Ask commercial pickup users what they're putting in these versatile light-duties and they'll tell you everything and the kitchen sink — from toolboxes to ladder racks to jobsite equipment to fifth wheels and beyond.
Ask the makers of these trucks what they are putting in them and they'll tell you the powertrain advances, performance features and dedicated dealer support needed to field workhorses capable of helping accomplish a dizzying array of tasks.
Talk about selection. There are now no fewer than six pickup brands from which commercial truck users can pick. Along with models bearing the marques of the classic “big three,” Ford, GM's Chevrolet and GMC and DaimlerChrysler's Dodge, buyers can select from commercially oriented pickups offered by Toyota and Nissan.
What pickups now offer can be boiled down to what's under the hood — plenty of power, be it gasoline or in some cases, diesel as well, to haul cargo and trailers; on-the-job performance, running the gamut from safety to convenience features; and finally, commercial-customer oriented dealer support.
UNDER THE HOOD
When it comes to power, more is more — in terms of both horsepower and choice — but fuel economy is not being ignored either.
According to Dan Tigges, GM's product manager-fleet & commercial, “On GMC Sierra and Cbevrolet Silverado models, which are all-new for the '07 model year, GM has gone to a new generation of Vortec V8 gas engines for more horsepower and torque as well as fuel better economy. “With these V8s, you can get 300 hp.and over 20 mpg, thanks to active fuel management that ‘turns off’ cylinders when not needed,” he remarks.
“Buyers can also opt for our DuraMax diesel, which boasts up to 365 hp.and 660 lb.-ft. torque,” Tigges continues. “It's the most powerful diesel on the market that meets EPA '07 requirements. It's teamed with an Allison 6-sp. transmission with ‘tap-up/tap-down’ capability, which controls the range of speeds used. That's a boon at work sites or when towing.”
According to Tigges, while GM stopped making what he terms a “mild hybrid” last August, a “full hybrid” pickup is coming in 2009. He says that engine technology will first appear in the OEM's SUVs in 2008.
Tigges points out that only automatics are now offered on GMC/Chevy pickups as “we were selling very few manuals.” He adds that Vortec engines are mated to GM Hydramatic 4-sp. automatics that feature a standard “tow/haul” mode. This feature (not unique to GM) electronically adjusts the transmission's performance for when the truck is hauling a full load or towing a trailer.
A new feature for diesel-powered GMC and Chevy pickups is a PTO switch mounted right on the dash, which can control both variable and stationary use.
“Nobody matches the breadth of powertrain and truck/box combinations we offer,” states Tigges. “We offer pickups that fit virtually any commercial user's needs. And they are now covered by a standard 5-yr./100,000-mi. powertrain warranty we feel is the best offered.
According to Orth Hedrick, senior manager-Titan marketing for Nissan North America, the Titan pickup was “developed to hit the heart of the full-size market by focusing on the core truck buyer who wants to carry a 4x8 sheet of plywood, have available V8 power and the option of an extended and crew cabs.”
Hedrick points out that Nissan is “on the cusp” of launching the '08 version of the Titan in April. It will build on the changes made to the '07 model, which saw horsepower upped from 305 to 317 and torque boosted to 385 lb.-ft. for the 5.6-liter V8. There is also a V6, essentially aimed at short-box regular cab buyers.
He notes there is an E85 “flex fuel” option available to buyers in certain states. And the fuel-tank capacity on longer-wheelbase Titans has been upped from the base 27.5 to 37 gallons to increase range.
Transmissions are Nissan automatics. The 5-sp. mated to the V8, Hedrick notes, was specifically designed for the truck application. A tow/haul mode is included within a “total” tow package that about 50% of buyers are selecting. “We feel we are delivering full-size truck credibility, with both our new cab and our powertrain.”
Power was a key “design target” for the all-new Toyota Tundra, which was officially rolled out last month, says Brian Smith, corporate truck operations manager for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.
The full-size pickup is powered by range of gas engines: a 4.0-liter V6, a 4.7-liter i-Force V8 or the new 5.7-liter i-Force V8 engine, which is mated to a new heavy-duty 6-sp. automatic.
“The Tundra 5.7-liter engine provides power and torque as well as fuel economy,” Smith states. As for the 6-sp. automatic, he says it includes a tow/haul mode and its electronic control circuitry enables it to “anticipate driver needs and sense, for example, when to drop a gear. That's a real advantage over a manual gearbox.”
According to Joe Castelli,, director, Ford commercial truck marketing, historical data shows 40% of all pickup trucks have a commercial use. He says the newest Super Duty pickup — the F450 — “especially hits that market. It is very commercially driven and so provides maximum payload of over 6,000 lb. and towing capacity of 24,500 lb.. It's a Class 4 pickup, built that way on the assembly line,” he states.
Castelli contends the complete Class 2-and-up Super Duty range is distinctive because it was designed with a “unique architecture” developed specifically to meet the needs of customers seeking pickups rated 8,500-lb. GVW and up.
On 2008 Super Duty models, power choices run from what Castelli terms the segment's most powerful gas engine, the 362-hp. 6.8-liter V-10 Triton, to an all-new 6.4-liter Power Stroke Diesel that he says is cleaner, quieter and more powerful.
He notes that nearly three-quarters of all Super Duty trucks sold are diesel-powered. “The new Power Stroke was designed to more accurately reflect how customers use these vehicles,” he says. It puts out 350 hp. and 650 lb.-ft. of torque.
Transmission choices include a 6-sp. manual with overdrive or a TorqShift 5-sp. automatic. Tow/haul mode comes standard with the automatic. This electronic control feature, says Castelli, “continues to amaze people, especially on downgrades.”
According to DaimlerChrysler's Pamela Niekamp, senior manager, commercial vehicle marketing & product planning, and Robert Hegbloom, senior manager, body-on-frame product planning & marketing, the Dodge Ram Class 1-3 pickup range offers buyers a choice of gasoline or diesel power, depending on model.
Hegbloom says engine choice by model is straightforward. Lighter 1500-series trucks are powered by a Dodge 5.7-liter Hemi gas engine while the heavier 2500-series models also use the Hemi as well as a Cummins diesel option and 3500-series trucks, including the Mega Cab model, are powered only by Cummins.
“We continue to offer manuals with the 5.7-liter Hemi and the Cummins,” points out Niekamp. “The manuals are limited volume but some buyers still prefer it. But even with the diesel, buyers are moving more and more toward automatics.”
Hegbloom notes that about one-third of 1500 series buyers are primarily commercial -use owners and the Dodge system that deactivates cylinders on the Hemi when cruising on the highway may appeal to these customers seeking fuel economy. He adds that the 1500 is also available with an E85 flex-fuel option.
ON THE JOB
GM's Tigges contends GMC and Chevy pickups can be had “with a wide range of cab-and-box combos — more than anyone else.” He says regular, extended and crew cabs can be matched per user requirement to a 5-ft., 8-in., 6.5-ft. or 8-ft. box.
While he admits it's hard for any pickup maker to “draw the line between personal and business use,” our approach delivers a powerful truck that is easy and comfortable to drive. For example, the new Sierras and Silverados all have new seats, more legroom, and rack-and-pinion steering for better ride and handling. In addition the cab is insulated to make it quieter and it's stiffened to help isolate the cabin from noise and vibration.”
Tigges says a feature new for '07 with commercial appeal is a cargo-management system. “This uses two rails across the bulkhead and sides that easily enables attaching ladder racks and tool boxes. It can be factory- or dealer-installed.
“Starting in the first quarter, 2500 HD and 3500 HD models will offer an integrated trailer-brake controller that eliminates an aftermarket switch on the dash,” he continues. “We've also added a PTO control switch right on the dash for diesel-powered trucks.”
Tigges says GMC/Chevy pickups received a five-start front crash rating. He notes key safety features include roof-rail air bags that complement duel-stage front air bags as well as sensors that tighten seat belt tensioners. In addition, GM's Stabilitrack system comes standard on half-ton crew cabs and is available on extended cab models.
Nissan's Hedrick says the Titan was developed “to hit the heart of the full-size market. There's a huge range of configurations, from a regular short-box up to half-ton and three-quarter ton crew cabs.”
For the ‘08 model year, he points out, the Titan is available with an 8-ft “long box” on the King Cab (extended cab) model and there's a 7-ft box offered on the crew cab. On all longer wheelbase models, fuel-tank capacity has been upped from 25 to 37 gal.
The Utilitrack option is a C-channel system installed in the bed that allows sliding forward and back various accessories such as toolboxes. This package also inlcude4s a factory-installed spray-on liner and a lockable exterior storage box at the rear.
Toyota's Smith says the new Tundra was designed to address every imaginable aspect of working with a pickup. “For example,” he says, “we went beyond the usual to give it a true workplace interior with such features as holders for hanging files and a laptop. The dashboard knobs can be operated with work gloves on multiple power outlets make charging devices easy.
“The tailgate-assist system is dampened with gas struts,” he continues, “and there's a bed-rail system with movable tie downs for easily securing loads.”
Smith notes that Toyota worked with the National Truck Equipment Assn. (NTEA) six months ahead of the truck's launch so that accessories and equipment could be readied on time by upfitters.
The new Tundra comes in a regular cab, offered with 6.5- or 8-ft box; a double cab that can seat six and offered with same box sizes as regular cab; and a Crew Max, with 5.5-ft bed, which seats six in seats that slide and recline.
Ford's Robert Keller, marketing manager, F-Series Super Duty, points out that Super Duty models represent a “distinct heavy-duty platform” from Ford's light-duty F150 pickup. “We view these buyers as distinct and having the Super Duty line allows us to offer higher capabilities, such as a maximum towing capacity of 24,500 lb..
“We were first to offer an integrated trailer-brake controller,” he continues,” so there's no need for an aftermarket device. On a larger scale, we have packages available that build in flexibility, including one for snow plows and one fro trucks in other heavy service that have extra loads at the front, such as a winch.”
Keller points out that the new F450 pickup, a Class 4 truck, is at aimed buyers who “would have had to buy a chassis-cab and then add — for about $10,000 — a box to get a pickup as well as those moving up [from a dual-wheel pickup].”
According to Dodge's Hegbloom and Niekamp, the Ram Mega Cab, rated 10,500-lb. GVW, is aimed straight at commercial buyers and is offered as a 4×2 or 4×4. An electric-shift transfer case is standard on 4WD models, with limited-slip differential as an option.
They point out that Mega Cab delivers a GCWR of 23,000 lb. and maximum trailer weight of 15,600 lb., thanks to heavy-duty 11.5-in. solid axle and longitudinal leaf springs, with three leaves carrying normal loads and an auxiliary leaf supporting additional load capacity.
Along with a tow/haul mode, the Mega Cab offers an overdrive-off mode for maximum trailer-towing performance with “crisp shifts and reduced gear-searching when climbing hills. The Mega Cab seats six and the standard 60/40 fold-down rear seat provides flexibility to handle both passengers and gear.
Niekamp notes that Dodge has a special incentive program in place that is aimed directly at commercial buyers that provides cash or a reimbursement credit toward an equipment upfit or an extended-service contract; details are available at dealers.
AFTER THE SALE
Each supplier realizes it must approach commercial customers differently after the sale as well. Support at the dealer level is crucial, and ranges from sales and service training to extended service hours and specific new-truck inventory requirements.
It should be noted that specific programs exist that GMC/Chevy (Business Central); Ford (Business Preferred) and Dodge (Business Link) dealers can qualify for if they are willing to meet certain criteria set by the respective OEMs that make them stand out as oriented especially toward commercial customers. However, all the OEMs emphasized that all their dealers sell and service their pickups.
All told, today' there are more models, more powertrain choices, more job-site features, and more after-sale support to consider when buying a working pickup.