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February 2009 4x4 Truck & Automotive News - Drivelines

Posted in Features on February 1, 2009 Comment (0)
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Electric Jeep?
It looks like Chrysler is jumping into the electric vehicle (EV) market with both feet. Late in the fall the company unveiled three EV prototypes-a minivan, a sports car, and a Jeep-and said one of the three would go into production for North America in 2010. No hints were given as to which vehicle would get the nod. Chrysler will also put a fleet of 100 EVs on the road next year to test the powertrains.

Chrysler called the EV Wrangler a "Range-extended Electric Vehicle" because it has a small gasoline engine onboard to produce energy as needed for the 200 kW electric motor (268 hp, 295 lb-ft). Using lithium-ion batteries, the motor will power the Jeep on electricity alone for 40 miles; with about 8 gallons of gas on board for the engine, that range jumps to 400 miles.

"We are also exploring four-wheel-drive, in-wheel electric motors to demonstrate the full reach of our advanced electric-drive technologies," said Lou Rhodes, vice president of Advance Vehicle Engineering and president of ENVI, Chrysler's in-house organization focused on electric-drive production vehicles and related advanced technologies.

Chrysler has also launched a consumer website-www.chryslergoeselectric.com-for those of you who want to monitor the company's progress on the EV front.

Special Ram, Too
Texans love their trucks, so Dodge has issued a Lone Star edition of the Ram 1500. The Hemi-powered, Crew Cab 1/2-tons feature chrome accents all over, from the front bumper and grille surround to the 4-inch exhaust tips. Even the 20-inch wheels are available in chrome. Just don't get your hopes up if you live in the other 49 states; the Lone Star Rams are available in Texas only. The suggested retail price for the Lone Star package, which includes the Hemi, is about $2,800.

Special Super Dutys
Ford has announced the addition of two special editions to its Super Duty lineup-a Cabela's FX4 (shown here) and a Harley-Davidson edition of the F-450. Ford's demographic data show that three-quarters of its F-Series owners hunt and fish, so it has had a long-standing relationship with outdoors outfitter Cabela's. Features on the special-edition truck include unique two-tone paint schemes, upholstery and floor mats with Cabela's logos, and additional lockable storage in the front console and under the rear seats for firearms and other gear.

The H-D F-450 features a blue-flame paint scheme, special leather upholstery, and Harley-Davidson badges on the fenders and tailgate.

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VW Pickup?
Volkswagen displayed this concept pickup at a European commercial truck show in the fall. According to the press materials, the search-and-rescue concept truck previews a production version that will be built in Argentina in 2009 and targeted at South American, Australian, and South African markets-"regions with some the greatest demand for pickups for recreational and business use, due to their great versatility," said the press release. Hello? Volkswagen? Has no one told you of the millions of trucks we drive here in the States?

VW's material was skimpy on tech details. What we do know is that the concept truck is about as big as a Honda Ridgeline and sort of similar in execution, given the four-door cabin and integrated bed. Production versions will be powered by TDI or direct-injection gas engines. We've read online reports that the truck will be called Robust, but that has not been confirmed by VW.

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F-150 goes for MPG
Last month we told you about the XFE pickups GM modified for better fuel economy. Now comes word that Ford is offering SFE (for "superior fuel economy") versions of the F-150. These XL and XLT SuperCrew models (2WD only) are built with 4.6L, three-valve V-8s, six-speed transmissions, and 3.15:1 axle ratios. Combined with low-rolling-resistance tires, the modifications will help the truck achieve 15 mpg city, 21 highway, compared to 15/20 for the non-SFE F-truck with the same engine.

So these days one additional highway mile per gallon equates to "superior"? Are our expectations really that low?

Chrysler Donates Rams
Following the destruction along Texas' Gulf Coast caused by Hurricane Ike, Chrysler and its Southwest Business Center donated 10 Ram trucks to the mayor of Galveston and the city council to assist in cleanup and rebuilding efforts. Well, make that nine trucks. Apparently the mayor wanted "the red one." But then she said she was joking. We think.


Club Spotlight
Two Rivers Jeep Club 4x4 Blast
The Two Rivers Jeep Club (TRJC), headquartered in Pittsfield, Illinois, bills itself as "the world's largest all-Jeep wheeling club with dedicated trails on 100-percent private lands." TRJC's membership stands at more than 200 members in 10 states. Their play area consists of about 6,000 acres in West Central Illinois' Pike County, with trails ranging from a "can't scratch your Jeep" Level 1 route to a Level 5 trail called Atlas that has put more than one Jeep on its side.

The club holds two open events each year. These photos are from the 10th annual 4x4 Blast, which took place in August. Because the events are put on by the club and not an outside organizer, all raffle proceeds and more than 85 percent of the registration fees (up to as much as $19,000 in a single year) go back into the community and surrounding area. "Through the generosity of our many sponsors and the support of people attending our events, we have been able to purchase public safety items such as the Jaws of Life for local fire departments," TRJC's Mark Schumacher told us. "We also support the Pittsfield VFW, the Pittsfield American Legion, the local food pantry, and the Community Center, and we support many other charities in the local area." Want to learn more? Visit the club's website: www.trjc.com.

Editor's note: What's your 4x4 club up to? This is the place to share news about trail cleanups, charity runs, raffles, trail rides, and other events going on in your neck of the woods. Email some info and high-resolution photos to 4wheeloffroad@sourceinterlink.com, or you can mail them to Club Spotlight, c/o 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine, 6420 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048. Sorry, but we can't return photos.

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This Just In
* As we went to press the financial markets were buzzing about a rumored merger of GM and Chrysler. This may all be over by the time you read this, but as of this writing, most analysts saw the chances of the merger as slim. Nonetheless, the talks-or at least rumors of the talks-lifted GM's stock. Which may have been the point of the exercise in the first place.

* Last month we told you that GM planned to cease production of its midsize TrailBlazer and Envoy SUVs by 2010. Now we hear that plan has been accelerated due to "market conditions"-in other words, the economy going in the toilet. Production of those and other SUVs at the Moraine, Ohio, assembly plant will end not in two years but rather in December 2008.

* Shortly after Chrysler's EV announcement, SEMA, the trade organization that represents the aftermarket industry, polled a number of off-road enthusiasts about the EV Jeep. When asked if they would buy an electric Jeep, 28 percent were "very interested," 38 percent were "somewhat interested," 20 percent were "not very interested," and 15 percent were "not at all interested." Our favorite comment from the SEMA survey, from a "not at all interested" wheeler: "I just don't think an electric-motor vehicle is really a good option. Hydrogen-powered rigs are probably the best way to go to be green. We are just waiting for the science to figure out the kinks in it. Also, electric-powered Jeeps would be much too difficult for your average backyard gearhead to work on." Right. But those hydrogen-powered rigs will be so much simpler.

Earth Watch
* Jeep and Tread Lightly! have posted mud-driving tips on YouTube. Check it out at www.youtube.com/watch?v=rY7S0gQfhbs.

* Our friends at SEMA submitted comments to federal lawmakers defending continued use of off-highway vehicles on federal lands in the Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel regions in Southern California. SEMA opposes legislation (H.R. 6156) to designate as wilderness 475,000 acres of federal lands in Mono, Inyo, and Los Angeles Counties. As an alternative, SEMA recommended that the bill specifically protect OHV use on "cherry-stemmed" routes, which are often old roads, trails, or paths formerly used for mining, logging, or agricultural operations. SEMA also recommended the use of less-restrictive land designations for portions of the land, such as a "National Recreation Area" or a "Backcountry Recreation" designation proposed by the BlueRibbon Coalition. The bill was the topic of a hearing by a U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Subcommittee.

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