Mighty Tonka Sneak Peak
Show trucks can be pretty interesting because they can illustrate the direction in which the vehicle's designers intend to take their company's production vehicles.
So it is with the Mighty F-350 Tonka, as Ford has chosen to call this concept vehicle, scheduled to be shown to the public at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, January 6. Actually, the name is a natural, and came about like this: When Ford designers began conceptualizing this truck, they talked about when, and how, they first fell in love with trucks, when they first knew what a truck was. For many of them, this moment of truck awareness involved a toy truck by Tonka. So that became the theme of this design exercise. Why "Mighty Tonka?" Because, according to a Ford spokesman, that's what the original Tonka metal trucks were called.
But this vehicle isn't just about Tonka trucks. It's also about Ford trucks, as division designers worked hard to define and include hallmarks of Ford Truck design-to restate the company's design DNA, if you will. These design hallmarks include round wheel openings, the dropdown beltline in the windows, the clean, sheer sides in almost geometric shapes, the very pronounced grille with side nostrils, and the power dome on the hood.
This particular truck measures 242 inches overall-it's very long, roughly the size of an F-350. But its bed is short so that designers could include a very long and luxurious cab with an enormous interior.
Where will all this lead? Probably you'll see some of these design ideas used in the next update of the F-150, which probably will bow as an '04 model. They'll appear in the Super Duty line after that-a year or better.
Volvo Leaps into the SUV Wars
Volvo, Sweden's well-known manufacturer of solid cars and heavy-duty trucks, will introduce its all-new XC90 sport-utility vehicle to the American market at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show in early January (for complete coverage of this show see the May 2002 edition of Four Wheeler).
Though pre-show details are scarce, it looks like Volvo is set to offer the XC90 with all-wheel drive, without benefit of a two-speed transfer case.
This new vehicle will be powered by a choice of inline five-cylinder or V-6 turbocharged gasoline engines. It will offer seating of up to seven people.
The XC90 will be built at Volvo's Torslanda factory in Gteborg on Sweden's west coast, where Volvo Cars is concentrating the production of all its larger models. The North American market is expected to account for about 65 percent of total Volvo XC90 sales.
GM Chooses Pickup To Showcase Fuel Cell
General Motors executives apparently know how to keep a promise. The company's top brass promised that they would show a working vehicle powered by a prototype fuel cell, and engineers have managed to do just that. At an engineering seminar at the University of Michigan, Larry Burns, GM's Vice President of R&D and Planning introduced a Chevy S-10 powered by fuel-cell technology.
Fuel cells constitute a very complex yet environmentally friendly technology that employs electrochemical devices to convert a fuel's energy to electrical energy. Most other manufacturers are relying on hydrogen as the primary fuel. General Motors, however, is developing fuel-cell technology to rely on gasoline.
The reasoning for this is obvious-a supply system for gasoline already is in place. Such a system for hydrogen would have to be developed and built. GM plans on gasoline-fed fuel cells as an interim strategy until a hydrogen infrastructure is established.
The GM system uses what the company's engineers call a Gen III processor to "reform" gasoline, extracting a stream of hydrogen to send to the fuel cell stack. The only byproduct from this process is water vapor.
The S-10 fuel cell generates 25 kilowatts, which translates roughly into 33 horsepower. The truck's fuel processor and stack combine to power a battery charger for the vehicle's electric drivetrain.
Both Ford and DaimlerChrysler have announced plans to begin sales of fuel-cell vehicles in 2004. When they do, customers will be expected to purchase tanks of liquid or nonliquid hydrogen from nontraditional fuel sources. No word on when GM hopes to field its first fuel-cell vehicle.
Cost Vs. Safety Re-Examined In Bumper Tests
In bumper impact testing conducted recently by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, both Ford's all-new 2002 Explorer and DaimlerChrysler's all-new Jeep Liberty earned the institute's lowest rating for bumper performance.
The Explorer sustained $5,432 worth of damage in four tests conducted at 5 mph, while the Liberty sustained $5,667 in damage. The worst result-more than $1,700 in damage-occurred when the Liberty, which wears its spare tire mounted on its rear gate, was backed into a flat barrier, shattering the rear window and damaging the rear windshield wiper motor and the tailgate.
The tests are claimed by the institute to imitate the kind of impact that can occur in commuter traffic and parking lots. A Ford spokesperson said the company's engineers design the bumper systems on Ford vehicles to meet government standards, company requirements, and customer expectations, not the tests of the institute.
"These tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety are conducted to determine cost estimates to repair damage incurred in low-speed bumper impact tests and are not related to safety," a company spokesperson said. "In addition, these tests may not be representative of the type of damage that occurs in real-world situations."
The crash performance of another vehicle made by DaimlerChrysler Corp., the 2002 Dodge Ram 1500, improved in the tests. It sustained $3,843 in damage in the four tests, compared to $8,438 for the '01 model.
"The Ram used to have the worst bumpers among the large pickup trucks the institute tested, but now it has the best bumpers," said Adrian Lund, the institute's chief operating officer.
DaimlerChrysler spokeswoman Angela Ford said the company was pleased with the Ram test results.
"But it's important to remember this test measures insurance claims cost and is in no way a reflection of vehicle safety," she said. "Although we attempt to keep repair costs low on all of our products, our primary focus is safety, both in terms of government testing and real-world safety parameters."
The Chevrolet TrailBlazer was given the best rating of the four vehicles tested after suffering $2,445 in damage.
* The Big Three auto builders, General Motors, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler, all did block-buster business in late 2001 as a result of 0-percent financing offered by all three. New-vehicle sales for all three were up at least 100 percent for the month of October, according to the industry news-weekly Automotive News. None of the companies expect 0-percent financing-usually offered only on 36-month loans-to be extended too deeply into 2002. And they expect sales of new vehicles to drop in 2002, perhaps as much as 10 percent over 2001's level, which could reach as high as 15.5 million units.
* Former Ford Motor Company Chairman Jacques Nasser, who recently lost his job in the wake of a power struggle with new CEO William Clay Ford, was paid a staggering total of $12.1 million in 2000. The value of Nasser's severance package is undisclosed by the automaker.
* Look for an all-new sport-utility vehicle from Mitsubishi in 2003. Mitsubishi expects production of about 90,000 of these new SUVs annually. The vehicle is a probable replacement for the aging Montero Sport.
* DaimlerChrysler is recalling 2002 Jeep Grand Cherokees to repair a problem that causes the vehicle's dash lights to shut down. Chevrolet and the GMC division are recalling 2002 TrailBlazers and Envoys for transfer case replacement. The problem is that a shift collar can break, and when that happens, gear selection becomes impossible.
* A veritable treasure trove of 39 Mercedes-Benz Unimogs recently was shipped from the Mercedes-Benz truck factory in Gaggenau, Germany, to its new owner, the Ministry of Transport in the Czech Republic. These vehicles will be equipped with mowing and winter service implements for year-round maintenance of the European road network in the Czech Republic.
Rubicon Education Project
The famous Rubicon Trail is now under heavy scrutiny by the environmentalist community. In order to help insure continued public access to the trail, the U.S. Forest Service is implementing a new check point and information booth at the Loon Lake trailhead. The booth will be staffed Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day through Labor Day. For more information contact CA4WDC at 800/4x4-funn (494-3886).