Pickups answer market challenges

New and more restrictive emissions rules plus shifts in market wants and needs are creating some speed bumps for pickup truck makers. But OEMs are quickly adapting their products to address these issues head-on

New and more restrictive emissions rules plus shifts in market wants and needs are creating some speed bumps for pickup truck makers. But OEMs are quickly adapting their products to address these issues head-on.

“Take a look at the diesel emission changes in 2007 – this is a situation that puts a lot of pressure on us from a pricing perspective,” Frank Klegon, executive vp-product development for Dodge Trucks told FleetOwner at the recent Chicago Auto Show.

“However, diesel [engines] still bring more capability to pickups,” he stressed. “They offer more horsepower and especially more torque than gasoline [engines], while offering better fuel economy as well. So we think diesel is going to stay a strong element in the pickup market – the benefits still outweigh the emission [compliance] costs.”

Of course, gasoline engines continue to power the majority of pickup trucks. But these engines are gaining in power and torque to satisfy customer demand. For example, according to Toyota’s, a key attribute of its newly redesigned ’07 Tundra full-size pickup is its ability to tow over 10,000 lb. That’s made possible by a new 5.7-liter i-Force V8 gas engine mated to a new heavy-duty 6-sp. automatic, said Jim Lentz, Toyota Motor Sales group vp & gm, at the truck’s recent launch. Other available engines are a 4.0-liter V6 and a 4.7-liter i-Force V8. Lentz noted Tundra also boasts front disc brakes and standard rear disc brakes among other heavy-duty features intended to appeal to commercial buyers.

According to Orth Hedrick, senior manager of Titan marketing for Nissan North America, the ’08 version of the full-size Titan-- due out in April—will build on the changes made to the ’07 model, which saw horsepower upped from 305 to 317 and torque boosted to 385 lbs/ft for the 5.6-liter V8.

Another issue for pickup truck makers is the market is now chock-full of options. At the same time, it’s considered a mature market although is it seeing some shifts among its customer base.

“We’re seeing some shrinkage in the mid-size pickup market because not only are there a lot more alternatives out there, many customers are stepping up to larger pickups,” Dodge’s Klegon said. “We need to keep a closer eye on what the market needs are than ever before; that’s one reason we’re offering a big V8 gasoline engine in our re-designed ‘08 Dodge Dakota pickup, which will launch this fall.”

Part of the market’s new needs revolve around fuel economy and making pickups more “fuel flexible” in the years ahead, according to Rick Waggoner, chairman & CEO of General Motors.

“Our full-size pickups, as our highest-volume products, are the most important component of the most important part of our North American turnaround plan ... so we to keep raising the bar in the execution of great trucks,” he said during the unveiling of GM’s re-designed GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado trucks late last year.

“Most importantly, they get better fuel economy,” Waggoner stressed. “Most [of GM’s new pickup] models will see at least a 1-mpg improvement and some, like the two-wheel-drive 5.3-liter version, will post a 2-mpg increase on the highway. And both [the Sierra and Silverado] pickups will offer engines that are E85-compatible.”

Nissan’s Hedrick relates that an E85 “flex fuel” option on the ’08 Titan is available to buyers in certain states.

Manufacturers are also addressing pricing directly-- in many cases even lowering prices on new ‘08 models despite adding a variety of new features and components.

For example, for Ford Motor Co.’s new ‘08 Super Duty – which accounts for about 40% of its F-Series sales – the automaker is lowering its base manufacturer’s suggested retail prices (MSRPs) while adding more standard content, said John Felice, Ford’s brand group marketing manager.

“The improved customer value is well illustrated by the 2008 F-250 Crew Cab Lariat 4x4, which is priced $235 lower than the same 2007 model, but has $545 worth of new standard equipment,” said John Felice, Ford’s brand group marketing manager.
during the ’08 Super Duty rollout earlier this year.

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