Katsuaki Watanabe, president of Toyota Motor Corporation, said in a preshow press conference that the Tundra pickup and Sequoia SUV will be equipped with clean-diesel V-8s "some time in the near future." "Near future" is within the next two years, say industry analysts.

* GM has added its two-mode hybrid system to the Cadillac Escalade, improving its city fuel economy by 50 percent, says GM. Production will begin mid-2008.

* Kia displayed an all-new midsize SUV called Borrego. Based on a stretched version of the Sorento's body-on-frame chassis, the Borrego will be the first Kia SUV with an optional V-8, a 4.6L engine producing "more than 300 horsepower," says Kia. The Borrego will go on sale this summer as an '09 model.

* SEMA reports the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced the closure of approximately 100,000 acres in the Indian Creek Corridor of San Juan County, Utah. While OHV use will be permitted on existing roads and trails, all "cross-country" OHV activity within the designated area is prohibited.

* We've heard from the BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) that an appeals deciding officer for the USDA Forest Service reversed a decision that would have closed over 14 miles of historic OHV motorized trails in a Northern California forest. This decision was in response to appeals filed by the BRC and Del Norte County to the Smith River National Recreation Area Road Management and Route Designation Project on the Six Rivers National Forest. BRC believed the Ranger District had misinterpreted the 2001 Clinton Roadless Rule as prohibiting the designation of motorized trails in roadless areas. "This decision clearly supports BRC's continuing legal viewpoint that the 2001 Clinton Roadless Rule allows for motorized trails to be designated in roadless areas," said Don Amador, BRC western representative. "As the route designation process continues on other forests, it will be important for local user groups to highlight important OHV routes that already exist in roadless areas so they may be included as meaningful options in the travel management plan."

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