Combatt-Ready RamMighty as the HMMWV may be, it's getting a bit long in the tooth. That, and a desire to cut ownership expenditures, is why the U.S. military is exploring other options in light tactical wheeled vehicles, including the use of modified versions of commercially manufactured pickup trucks. This approach has been called the Commercially Based Tactical Truck, or COMBATT.
The military thinks there are tremendous advantages in such a program. Pickup trucks are already being manufactured in high volumes, as are the spare parts needed to keep them running. Purchasing the vehicles could be handled just like any other fleet of trucks. In fact, leasing is being considered to minimize initial costs. After three or four years of service, the vehicles would be sold back to what the military sees as "an eager market of customers who need truly off-road, severe-duty vehicles such as logging and mining companies, rural firefighters, and foreign countries that do not have highly developed highway systems." Not to mention avid off-roaders. Since the OE manufacturers are continually refining and improving these platforms, the military can enjoy the benefits of this technological evolution at no cost to any of the service branches. Specialized driver training won't be required since, heck, anyone can drive a pickup.
One of the COMBATT trucks being evaluated by the military is a Dodge Ram that was developed by the Chrysler Group in conjunction with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive and Armaments Command- National Automotive Center (TACOM-NAC). To improve the truck's off-road abilities, it was upfitted with Dana Hydro-Lok differentials, Goodyear 37x12.50-17 MT/R tires with a Dana Central Tire Inflation System, Firestone helper air springs, and Bilstein variable-damping shocks. Mil-spec goodies on board included collision-warning and night-vision systems and a 12/24-volt electrical system to run any number of on-board electronics.
Recently, Dodge and TACOM decided to swap out the Ram's conventional suspension for a hydropneumatic system, in which computer-controlled hydro-pneumatic cylinders replace the coils, leaf springs, and shocks at the truck's corners. The system's benefits, says Chrysler, include automatic load leveling, variable ground clearance, adjustable cornering stiffness (so the system doesn't need articulation-limiting sway bars), and maximum wheel travel under any circumstances.
Right now the suspension system is being tested on a conventionally powered Ram, but it will also be mounted on a hybrid diesel-electric Ram that will be delivered to the Army early next year. Dodge has announced that this same hybrid powertrain will be sold commercially as the Ram HEV in 2004.
Overland In The OutlanderEditor Rick Pw was proud (rightfully so) of getting some air under the tires of Mitsubishi's new Outlander SUV. Air is good, especially when you can grab it at the wheel of an AWD, not 4WD, vehicle.
Mitsu is calling its newest entry-level crossover SUV "part sport utility, part urban utility," with all-weather capability and room for snowboards and other active gear. Available in LS or XLS trim levels, the Outlander is powered by a 2.4L 140hp motor that's backed by a Sportronic sequential shift transmission. Underneath is a fully independent suspension, and the upgraded XLS model gets 16-inch alloy wheels. Watch for one at a Mitsu dealer near you.
Chevy To Replace Tracker With EquinoxIf you're a big fan of the little Tracker, better buy one now. By 2004, Chevy will replace the Suzuki-based mini-SUV with the '05 Equinox. Though few details have been released about the new vehicle, we know it will be based on GM's Theta platform, currently the basis for the Saturn Vue.
This means the Equinox will be a "crossover SUV"-probably larger and more powerful than its Tracker predecessor but built without Suzuki's part-time 4WD system. The current Vue is available with either front- or all-wheel drive. AWD is achieved via a transfer case ahead of the rear axle that can send torque to the rear wheels when the fronts start to slip.
Power for the Vue comes from either a 2.2L 143hp four-banger or a 3.0L 181hp V-6. Whether those engines will be used in the Equinox is unclear, since GM just unveiled a new generation of Vortec inline engines. One of those might find its way into the 'Nox engine bay.
This Just In...
*DaimlerChrysler just opened a $37.5-million wind tunnel near its Auburn Hills, Michigan, Technology Center. The 31,000-square-foot Aero-Acoustic Wind Tunnel facility can accommodate fullsize vehicles (weighing up to 10,000 pounds) and will be used to assess aerodynamic designs and analyze wind noise characteristics. The tunnel will also be used for race vehicle development.
*Edmunds.com, a leading auto and truck information and sales Web site, has announced its Used Car Best Bets, a list of vehicles that will "likely provide dependable and safe service for years to come," says the site. Among the stuff we care about, Edmunds picks the '94-'00 Ford F-150 as the best large pickup; '95-2000 Ford Ranger/Mazda B-Series as the best small pickup; '99-'00 Nissan Pathfinder as the best SUV; and '97-'00 Honda CR-V as the best mini-SUV. Point your browser to www.edmunds.com/reviews/bestbet/articles/index.html to find out why Edmunds chose those particular trucks.
*Lincoln is mercifully pulling the plug on the ill-conceived Blackwood luxury pickup truck. A single color (black), no 4WD option, and a "bed" barely big enough to hold a couple of suitcases just didn't appeal to buyers. Wonder why? Lincoln intended to build 18,000 Blackwoods in the '02 and '03 model years, but the actual production number will be somewhat shy of that. Lincoln had sold just over 700 of the trucks through the middle of this year.
*2003 may be the last year Chevy sells the Suzuki-based Tracker. AutoWeek reports that Tracker will be replaced by the Equinox, which is based on the same platform as the Saturn Vue, for 2004.
New Rollover Ratings Announced
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recently finished a new batch of rollover ratings for '02 and '03 vehicles. What a shock-the 4x4s on the list did not fare well.
For those of you who haven't kept up with the government's doings, this rollover resistance rating is not based on any sort of actual test but rather on a mathematical formula that compares a vehicle's track width with its center of gravity. That's why it comes as no surprise that 4x4s, even in bone-stock form, rank poorly compared with any sort of ground-hugging sedan or wagon.
The glass-half-full side of this story is the fact that one (yay!) of the 4x4s tested, Toyota's Sequoia, achieved a mid-range rating of "3." The other four-bys on the list-Chevy Avalanche, Ford Explorer Sport and F-150 SuperCrew, and Land Rover Discovery II-earned a dismal "2." Well, that's still better than "1."
New Jeep Logo
Just in case you missed it, the folks at DaimlerChrysler have created a logo for the Jeep brand and revived the '80s "Only in a Jeep" tagline.
The logo-depicting a Wrangler's front grille, headlights, and windshield-is a first for the brand. Jeep trivia buffs will already know that the tagline was used from 1984 to 1989 and bridged the change of ownership from AMC to Chrysler.
What brought on the change? Maybe someone took at look at Jeep's lineup and decided that the old line-"Jeep. There's Only One"-didn't work for a brand with three distinct models and several different versions thereof. "Jeep. There's Only Six. Or Seven."
RecallsIf you own one of the following vehicles and haven't been notified by the maker that your vehicle is under recall, get yourself down to your local dealer to find out if the recall affects you.
*2000 Chevrolet/GMC Silverado/ Sierra, Tahoe/Yukon, Suburban/ Yukon XL: Some of these pickups and SUVs have a defective airbag-sensing diagnostic module that could prevent the driver and passenger's airbag from deploying during certain frontal crashes. Dealers will recalibrate the modules.
Dodge & Jeep-Beyond 2003The trade journal Automotive News recently lifted the veil on DaimlerChrysler's product plans for 2003-2006. Here's what you can expect from Jeep and Dodge Truck.
*Grand Cherokee will be redesigned for the '05 model year with a more spacious cabin to accommodate a third row of seats. It may also receive a round headlight treatment like the Liberty to give the Jeep line more brand identity.
*Wrangler will be redesigned for the '06 model year.
*Liberty will receive a mid-cycle freshening for 2004 or 2005.
*Look for an entry-level Jeep based on the Compass concept vehicle in 2005 or 2006. It will most likely sit on the Liberty's platform. Target price is $16,000 to $20,000.
*Dodge Ram trucks are just beginning their latest cycles, so no big changes are expected.
*The Dakota is slated for a redo for 2004. Its styling will borrow from the M80 and Powerbox concept trucks, and it may be smaller than the current pickup. The 5.7L Hemi V-8 may be offered as an option alongside the 3.7L V-6 and 4.7L V-8.
*A year after the Dakota revision, the Durango will be reworked as well. Its platform will still be the Dakota.
Environmental & Political Watch*We love our gas-guzzling trucks, but shrinking resources and increasing pollution will eventually force us into some alternative means of power. The experts are betting heavily on fuel cells, and electricity just got a big boost from a new development by a company called UQM Technologies. It has developed a permanent magnetoelectric motor system that produces both high torque and high speeds at levels more than twice those of the electric-motor industry's best motors.
Currently, electric motors can produce plenty of torque, but they can propel a vehicle to high speeds only through proper transmission gearing. UQM's new motor will allow a vehicle to achieve higher speeds without complicated gear combinations. This feature opens up electric-motor technology to new applications, including off-highway equipment and military vehicles. (The Army is already using UQM motors in its hybrid HMMWV.) It will also be a boon to the gas/electric hybrid propulsion systems, like those now used in the Honda Civic and Toyota Prius compact cars, and others that will soon cross over to truck and SUV applications.
*Remember the domino theory? One nation falls to communism, and its neighbors will too? Well, it looks like it may apply to greenhouse gas emissions laws. On the heels of California's statute to force a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, a similar bill has been introduced in New York. Let's hope the automakers can overturn these "anti-SUV" bills before they creep into any more states.
Calendar Of EventsJan. 3-4 Best in the Desert KTM Parker 250 (for motorcycles and quads only), Parker, AZ. Information: Best in the Desert, 702/457-5775, www.bitd.com
Jan. 10-11 California Rock Crawlers Association Rock Challenge Series, Wooden Nickel Ranch, Menifee, CA. Information: CRCA, 909/679-3879, www.californiarockcrawlersassociation.com
Jan. 16-19 9th SCORE Laughlin Desert Challenge, Laughlin, NV. Information: SCORE International, 818/225-8402, www.score-international.com
Jan. 18 8th Annual Truckhaven Hills Poker Run and barbecue dinner, Truckhaven, CA (near the Salton Sea). Information: CORVA, 800/42-CORVA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Note to event organizers: We need your 2003 listings! If you are planning any sort of four-wheeling event, from trail rides and club runs to races and rockcrawls, send us the scoop so we can run it in our calendar. Please submit the event name, date, location, and contact information (phone number, Web site, e-mail) to Calendar of Events, 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine, 6420 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048. Our print deadlines are at least three months ahead of publication date, so send the entries in as soon as you can.