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Towing Tip:

February 29, 2012 — When selecting fifth-wheel couplers, the cab-to-axle ratio is critical. It is the measurement from the rearward-most portion of the truck cab to the center point of the hitch ball or coupler, which is located directly above or slightly forward of the truck’s rear axle. Standard requirements for a full-size bed are a minimum of 48 inches behind the cab. When using a short-bed pickup (less than or equal to 6 feet) to pull a fifth-wheel, the measurement can be as little as 38 inches if you also use a pin-box extension (12-18 inches) and slide rails for the coupler.


2013 Toyota Land Cruiser Debuts

February 23, 2012 — More than a couple of automakers are launching 2013 models early this year. Whether it’s because they were late to the 2012 party or because they wanted to time their debuts to nab the lion’s share of media attention is open to debate. According to Toyota press information, there was no 2012 Land Cruiser.

Toyota's 2013 Land Cruiser tows 8,500 pounds. Euro-spec model shown.        Photo: Toyota

For 2013, Toyota’s Land Cruiser gets a new look inside and outside. It also gets a raft of new standard features that were once options. Just look at the list:

- Rear-seat DVD system

- Body color rear spoiler

- Rain-sensing windshield wipers

- Center-console cooler

- Headlamp cleaners

- Leather-trimmed steering wheel and shift lever

- Multi-information display

- Navigation with Entune multi-media system and JBL audio

- Voice and Bluetooth hands-free controls

- Heated second row seats

Power comes from the same DOHC 5.7-liter V8, which creates 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. Ninety percent of that torque is available at 2,200 rpm. The 5.7 features variable valve timing, runs on regular grade fuel and routes its power through a standard six-speed automatic. Towing capacity remains the same as the 2012 model at 8,500 pounds, and it’s nice to know that the body-on-frame design soldiers on for 2013. Fuel economy estimates are the same as the 2011 model at 13 mpg city, 18 highway.

Underneath, the Land Cruiser gets panels behind the front bumper that extend beneath the engine and behind the rear wheels. The panels help protect the engine and transmission while negotiating rocky terrain, and they help smooth airflow beneath the vehicle to minimize drag and turbulence.

Inside, the Land Cruiser gets an updated interior, with perforated leather trim, ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel. The dash and trim have been freshened, with higher gloss wood and bright chrome accents on the instrument panel.

With seating for up to eight, the Land Cruiser benefits from the standard kinetic dynamic suspension system, which uses sensor-valve-driven hydraulic cylinders on the end of each stabilizer bar link to reduce body roll by as much as 50 percent, which improves handling. It also makes it more capable off road, if you’re into that.

The base MSRP for the 2013 Land Cruiser will be $77,955. Toyota says the new Land Cruiser is available in Toyota dealerships now.


Towing Tip:

February 22, 2012 — Check your oil level often if you tow a trailer frequently, particularly if you tow over hills and mountains. Engines that don’t consume oil under normal driving conditions may do so while under heavy loads at sustained high rpm.


Toyota to Add 400 Jobs at Indiana Plant

February 14, 2012 — Due to an increase in demand of its Highlander midsize SUV, Toyota Motor Manufactuting Indiana will increase production, adding about 400 jobs in the process.

Opened in 1996, the Indiana plant currently produces the Highlander and Sequoia SUVs and the Sienna minivan. Highlanders built in at the Indiana plant are exported to foreign markets such as Australia and Russia. In fact, by 2013 the Highlander will no longer be built in Japan, and the company expects to increase production of the vehicle in Indiana by 50,000 units.

“This project allows for better utilization of the Indiana plant and will help Toyota capitalize on the improving North American and global auto market,” said Steve St. Angelo, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc. “In addition to new jobs at the Indiana plant, this project will increase opportunities and jobs for our North American supply base.”

Redesigned for the 2010 model year, the Highlander comes in a hybrid version. Powered by a 2.7-liter four cylinder, the Highlander can tow up to 3,500 pounds with the towing package. The 3.5-liter V6 model can pull up to 5,000 pounds with the factory towing package. In hybrid trim, the Higlander is rated to pull up to 3,500 pounds.

“This project is part of our localization strategy to build vehicles where we sell them,” said TMMI President Norm Bafunno. “This announcement is a vote of confidence from Toyota Motor Corporation in the abilities of our team members and this plant.”


Towing Tip:

February 12, 2012 — Wheel bearing grease works by releasing its oil, and that oil is what lubricates the bearings. You only have to reduce its oil content by about 15 to 20 percent before it gets hard and waxy. Then, enough of the oil has been drawn out out of it that it no longer lubricates. Service trailer bearings once a year to avoid trouble.


GMC Unveils Restyled Acadia at Chicago Auto Show

February 10, 2012 — Launched in 2007, the GMC Acadia was one of the first new models to debut under the stewardship of then product-czar Bob Lutz. Five years later it gets a major freshening of the interior and exterior, while retaining the same platform and utilitarian aspects that have made it a player in the crossover segment.

The 2013 Acadia still has the SmartSlide seating system, which allows easy access to the third row for seven- and eight-passenger seating configurations. The second and third row seats still fold flat to create a 48-inch wide cargo floor. Also, the 3.6 liter VVT V6 engine routes its 288 horsepower through a refined Hydra-Matic 6T70 six-speed automatic transmission to either a front- or all-wheel-drive system.

Towing capacity is 5,000 pounds, down 200 pounds from the 2012 model, but still on par for the segment. According to GMC, one the Acadia’s most popular options is the trailering package, so it understands buyers are using the vehicle for towing.

Inside, the new Acadia gets the latest in safety technology, namely in GM’s center airbag system, an industry first. The new interior also makes good use of soft-touch materials, French stitching and red ambient lighting. Aluminum accents are fitted to the doors and dashboard in SLT and Denali models. The new materials fit in with GM’s overarching theme to create more differentiation between Chevrolet and GMC models—and charge more for them.

“When designing the new Acadia, we considered the contemporary shapes and materials GMC buyers expect from many products they buy,” said Dave Lyon, executive director of design. “The Denali’s attention to detail is the ultimate demonstration of this approach.”

Technology continues with the GMC’s Color Touch radio, which will be standard in the new model. IntelliLink, which lets users integrate their smart phones with the audio system is optional. IntelliLInk also gives the driver voice control over USB-connected iPods.

On the outside, new sheet metal gives the existing chassis a new look as does the revamped front fascia, which comes with diffused LED running laps, standard projector beam or optional HID headlamps. Buyers also get a choice of 18-, 19- or 20-inch wheel designs. Lastly, because it makes up 30 percent of Acadia sales, the Denali trim line continues for 2013.

The new Acadia goes on sale in late 2012. For more information, visit:


What’s Next for GM Pickups?

February 6, 2012 — Despite the end-of-the-world drama in Chevrolet’s Super Bowl ad spot, GM is scheduled to debut a new line of pickups in the first half of 2013.  Note that is after the Mayan calendar’s prediction of the end of the world.

Short of a few spy shots, we don’t know much about the new trucks, but based on what GM executives have said, here is what we do know.

There will be greater differentiation between the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra pickups, according to GM president of North America Mark Reuss. For example, the Sierra’s standard equipment list should be longer and its prices a bit higher than the Chevrolet Silverado. GM has used the same strategy on GMC’s Terrain and Yukon models to set them apart from Chevrolet’s Equinox and Suburban models.

“I think you will see equipment and models attacked very differently,” Reuss said in a story in Automotive News, a leading trade publication. Reuss added that the company also will incorporate differences in sheet metal to create distinctions between the two brands.

It has since become clear that GM will not be developing lightweight full-size pickups because the efforts would be too costly and would not yield an increase in fuel economy to justify the expense. It also would make the trucks less capable, which was a no-go.

GM will instead increase its CAFE rating with the introduction of the new Chevrolet Colorado pickuup, which, GM said, will provide “90 percent of the size and 120 percent of the efficiency because of the powertrains.” 

For spy shots of the new 2013 GM trucks, visit:


Towing Tip:

February 5, 2012 — Trailers with torsion-bar suspensions, in which a torsion bar runs inside the axle, allow for a lower ride height. The drawback is that the system is more costly than leaf springs and it can hide early signs of rust.


Ram Trucks Introduces New Luxury Model: Laramie Limited

February 2, 2012 — Now that trucks and SUVs have recaptured the lead as the best selling segment of vehicles in America, Chrysler’s Ram brand is capitalizing on the trend by releasing the new top-of-the-line Ram Laramie Limited.

Available in April 2012, Ram Laramie Limited will be available in half-, three-quarter and one-ton models in crew and Mega Cab configurations. The Laramie Limited will become part of the Ram trim line that includes ST, Tradesman, Tradesman HD, Express, SLT, Outdoorsman, Mossy Oak edition, Sport, R/T, Laramie, Laramie Longhorn and Power Wagon.

2012 Ram Laramie Limited                                                        Photos: Chrysler Group LLC

“We’ve successfully added Ram truck models designed for outdoorsmen, tradesmen, first-time buyers and ranchers,” said Fred Diaz, president and CEO, Ram Truck Brand, Chrysler Group LLC. “Laramie Limited is designed to meet the high expectations of affluent pickup truck buyers looking to combine capability with elegance.”

On the outside, the new Ram gets fog lamps set in a body color front fascia, and a matching painted rear bumper. Chrome accents are subtle and include body side moldings, door handles and tubular side steps. Clutter is minimized by “debadging” the truck. That means no Hemi or Cummins nameplates, though there is a Ram’s head on the tailgate and “Limited” lettering.

Sitting on 20-inch forged, polished-aluminum wheels, the 1500 series is available in six colors: black, bright silver metallic, bright white, deep cherry red pearl, mineral gray metallic and true blue. HD models have 17-inch wheels and are available in black, bright silver metallic, bright white and mineral gray metallic.

“The Ram Laramie Limited customer is going to be involved in some sort of motor-sport activity. Whether they’re towing a ski boat, a race-car hauler, motorcycles or snowmobiles, they’re looking for comfort and class and an expressive way to carry their crew and their gear.”

Inside, the Laramie Limited features dark slate leather seating with medium graystone leather piping and accent stitching. The steering wheel, console lid, door-trim panels and shifter handle also feature the same material choices.

Dashboard trim is treated with high-gloss piano black accents with graphite side bezels and chrome vent bezels for added contrast. The instrument cluster was designed to mimic the appearance of a “gentleman’s watch,” with gauge needles finished in liquid graphite and “Designed in Detroit” imprinted on it.

Standard features include a navigational radio, remote start, back-up camera, power adjustable pedals with memory, heated steering wheel, front ventilated and heated seats and rear heated seats. There’s also LED lighting to illuminate the inside door handles and lower map pockets.

“The launch of the Ram Laramie Longhorn edition gave us a boost in the ultra-premium pickup segment and exceeded our expectations,” added Diaz. “Ram Laramie Limited offers customers an even wider selection of luxury models. We expect a lot of interest in the Laramie Limited.

For more information, visit:


Towing Tip:

February 1, 2012 — If you choose a van for towing, understand that an extended van with a longer wheelbase will be more stable than a van with the cabin extended behind the rear axle.


New Custom Camo Graphics Available for Ram Trucks

January 24, 2012 — It seems camo is the new black—at least on Ram Trucks.

Chrysler Group LLC just announced a new line custom camouflage exterior graphics accessories available through Mopar for Ram trucks. Building on the Ram Mossy Oak edition, Mopar’s new accessories line includes a camouflage exterior vinyl wrap and camouflage seat covers.

2012 Ram Mossy Oak Edition

The graphics package are manufactured using 3M premium cast vinyl, which eliminates shrinking, cracking and peeling issues. The vinyl uses pressure sensitive adhesive with air release channels to ease application and avoid bubbling. It’s also treated with Mossy Oak high-definition graphics, the same as those used on the factory special edition truck.

The seat covers also feature Mossy Oak “break up infinity” pattern on heavy duty polycotton drill weave fabric with double-stitched stress seams. They are custom fitted for Ram trucks and machine washable.

“We’re enjoying a great relationship with Mossy Oak, and this new line of graphics will allow owners to customize their trucks, and display their passion for hunting and the outdoors,” said Fred Diaz, president and CEO, Ram truck brand and Chrysler de Mexico and Chrysler Group LLC.


Towing Tip:

January 23, 2012 — Minimize trailer tire wear by keeping them inflated properly, typically at higher pressure than tires on your vehicle, and sometimes as high as 50 psi.


Ford Offers its Top 10 Winter Driving Tips

January 3, 2012 — It seems a lot of people in northern climates are reporting a mild winter so far, but the coldest and most brutal months of winter are upon us. That means snow and ice, and the ubiquitous winter driving tips from everyone from AAA to, in this case Ford Motor Company.
    Much of the information listed could be considered common sense, particularly if you have spent a lifetime “up north.” That said, a refresher course is typically a good idea, and a must if you're towing this winter. Thanks to Ford for putting the following list together.

2011 Ford Explorer                                                                  Photo: Ford Motor Company

10. DO allow a few minutes to brush and scrape your vehicle. Clearing windows is crucial for visibility and removing snow or ice from the top of your car will spare cars behind you from encountering an unexpected snow assault, impairing visibility or even cracking a windshield. Clean snow and ice off your headlights and taillights as well.

9. DO use winterized windshield wiper fluid to make sure your wiper sprayer doesn’t freeze over or crack, preventing you from washing away dirt and salt.
DON’T try to melt ice from your windshield by pouring hot water on it. Using hot water can crack the windshield.

8. DO wash your car regularly to remove salt and dirt from the roadways.
DON’T let road grime prematurely age the body of your vehicle by neglecting to bathe it.

7. DO maintain at least half a tank of gas to prevent unnecessarily stranding yourself in adverse conditions. DON’T forget to check that all fluids are at proper levels and ensure all tires, including the spare, have the required pressure and tread.

6. DO prepare your car for an emergency. Essential items to keep in the trunk are a blanket to stay warm, proper attire (boots, jacket, hat and gloves) in case you have to be outside for an extended period of time, a shovel, flashlight with fresh batteries and snacks. Keep your cell phone charged to call help if necessary.
DON’T forget the kitty litter or sand, which can be used to provide added traction if your car becomes stuck in the snow.

5. DO remain aware of what’s around you on the road, including checking your blind spots and keeping an eye out for pedestrians or lost reindeer from Santa’s sleigh. DON’T follow too closely. The general rule is the vehicle ahead should pass a road marker two seconds before you. In slippery conditions, it is recommended to double the amount of space between you and the vehicle in front.

4. DO apply even pressure when braking in slick conditions if your vehicle is equipped with anti-lock brakes. Keep in mind anti-lock brakes do not shorten stopping distance, but they do help you maintain control. DON’T become overconfident in snowy and slippery road conditions. Always test road conditions with cautious driving when the surface area is wet or icy, particularly on bridges and overpasses.

3. DO turn the steering wheel in the direction of the slide when driving on snowy or icy roads until you gain control. 
DON’T apply power or change directions suddenly on snow or ice.

2. DO stay calm if you find yourself stuck in the snow or broken down on the side of the road in adverse conditions.
DON’T leave your car unless available shelter is close by. If you need to run the engine to stay warm, make sure the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged with snow so the interior stays clear of harmful carbon monoxide.

1. DO make sure you are awake and alert behind the wheel. If necessary, take a break and grab a coffee.
 DON’T lose track of how many eggnogs (who gets drunk on eggnog anymore? — Ed.) you consumed at the holiday party. The most important holiday safe driving tip of all is to refrain from drinking and driving under all circumstances. If you think you will drink, arrange for alternate transportation ahead of time.


How are Your GMC Trivia Skills?

December 22, 2011 — On the heels of the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet, GM’s truck brand GMC also will turn 100 in 2012. GMC released a bit of trivia, some of which even we didn’t know. Enjoy.

— The GMC name turns 100 years old in 2012. In 1912, Rapid Motor Vehicle Company was merged with two others – Reliance and Randolph – to become GMC.

— On August 1, 1909, a Rapid F-406-B – a GMC predecessor – was the first truck to reach the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak.

— If GMC was a standalone manufacturer, it would be the tenth-largest automaker in the United States in terms of total vehicle sales from January to November of 2011.

— GMC built some of the world’s earliest electric vehicles from 1912-1917. These trucks had single-digit model names, each denoting load capacity, from one-half-ton to 12 tons.

— GMC’s luxury-focused Denali trim level currently outsells the entire product lines of some premium automakers, including Land Rover, Jaguar, and Porsche.

— GMC was tasked with engineering and production of the 1936 Parade of Progress vans and the 1941 Futurliners, which toured the country carrying mobile road shows.

— Today, GMC and the Denali trim level are among the fastest-growing nameplates in the U.S. with respective sales increases of 22 percent and 91 percent year over year.

— During World War II, GMC manufactured approximately 584,000 military vehicles, including the CCKW-353 “Deuce-and-a-Half” and the amphibious “Duck.”

— The GMC Sierra – the brand’s top selling model – outsold the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan combined, with 40,000 sales to spare, through the first 11 months of 2011.

— From 1973-1978, GMC produced motorhomes in 23- and 26-foot lengths. They appeared in Bill Murray’s 1981 movie, “Stripes” and the 1996 blockbuster “Twister.”


Ford Halts Ranger Production

December 20, 2011 — This Friday will be notable for what doesn’t happen rather than what does. Unlike any other morning over the last 29 years, the Ford Ranger production line in St. Paul, Minn., will stand motionless. Ranger production ceases this Friday.

Ford’s Ranger was for a few model years the best selling U.S. compact truck. Since it debuted in 1982, the Ford Ranger has sold more than 6.65 million units. Its highest sales year was 1999, when Ford sold nearly 350,000 Rangers. Even in its waning years, the Ranger still bested compact models from Nissan, Chevrolet and GMC, selling 64,114 in 2011 and staking out a solid second place in terms of sales. Toyota’s Tacoma has been the sales leader in compact trucks for several years.

2011 Ford Ranger                                                                    Photo: Ford Motor Company

So what happened? Well, for not much more than the price of a compact pickup, U.S. buyers can afford full-size pickups, which, let’s face it, are more capable than any compact. They hold more, carry more and pull far more than the Ranger’s maximum towing capacity of 5,580 pounds.

Ford debuted a new Ranger for the rest of the world, but it is not coming to the U.S. market. That leaves the compact pickup market in the U.S. up for grabs between Asian imports and Chevrolet’s forthcoming Colorado. Dodge’s Dakota will continue to comprise the “midsize” truck market.

So, if you were even remotely considering a new Ford Ranger, better get it before all you can find is a used model. For more information, visit:


Ford F-150 Named Motor Trend’s Truck of the Year

December 12, 2011 — The 2012 Ford F-150 has just been awarded Motor Trend magazine’s Truck of the Year for the fourth time since the magazine initiated the awarded back in 1989. It also won the award in 1997, 2004 and 2009.

Through November, more than a half-million F-150s have been sold, making it once again the best-selling truck in the United States for the 35th straight year. It’s also the best selling vehicle.

“F-150s are built to work and felt better the more they were challenged,” said Motor Trend editors in the news release. “Ford offers an enormous variety of configurations and designs, making the truck tailorable to just about any need. It’s the combination of advancement in design, engineering excellence, efficiency, safety, value, and the performance of intended function that has earned the Ford F-150 the title of Motor Trend’s 2012 Truck of the Year.”

One of the biggest reasons for the F-150’s continued market dominance has been the introduction of the 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine, which has comprised more than 40 percent of all F-150 retail sales and is on its way to 100,000 in sales in its first year.

With the EcoBoost engine, the F-150 offers best in class maximum towing capacity at 11,300 pounds. It  produces 365 horsepower at 5,000 rpm on regular fuel and 420 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 rpm, all while delivering 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway fuel economy ratings.

Ford also offers a naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V6, and 5.0- and 6.2-liter V8s.

“We are proud to receive this award,” said Mark Fields, Ford president of The Americas, “and even more pleased that our F-150 customers have additional validation of their top choice.”

For more on the story, visit:


Ford’s Global Transit van to Replace Current E-Series

December 8, 2011 — Singer songwriter Neil Young once somehow worked the Ford Econoline van into the lyrics of one of his songs. Now he’s going to have to find a way to do the same with the eventual replacement for Ford’s E-series: the Transit van.

The Transit bears a slight resemblance to the vans offered by Freightliner and Mercedes-Benz, with a taller roofline and longer wheelbase.

Ford is currently testing the Transit van for adaptation and sale in the U.S. market. Ford hasn’t released details about when the Transit will replace the E-series, but it has said the manufacturing plant it has chosen needs to be ready for production by 2013.

According the news release, the Transit will be available in cargo and passenger versions. The company also indicated the van will be 300 pounds lighter than comparable E-series vans and offer 25 percent better fuel economy.

Ford offered no details about prospective engine choices and Ford Trucks spokesman Mike Levine said the company is not yet addressing towing capacities.

“The new Transit will be the smartest, most fuel-efficient way to move cargo or people,” said Tim Stoehr, Ford Commercial Truck Marketing manager.

As part of the testing process, Ford is “building a new road filled with potholes, bumps and curbs to test the new Transit full-size van at its Michigan Proving Grounds,” although most of those features can be found in urban Detroit.

One of the testing regimens is the ability to withstand a curb jump a thousand times, which is great news for lousy drivers in the market for a van.

According to Ford, the Transit is the best-selling van in Europe, and it has sold 6 million of the model on five continents in a variety of cargo, passenger and chassis configurations with a choice of efficient diesel engines.

Whether the diesels will be offered in U.S. models has not yet been released. Turkey is home production now, but U.S. models will be built in Ford’s Kansas City assembly plant where F-150s are built now.


Light Trucks Play Key Role in 2011 Sales

December 6, 2011 — According to a story in the Detroit Free Press, nearly two-thirds of the vehicles sold this year by domestic automakers have been light trucks.

However, analysts and dealers are quick to point out that despite those truck-heavy sales figures, they don’t reflect scope of the Big Three’s product portfolio. For example, Ford posted double-digit sales gains on its Escape, Explorer, E series vans and Ranger pickups, but it also posted similar gains with its Fiesta subcompact and Fusion sedan.

Led by the new Chevrolet Sonic and the Chevrolet Cruze, GM passenger car sales increased 1 percent, crossover sales decreased 9 percent and sales of pickups, vans and SUVs, increased 25 percent.

“We are seeing a broad spectrum of customers return to the market,” said Don Johnson, vice president, GM U.S. sales operations. “Truck sales showed a very solid increase, as we expected, but the momentum building behind our most fuel-efficient vehicles was even stronger.”

Compared with Asian imports, light trucks only comprised 46.7 percent of Honda’s sales through November, 45.3 percent of Toyota’s and 34.4 percent of Nissans. All three automakers offer pickup trucks in their lineups. Toyota and Nissan also sell full-size SUVs. Honda’s largest SUV, the Pilot, is considered a midsize.

Deferred demand and sagging fuel prices are contributing to the lift in sales. But what if fuel prices edge up again?

What hampered domestic automakers when fuel prices spiked in 2008 was that they had no viable small-car alternatives in their showrooms. So when truck customers wanted something smaller, they had to look elsewhere. At present, the domestic automakers offer more small cars and more fuel efficient compact SUVs.

Pickups also are now available with more fuel-efficient powertrains, such as the Ford F-150’s 3.7-liter, and 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engines.

For more on the story, visit:


GM’s Next Generation Small Block to be Direct Injected

December 5, 2011 — General Motors announced that the fifth generation of its venerable small block V8 engine will benefit from direct-injection technology for higher fuel efficiency and lower emissions.

All new, the Gen V small block will use the architectural and technology lessons learned from previous engines to enhance efficiency, performance and refinement.

“Direct injection is a vital progression from conventional port fuel injection that enables an advanced, new level of engine management. The precise control of combustion afforded from direct injection makes it almost entirely an engineering ‘win-win’ – you get enhanced power and torque in addition to better fuel efficiency,” said Bill Visnic, analyst and senior editor at

Direct injection allows for the use of higher compression ratios and other technological advances. The idea is to extract greater performance while reducing fuel consumption compared with the current engines, known as Gen IV.

“The Gen-V small block is an all-new, state-of-the-art engine family that will offer more efficiency and refinement than any other small block in its more than half-century of production,” said Jordan Lee, chief engineer. “For customers, that will mean cars and trucks that deliver more while using less gas to do it.”

Like the 265 cubic inch small-block that debuted in 1955, the new Generation V engines will feature the same 4.4-inch bore spacing used to this day. Of course, nearly everything about the Gen IV  small-block used in production cars changed with the introduction of the LS series of engines 1998 Corvette, but the idea of small, light and powerful engine is still present.

We’ll follow development of this engine as GM releases details and photos. So far, all GM is offering is a photo of the direct injector nozzle.


General Motors’ Small-Block Engine Production hits 100 million

December 1, 2011 — On Tuesday, November 29, GM built its 100 millionth small block engine. Starting with the first generation engine, GM has been offering the venerable pushrod V8 in its cars and trucks sold around the world since it was launched in 1955.

Think about that number for a minute. 100 million. In strictly numerical terms: 100,000,000. It’s staggering, really. It’s a number greater than the population figures of many major countries, more engines than Spotify has users. One engine for every dollar of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick’s contracted salary.

“The small-block is the engine that brought high-performance to the people,” said David Cole, founder and emeritus chairman of Center for Automotive Research, whose father, the late Ed Cole was the chief engineer at Chevrolet and oversaw development of the original small-block engine. “There is an elegant simplicity in its design that made it instantly great when new and enables it to thrive almost six decades later.”

In what could not have been an accident, the 100 millionth engine built was a 638-horsepower supercharged LS9, the engine used in the Corvette ZR1. However, the engine won’t be installed in a car. GM is preserving it as part of its historical collection.

A pushrod V8 It might seem antiquated by today’s standards, but the time-tested architecture makes the engine compact, simple, lightweight and easy to manufacture. The current small-block is all that and more as is evident from its use in everything from 638-horsepower Corvettes, in pickup trucks and SUVs and even front-wheel-drive sedans.

“This tremendous achievement celebrates an engineering triumph that has reached around the globe and created an industrial icon,” said Sam Winegarden, executive director and group global functional leader - Engine Engineering. “And while the small-block’s enduring design has proven adaptable to meet performance, emissions and refinement challenges over the years, it has more importantly delivered them with greater efficiency.”


100 Years of Chevrolet Trucks

November 23, 2011 — It’s no secret that Chevrolet is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Even crosstown rival Ford took out a full-page advertisement in the “100 Years of Chevrolet” commemorative issue of Automotive News to congratulate Chevy on its milestone.

But Chevrolet has always been as much about trucks as it has been about cars, and GM has listed its “Ten Chevrolet Trucks That Built a Global Brand” on its media site and on

Chevrolet's Suburban, introduced in 1973, survived without a major body redesign until 1990.

“From the beginning, Chevrolet has offered dependable, long-lasting trucks that help people make a living, enjoy life and get things done,” said Chris Perry, vice president, global marketing and strategy for Chevrolet. “These core values are represented today by our successful Silverado, Tahoe and Suburban models, and by our all-new global mid-size trucks, which build on Chevy’s strong truck DNA.”

If you appreciate trucks, it’s a fascinating look back at some significant models that helped make Chevrolet into the company it is today.

You can read about all of them at:

And you can see them all here:


L.A. Auto Show Coverage

November 22, 2011 — This year’s Los Angeles Auto Show was heavy on green cars and small SUV debuts such as the Ford Escape and the Mazda CX-5, but there were a few trucks on display.

Full-size trucks received only modest model-year enhancements. No big changes in design, powertrain or towing capacities. Ford’s booth was notable for two reasons: one, for the way its F-150 Raptor body was separated from its frame and; two, because it had no Super Duty trucks on display.

But there were trucks and SUVs to see. For more photo coverage of the L.A. Auto show, click here or the picture below.


Mazda Unveils New CX-5 at L.A. Auto Show

November 21, 2011 — Mazda unveiled the new CX-5 at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The first vehicle designed with the new “soul of motion” (KODO) design language, the CX-5 sheds the boxy design of the old Ford-sourced Mazda Tribute in favor of flowing lines and the signature wing front grille.

"The 2013 CX-5 is the vehicle compact SUV shoppers have been asking for - that only Mazda can build," said Jim O'Sullivan, president and CEO, Mazda North America. "Entering an extremely competitive segment, the all-new CX-5 has to offer more than just flash and features, but also has to perform and provide consumers with the dynamic response they've come to expect from Mazda—and it does.  With its SKYACTIV underpinnings and best-in-class fuel economy, CX-5 proves that fun needn't be sacrificed for fuel efficiency and that compact doesn't equate compromise."

Mazda North America CEO Jim O'Sullivan, Mazda president and CEO Takashi Yamanouchi and actor, Mazda racer and spokesman Patrick Dempsey were on hand to show off the new CX-5

Rated to tow 2,000 pounds, the CX-5 features Mazda’s new SKYACTIV-G technology, which is more a philosophy because it encompasses engine and transmission advances with construction and material choices.

Of course, the engine is the centerpiece of the system. The CX-5 is fitted with a direct-injected 2.0-liter gasoline engine with 13:1 compression, a new four-into-two-into-one exhaust system. It makes 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 150 pound feet of torque at 4,000 rpm on its way to a redline of 6,500 rpm. Because it’s a Mazda, you can get it with a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmision.

Inside, the CX-5 comes with a three-piece independent 40/20/40-split fold-flat second row. One hand is all it takes to release any of the rear seats, and there also are release handles at the rear hatch.

For more information and a video of the unveiling at the L.A. Auto Show, visit:


Ford Debuts New Escape at L.A. Auto Show

November 17, 2011 — Two of every three car buyers look at compact utility vehicles. That makes it a critically important vehicle segment, according to Mark Fields is executive vice president, Ford Motor Company, who unveiled the new 2013 Ford Escape November 16 at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The Escape has been a critically important vehicle for Ford, having sold some 2 million of the vehicles since it was first introduced in 2001. Fields added that customer input was key in developing the new Escape, and consumers pinpointed the availability of four-wheel drive, fuel economy and, get this, towing ability as prime reason for buying an Escape.

The most significant news for buyers who tow with their Escape is that the 3,500-pound maximum towing capacity is now possible with the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. The previous generation would tow 1,500 with a four cylinder and 3,500 with the V6 when properly equipped.

The V6 is no longer available, but buyers do have a choice of 1.6 and 2.0-liter four cylinder EcoBoost engines and a conventional 2.5-liter four. The 1.6-liter boasts fuel economy ratings as much as 5 mpg better than the model it replaces, according to Fields, although the EPA has yet to post figures. Available with front- or four-wheel drive, the new Escape comes standard with a six-speed automatic transmission.

Options such as the hands-free power liftgate are pretty nifty. Here’s how it works. When a person with the Escape’s key fob in their pocket or purse approaches the rear of the vehicle, they simply make a “gentle kicking motion” under the center of the rear bumper and the liftgate pops open and raises to its highest position. The same motion closes the hatch, too.

Ford also improved the Sync and MyFord Touch systems, added an optional parallel park-assist and a blind-spot information system.

“We call our all-new Ford Escape the ‘Smarter Utility Vehicle’ because it offers the strengths that customers today really value – fuel economy, versatility and new technology that makes driving and living with the vehicle easier and more fun – all wrapped in a sleek, more modern design,” said Derrick Kuzak, group vice president, global product development. “Ford understands that more people every year are looking at vehicles like Escape, and we want to give them even more reasons to buy.”

Lots more details on the Ford site here:


More is More on 2012 Chevrolet Equinox

November 15, 2011 — Chevrolet’s Equinox has sold well since its introduction in 2009. Sales are up, but 2009 was so dismal it’s almost as if sales couldn’t get any worse.

For 2012, the Equinox, which tows 1,500 pounds with the Ecotec four cylinder and 3,500 with the V6, will get new safety features, custom “infotainment” options and MyLink in-vehicle wireless connectivity.

“We have carefully selected technologies that our customers will find valuable and are able to offer them at very attractive prices,” said Russ Clark, director of Chevrolet marketing.

Based on the OnStar package GM has been offering for several years, Chevrolet MyLink is an in-car infotainment system that integrates online services like Pandora Internet radio through hands-free voice and touch-screen controls via Bluetooth enabled smart phones. The system includes a 7-inch touch screen, with AM/FM and SiriusXM tuners, a CD player with MP3 and USB connectivity.

Chevrolet MyLink system                                                                Photos: General Motors

The 2012 Equinox also will get GM’s crash- avoidance system, which  uses a high-resolution camera mounted ahead of the rearview mirror that detects shapes of vehicles and lane markings. Introduced on the GMC Terrain in October, it’s a $295 option on LTZ trim levels.

When a collision is imminent or, at speeds above 35 mph, when the driver moves out of a lane without signaling first, the system triggers an audible warning and a lighted display mounted atop the center stack.

“Digital image sensors are used in just about everything from cameras to mobile phones to computers and this is making them a more-affordable alternative for use in vehicles,” said Raymond Kiefer, General Motors technical fellow for crash avoidance systems. “By combining a digital camera with state-of-the-art image processing algorithms, we’re able to estimate when a crash may be imminent.”

For more information, visit:


Nissan NV Vans Now Boarding Passengers

November 14, 2011 — Nissan debuted its NV series of cargo vans last year. Now it’s setting its sights on carrying people. Scheduled to debut in spring 2012, Nissan’s new NV3500 HD Passenger Van will be sold for private and commercial uses.

Built in the company’s manufacturing plant in Canton, Miss., the cargo and passenger versions of the NV2500 are rated to tow 7,000 pounds with the V6 engine and towing package, a $460 option. With V8 power and the towing package, the NV2500 and 3500HDs are rated to tow 9,500 pounds.

The towing package includes a frame-mounted Class IV receiver and seven-blade wiring harness connector. Prewired for a trailer brake controller, the NV with the tow package comes with front tow hooks, a tow mode switch for the transmission, manually extending heated mirrors and a heavy duty battery.

The 4.0-liter V6 produces 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of torque. The 5.6-liter V8, the same engine used in the Titan, produces 317 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque. Each engine is mated with a five-speed automatic transmission and feeds from a 28-gallon fuel tank. Both engines feature Nissan’s continuous valve timing control system.

“Just as we did prior to shaking up the commercial van category with the highly innovative Nissan NV, we first did our homework in the full-size van segment by studying the real-world needs, wants and desires of both families and fleet operators,” said Joe Castelli, vice president, Commercial Vehicles and Fleet, Nissan North America. “As a result, we’re delivering a vehicle that offers everything owners are looking for – enhanced usability, driver and passenger comfort, flexible storage, dependability, durability and an affordable cost of ownership. Then we’ve topped it all off with signature Nissan style, performance and value.”

The new NVs feature flexible interior configurations, with up to four rows of seating and up to 12 passengers. Nissan literature says there are 324 possible seating configurations. Seats feature integrated safety belts and standard headrests for all rear positions. The NVs also are fitted with side curtain airbags for passengers in all four rows. The second and third row seats are removable and can be repositioned. The fourth row can be partially or completely removed.

“The Nissan NV3500 HD’s styling is professional and rugged outside, and completely passenger-focused inside,” said Castelli. “While you want to feel assured that there is room for all your luggage, for example, you don’t want to be treated like a piece of cargo inside. We’ve found a great balance between functionality and comfort that we believe sets the new benchmark in class.”

The 2012 Nissan NV3500 HD comes in three trim levels, the NV3500 HD S, the NV3500 HD SV, and NV3500 HD SL (V8 engine only).

For more information, visit:


Chevrolet Debuts Trailblazer at Dubai International Motor Show

November 11, 2011 — Designed in Brazil. To go on sale first in Thailand. Unveiled in Dubai. The debut of Chevrolet’s new Trailblazer demonstrates the global nature of the automobile business these days.

The new Trailblazer will feature a seven-seat architecture with what GM calls “the towing capability of a body-on-frame SUV with the ride comfort and efficiency of a crossover.”

If the front end looks a lot like the new Colorado, it’s no accident. Developed in conjunction with the pickup, the new Trailblazer shares the same chassis, and was designed to be as at home on the road as it is off road. But will it be available in the United States and Canada?

"We have not announced plans to sell the Trailblazer in North America," said GM West Coast spokesman Richard James.

The vehicle showcased in Dubai was fitted with an all-wheel drive system and powered by GM’s new 2.8-liter Duramax turbodiesel engine, which comes with a variable-geometry turbocharger for improved performance and fuel economy.

“Without question, the new TrailBlazer will be one of the biggest and toughest members of the Chevrolet family – the perfect vehicle to take on the Middle East’s competitive midsize SUV segment.

“Although this is a show vehicle, the overall design is faithful to the production version that will arrive in Chevrolet showrooms next year. TrailBlazer will be the ideal fit, not only for consumers in the Middle East, but in every place around the world where it will be sold.”

The body features the same “body in-wheels out” design as the Colorado, which is not only aesthetic, but also delivers greater approach and departure angles. The new Trailblazer also makes use of LED lighting in the front and rear and in the mirror-mounted turn signals.

“TrailBlazer delivers a great combination of capabilities, from negotiating off-road trails to daily city driving, that we wanted to convey visually,” said Matt Noone, director of design for GM do Brasil. “There’s an obvious sense of muscle in the design, but at the same time a very sophisticated appearance in line with the world’s premium SUVs. From every angle, TrailBlazer looks agile and athletic, with a refined finish that makes it a vehicle our customers will aspire to own.”

Inside, the Trailblazer features three rows of seating and an overhead console that integrates the dual-zone, digital climate control system with what GM calls “onboard infotainment.” The console is fitted with an auxiliary power plug, a USB port and Bluetooth connectivity. There are also numerous storage compartments including a covered center bin and a large dual glovebox.

Second-row seating splits 60/40. It also folds flat with single-latch “forward gravity tumble” and comes with six degrees of recline capability, integrated armrests and cupholders. The third row splits 50/50 and also folds flat.

“We made the seating both flexible and intuitive. There’s no need to pull out the owner’s manual to figure out how to configure the seats,” Noone said. “The third row in this SUV isn’t an afterthought. It’s an authentic third row where people can sit comfortably for long trips.”

For more information, visit:


Ram Brand to Offer Extreme Duty Fleet Truck

November 9, 2011 — Buying in volume has its privileges. Beginning in November 2012, Ram will begin selling its new Ram 1500 Crew Cab 4x4 Special Service package model to government agencies and commercial accounts that have a fleets of at least 10 vehicles and a fleet account number.

What does it have over the regular Ram Crew Cab? For starters, it has a cool feature to help make it bulletproof. Literally. The special service package has additional door welds to allow for installation of ballistic material inside front doors. It also comes with a power distribution center for electrical accessories and a 220-amp alternator to run them.

Powered by the 5.7-liter Hemi, which has 390 horsepower and 407 pound-feet of torque, and driven by a 3.92:1 final drive ratio, the special services Ram can carry 1,455 pounds and tow up to 10,000 pounds. A six-speed automatic is standard.

“The Ram 1500 Special Service truck has been engineered to handle the severe demands of law enforcement,” said Peter Grady, vice president of network development and fleet, Chrysler Group LLC. “The same characteristics also make it and excellent choice for the public works, maintenance, engineering and fire departments. This package expands our portfolio of hardworking vehicles available to state and local governments.”

In addition to the aforementioned features, the special service truck features equipment for extreme duty cycles, such as extended idling periods. Spark plugs were designed to last 100,000 miles and a larger oil cooler also is part of the package. The equipment list goes on.

For example, it has an auxiliary dome lamp and a wiring harness that can provide power, ground and fusing for equipment such as lighting, siren, computer and mode and radar, and camera systems. A 110-volt inverter also is standard.

The speedometer is “certified,” whatever that means and it includes an engine hour and idle hour meter. Ten-way power seats and four remote key fobs are well-suited for multiple drivers of fleet vehicles, as are the stain-repellent cloth front bucket seats and the vinyl-covered rear seats.

The Ram storage system, bedside storage compartments that provide 7.3 cubic feet of lockable and lighted storage capacity, is optional.

For more, visit:


Ford Wants to Hear Your Super Duty Stories

November 8, 2011 — Ford has developed a new website that lets customers tell how they use their Super Duty trucks for work in their chosen field.

The site, features videos hosted by Dirty Jobs’ host Mike Rowe. The videos show actual customers’ Super Duty trucks at work, including an oil field in Kansas and natural gas wells in Colorado.

The site also features other interactive elements and cites statistics, that show the Super Duty series of trucks is the most popular in 21 different industries. For example, 74 percent of metal mining workers use Super Duties, as do 75 percent of road maintenance workers and 60 percent of utility workers.

“For more workers, Ford Super Duty is the most important tool they depend on to get the rest of their tools to the job site. There’s no other truck out there accomplishing as much in working conditions as F-Series Super Duty is,” said Brian Rathsburg, Super Duty marketing manager. “Super Duty trucks are well known for their proven toughness and capability, and that’s why they are such a leading force in all sorts of industries.”

Site visitors also have the option to share their own experiences, which might be chose to be filmed with the host and be shared on the Ford site. There’s also another cool feature.

“Based on a template that resembles a baseball trading card, visitors can create their own card to reflect the tough job their Super Duty helps them complete. Cards contain information like mileage, industry, region and tough facts about their truck and their job. Users also can upload an image of the truck they use. Once finished, they can embed the card in the website, share it on Twitter or Facebook, or print it.”

According to the news release, cards can be sorted by year, industry region and toughness. The online community will vote for the toughest “baseball card,” which will appear uppermost on the site, which also is accessible on an iPad.

For more, visit:


All-New Colorado to be Built in Wentzville, Mo.

November 7, 2011 — Ending speculation about whether and where the all-new Colorado will be built, General Motors announced that the new midsize pickup will be built in Wentzville, Mo.

According to the news release, GM will put $380 million into the Wentzville Assembly plant, a move that will result in the creation or retention of 1,260 salaried and hourly jobs.

“The all-new Colorado builds on Chevrolet’s strong truck heritage,” said Cathy Clegg, GM vice president of Labor Relations. “As we celebrate the first 100 years of Chevrolet today, it is exciting to bring this new global product to the Wentzville team. They also have a strong heritage – a long-standing commitment to building quality products."

Based on global architecture developed by GM do Brasil that will undergo changes to meet the needs of the North American market, the new Colorado will have different powertrains depending on the region where it is sold.

The Wentzville plant currently employs roughly 1,400 people, who build the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans. In addition to Colorado production, the Wentzville will add a second shift to van production. The $380 million will go toward tooling and equipment upgrades.

As reported earlier on, the current-generation Colorado will be produced in Shreveport, La., through the 2012 model year. GM said it will announce details on the Colorado to be sold in North America, timing and pricing later.

 “Today’s announcement demonstrates that the members of UAW Local 2250 have all the qualities of a world-class work force,” said Joe Ashton, UAW vice president representing the GM Department. “We recognize and appreciate their focus on quality, flexibility and hard work.   These new products will provide an opportunity for the plant to be more fully utilized and provide good-paying, middle-class jobs for Wentzville.”


Emissions 101: Where We’ve Been; Where We’re Going

November 2, 2011 — After the latest round of fuel efficiency mandates by the government due to be implemented from 2016 to 2025, a brief review of vehicle emissions might be in order.

Trucks and SUVs nearly always seem to be in the crosshairs of environmentalists, particularly in terms of greenhouse gases, so it’s important to cite a few facts about carbon dioxide emissions.

For example, despite the presence of 137 million vehicles on the road in the United States, automobiles account for 17 percent of all manmade carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. The rest of the pie is visible in the chart below.

Sources of man-made CO2 Equivalent Emissions


To date, cleaning up vehicle emissions have resulted from a four-part strategy, which includes changing the chemical makeup of the fuel itself, burning the fuel more precisely in the combustion chamber, using a catalyst to reduce emissions after combustion, and monitoring all vehicle systems to ensure vehicles continue to perform as designed.

Under the Clinton administration, Tier 2 emissions standards  required reduction of sulfur content in gasoline from 600 parts per million to today’s 30 parts per million. Today’s diesel fuel also features sulfur reductions to 15 ppm in ultra low sulfur diesel fuels. Those goals achieved, work has begun on the next generation of standards called Tier 3.

According to the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, automakers will reduce carbon dioxide output by 30 percent through implementation of new federal fuel economy standards.

For more information, visit:


Study Shows Pickups and SUVs Getting Safer for Everyone

November 1, 2011 — Because of their size and weight, pickups and SUVs are generally regarded to be safer than other vehicles—but only if you’re sitting inside them. If you’re in the other car, look out.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, pickups and SUVs “were more likely than cars or minivans of the same weight to be involved in crashes that killed occupants of other cars or minivans.” But according to a new study from the IIHS, late model pickups and SUVs pose less of a risk to passengers in other vehicles.

“For example, among 1-4-year-old vehicles weighing 3,000-3,499 pounds, SUVs were involved in crashes that killed car/minivan occupants at a rate of 44 deaths per million registered vehicle years in 2000-01. That rate dropped by nearly two-thirds to 16 in 2008-09. In comparison, cars and minivans in the same weight category were involved in the deaths of other car/minivan occupants at a slightly higher rate of 17 per million in 2008-09.”

IIHS attributes the drop in fatalities to improved crash protection in cars and minivans, and aligning SUVs’ and pickups’ front-end energy-absorbing structures with those in cars and minivans. Better alignment those systems allows both vehicles, even in car-truck or car-SUV collisions, to manage and absorb crash energy rather than transferring it to vehicle occupants.

The IIHS credits the more compatible designs to the cooperation of automakers, government and, of course, the IIHS.

“By working together, the automakers got life-saving changes done quickly,” says Joe Nolan, the Institute's chief administrative officer and a co-author of the new study. “The new designs have made a big difference on the road.”

For more information, including methodology, visit:


GM to let Customers Build Their own Hot Rod Engines

October 31, 2011 — Many a backyard mechanic has built his—or her—own engine, on a $100 engine stand from Jegs Performance and dropped it into a waiting hot rod using the strongest branch of a nearby oak tree.

Now General Motors is offering customers the chance to build their own engines in the company’s Performance Build Center in Wixom, Mich. With help and guidance from a specially trained engine builder to assist them, customers do everything in the “start-to-finish” process, from installing the crankshaft in the block to topping it off with the intake system.

“Building an engine is a time-honored tradition in hot rodding, and this exciting new program allows enthusiasts to enjoy that magical do-it-yourself feeling, while still enjoying the value of a factory-engineered, warranted crate engine,” said Jim Campbell, GM U.S. vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “For hands-on hot rodders, this program truly enables them to say they did it all when it came to building their project. There’s nothing else like it in the industry.”

The program includes two part numbers: the 19259944 LS7, which has an MSRP of $22,756, and the 19259945 supercharged LS9, both crate engines identical to those used in the Z06 and ZR1 Corvettes. The LS9 retails for $32,050, but actual dealer prices can vary. In fact, the program is patterned after the Corvette Engine Build Experience that allows Corvette customers the chance to build the engines destined for their cars, right down to the personalized nameplate for the engine builder. Here’s how it works.

When a customer places an order for an engine, a concierge contacts the customer to verify participation and to schedule the engine build. Travel arrangements to and from Wixom are the customer’s responsibility, but the concierge arranges local lodging, ground transportation and meals.

And even though the engine is build by the customer, it will still carry Chevrolet Performance’s 24-month, 50,000 mile warranty.

LS7 specs, Part No. 19259944
Displacement: 7.0L (427 cubic inches)

Bore x stroke: 4.125 x 4.000 inches

Crankshaft: forged steel

Connecting rods: forged titanium

Cylinder heads: CNC-ported aluminum 

Valves: 2.20-inch titanium, intake;

1.61-inch sodium-filled, exhaust

Induction: naturally aspirated

Compression ratio: 11:1

Horsepower: 505 @ 6,300 rpm

Torque: 470 lb.-ft. @ 4,800 rpm

LS9 specs, Part No. 19259945
Displacement: 6.2L (376 cubic inches)

Bore x stroke: 4.125 x 3.620 inches

Crankshaft: forged steel

Connecting rods: forged titanium

Cylinder heads: roto-cast aluminum 

Valves: 2.16-inch titanium, intake; 1.59-inch sodium-filled, exhaust

Induction: supercharged

Compression ratio: 9.1:1

Horsepower: 638 @ 6,500 rpm

Torque: 604 lb.-ft. @ 3,800 rpm


Toyota Tacoma TRD T/X Baja Series Limited Edition Pickup to Debut at SEMA Show

October 28, 2011 — Unlike many of the trucks set to debut at the SEMA Show next week, you will be able to find this one in a Toyota showroom near you—albeit in limited quantities. 

Inspired by Toyota’s decades-long involvement with Baja racing, the Tacoma TRD T/X Baja Series is part of a long line of off-road-racing-inspired trucks, including the PreRunner model and the TRD T/X and TRD T/X Pro options packages.

“The Tacoma has long been the sales leader by a wide margin in the compact pickup segment thanks to its well-earned reputation for stellar quality, durability, reliability and off-road capability,” said Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Division.   “The limited edition TRD T|X Baja Series adds another chapter to Toyota’s truck legacy by offering a new level of capability for off-road enthusiasts.”

Currently undergoing final testing on Tacoma Access and Double Cab 4x4 models equipped with the TRD Off-Road Package, the preproduction version of the Baja Series Tacoma will be on display at the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association show in Las Vegas Nov. 1 through 4.

The truck will come with Toyota’s 4.0-liter V6 engine with either six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. It will use a rear differential with electronically controlled locking, and hill-start assist control, and downhill assist control. The tire and wheel package gets upsized to BF Goodrich T/A KO LT265-70R16 tires with bead-lock style off-road wheels with a gun metal gray finish. A special cat-back exhaust system is part of the package, and the front ride height has been lifted almost 2 inches.

Slated to be built at Toyota’s manufacturing facility in San Antonio, Texas, the Tacoma T/X Baja Series should become available in late spring 2012. More information likely will be available at after the SEMA Show opens Nov. 1.


— Off-Road tuned suspension

— 60mm front and 50mm rear TRD Bilstein racing shocks

— Increased damping, articulation and high speed stability

— 1” increase in front and 1.5” increase in rear travel

— Zinc plated shock bodies

— TRD front coil springs 

— BF Goodrich T/A KO tires (LT265/70R16) with TRD bead-lock style off-road wheels with exclusive Gun-Metal Gray finish

— Increased front ride height by nearly 2 inches

— TRD Cat-Back Exhaust

— Exclusive bed side graphics

— 4WDemand part-time 4WD with electronically controlled transfer case and Automatic Limited-Slip Differential

— Active Traction Control (A-TRAC)

— Hill-Start Assist Control (automatic transmission models)

Downhill Assist Control (automatic transmission models)


Silverado Realtree Concept to Debut at SEMA Show

October 27, 2011 — There must be something to this outdoor outfitter, truck manufacturer relationship dynamic. Just days after Ram Trucks announced a new pickup model, the Mossy Oak Edition, Chevrolet has teamed with Realtree to create what it calls the “ultimate hunter’s truck,” the Silverado Realtree Concept.

Unlike the Mossy Oak Edition, the Silverado Realtree is just a concept at this point, and will debut at the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Assocation show in Las Vegas Nov. 1 through 4. The truck is based on a 2500 HD.

“This truck is a celebration of the seven-year partnership between Chevrolet and Realtree,” said Tony Truelove, marketing manager for Chevrolet pickups. “It’s only natural to combine the dependable, long-lasting Silverado HD with Realtree, the best gear for the outdoors”

Silverado Realtree Concept                                                             Photo: General Motors

Off road features include a custom front bumper with an integral winch, 35-inch off-road tires mounted on 18-inch wheels. Power comes from a standard Duramax diesel, which generates 397 horsepower and 765 pound-feet of torque.

Inside, the Silverado Realtree features dark cocoa leather seating with camouflage piping and blaze orange stitching—the high-visibility color used for hunting vests—and genuine Realtree AP pattern accents.

Outside, it’s painted in champagne silver metallic with Realtree graphics and fitted with power-actuated running boards and a custom camper shell with graphics that mask the side windows.

“Like all great outdoor gear, the Silverado Realtree Concept is designed to get the job done,” Truelove said, “and look sharp while doing it.”


Ford Explorer Sales Top 100K

October 26, 2011 — For the first time since 2007, Ford Motor Company has sold more than 100,000 of its Explorer model. Taking into account an abysmal 2010 and 2009, Ford announced the Explorer had the strongest retail sales growth of any midsize sport utility vehicle. Sales have tripled and quadrupled in all regions of the country.

“With best-in-class fuel economy and technology like MyFord Touch, terrain management and the world’s first second-row inflatable seat belts, Ford has shown that our dedication to customers’ needs is paying off,” said Amy Marentic, group marketing manager. “The success of this vehicle is further evidence we are delivering products that people want.”

2011 Ford Explorer                                                                  Photo: Ford Motor Company

With a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds when properly equipped, the redesigned Explorer accounted for 6.3 percent retail share of the midsize utility segment, which has undergone significant change in the last 10 years.

For example, in 2000, SUVs made up 20 percent of the new vehicle market. Now, the category comprises 30 percent of all vehicles sold in the United States. But even the vehicles themselves have changed.

In 2000, the Explorer was Ford’s best selling vehicle, accounting for 445,000 sales. Back then it used body-on-frame construction with a live axle in the rear. Following the Firestone crisis—for which NHTSA ultimately faulted the tires—Ford  redesigned the Explorer for the 2002 model year, the Explorer went with an independent rear suspension, but still had body-on-frame construction. The new-for-2011 Explorer is completely different, with unibody construction, a transverse engine and a switch from four-wheel drive to all-wheel drive.


Ram Power Wagons Get New Trim Levels

October 24, 2011 — At one time, a Power Wagon was a Power Wagon was a Power Wagon. No more.

Chrysler Group just announced that its Ram Power Wagon will now be available in ST and Laramie models in addition to the current SLT trim. Towing capacity remains 10,250. According to Chrysler, the ST will be a value-oriented package and the Laramie, like other Ram models, will be fitted with more luxury and comfort features, and each model will have its own look.

“When it comes to off-road capability, no other pickup truck compares to the Ram Power Wagon,” said Fred Diaz, President and CEO - Ram Truck Brand and Chrysler de Mexico— Chrysler Group LLC. “Expanding the Power Wagon’s availability to ST and Laramie models is not only what our customers have asked for, but also a true measure of the truck’s success and popularity with truck buyers.”

Based on the Ram 2500 Heavy Duty 4x4 Crew Cab, the Power Wagon has a 14.5-inch ground clearance, which is 2.5 inches higher than the regular Ram HD Approach angle has been increased to 35 degrees and departure angle gets bumped to 26.5 degrees. Breakover angle is 25.5 degrees.

Riding on 22-inch BF Goodrich all-terrain T/A tires, the Power Wagon features a steering damper skid plate, transfer case and fuel tank skid plates that protect vehicle components and prevent rock wedging. In addition, electronic front and rear axle lockers split torque evenly between both wheels and force them to turn in unison for added traction.

Perhaps the most gee-whiz off-road feature is the Power Wagon’s electronically disconnecting stabilizer bar, which has been dubbed “Smart Bar.” Actuated by the driver, Smart Bar can be disengaged in four-wheel-drive in high and low ranges at speeds below 18 mph. This feature, when combined with softer front spring settings gives the Power Wagon best-in-class wheel articulation, according to Chrysler literature.

For added safety, the Smart Bar automatically re-engages at speeds above 18 mph.

Power Wagons are available strictly with the Hemi V8, which produces 383 horsepower at 5,400 rpm and 400 pound-feet of torque at 4,200 rpm. An electronic throttle control system allowed engineers to “soften” throttle response when the transfer case is shifted to low-range four-wheel drive and increase idle speed by 100 rpm.

MSRP for the 2012 Ram Power Wagon ST is $42,620. The SLT retails for $46,560 and the Laramie model starts at $51,995.

For more information, visit:


Ram Trucks Debuts Mossy Oak Edition

October 21, 2011 — Although it features liberal use of camouflage trim, Ram Truck’s new Ram 1500 Mossy Oak Edition is sure to stand out. That means you’ll still be able to find it, whether it’s parked in the woods or in a parking lot.

If you don’t hunt or fish, the Mossy Oak name might not be familiar to you, but it is evidently a leading camouflage brand. According to a demographic study of Ram 1500 owners, 30 percent of them hunt, 44 percent fish, 27 percent are boaters and 42 percent are campers. That also means 69 percent of them use their truck for towing.

“Ram Truck owners are deeply involved with the outdoors and proudly participate in hunting and fishing," said Fred Diaz, President and CEO, Ram Truck Brand and Chrysler de Mexico - Chrysler Group LLC. “In recognition of the millions of American hunters, we’re launching the Ram Mossy Oak Edition, as we did the Ram Outdoorsman, to keep our focus on the needs and wants of our customers so that they can enjoy their enthusiasm for the outdoors and their sport of choice.”

The new limited edition model will be offered exclusively as a Ram 1500 4x4 Crew Cab, with bed and tailgate caps treated with Mossy Oak Breakup Infinity camouflage pattern, and the Mossy Oak logo on the rear of the bedsides.

On the inside, center console and dash trim are finished in the same pattern, as are the door panel inserts. Each of the four headrests will feature an embroidered Mossy Oak logo, with options for leather seating surfaces.

Buyers will have a choice of seven colors, including two-tone finishes with metallic gray on the bottom. Slated to arrive in dealerships in December, the Mossy Oak edition starts at $39,910, which includes the destination charge.

For more, visit:


New Ram Trucks-Sponsored Television Series Announced

October 20, 2011 — If you can remember back to Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with host Marlin Perkins, you have an idea what producers might have had in mind when conceiving the new series Ram Outdoorsman.

The series will be produced by Denver-based Orion Entertainment and will launch on Versus, which is slated to become the NBC Sports Network in fall 2012. Orion also produces programs that air on A&E, Discovery, Discovery’s Velocity, DIY and other networks.

2012 Ram Outdoorsman

Ram Outdoorsman will highlight hunting and angling destinations in North America, from Alaska to Texas, according to a news release from Ram Trucks.  Chrysler Group revived the Outdoorsman nameplate for a Ram truck targeted at hunters and anglers, with features designed specifically for their needs.

“This new series will provide the Ram Outdoorsman with even greater visibility among America’s 50 million sportsmen,” said Fred Diaz, President and CEO Ram Truck Brand and Chrysler de Mexico – Chrysler Group LLC. “Chris Dorsey and Gerald McRaney are two of the best known and most credible personalities in the outdoors. Working with Orion Entertainment helps the Ram Truck brand speak directly to customers and demonstrates our commitment to the outdoors and outdoors enthusiasts.”


Pickup Truck Sales Pick Up in September

October 19, 2011 — It has been said that the economy follows the pickup truck market. The logic holds that an increase in pickup truck sales means business are replacing worn-out vehicles or expanding their companies because thet see the economy improving.

Or so it has been said.

According to report in Automotive News, a leading trade publication, General Motors full-size pickups sales increased 33 percent in September. Specifically, Chevrolet Silverado sales were up 36 percent and GMC Sierra sales edged up by 26 percent. Ford’s F-series pickup sales were up 15 percent and Chrysler’s Ram sales increased by 45 percent.

Japanese manufacturers Nissan and Toyota entered the full-size truck market with high expectations. However, the Nissan Titan sold in the greatest numbers in 2005, when the company moved 86,945 units. So far this year, it has sold 14,348 Titans. Nissan’s redesigned Titan debuts in 2013.

Toyota Motor Corporation, which has more than 54,000 Tundras this year, has scaled back and reassigned Tundra production capacity in two of its factories to other models. Honda’s all-wheel-drive Ridgeline, has sold less than 7,000 units in 2011. 

So whether the uptick in pickup sales bodes well for the economy likely depends on which company you look at. Time will tell.


Financial Considerations for Buying Enclosed Trailers

October 18, 2011 — The benefits of buying a new trailer are the same as they are for buying a new car: You get exactly what you want. If you're going to own a trailer for a long time, maybe new is for you.

A good deal on a trailer means little if it doesn't meet your needs. Get one that works for you.

Right now, the cost of money is low, so financing now is better than financing later, when interest rates might be higher. Remember, there is often disparity in pricing from dealer to dealer, so look around. Figure out how far you're willing to drive to get your trailer, then let that dictate your search. Remember to account for fuel costs.

Used trailers also have their own benefits. Foremost is that someone else has borne the brunt of depreciation. Trailers tend to depreciate to a certain point, then hold steady for several years. If you can avoid that initial drop, you can often recoup most of your initial investment when you eventually sell. Remember that you also can finance late-model used trailers. That means you might be able get the length and features you want, without the burden of depreciation, which is greater than the percentage rate of interest right now.

Craigslist is a good source. I also recommend, which you can set up to scour craigslist ads and email you alerts. is another valuable resource, with lots of new and used trailers.

Buying used takes patience and persistence. They are out there, but if you miss out on one, another will come along.

There also are practical considerations. You should get a trailer that does what you need it to. No matter how good a deal you got on a trailer, none of that will matter if it disappoints you every time you use it. Then you'll either be spending more on improvements or looking for another trailer that does meet your needs.


2012 4Runner Pricing and Features Announced

October 17, 2011 — Fresh from a complete redesign for the 2010 model year, Toyota’s 4Runner will get connectivity upgrades and available new automatic running boards for 2012.

For example, in SR5 trim, the 4Runner now comes standard with SiriusXM satellite radio capability and a 90-day trial subscription to the service. It also comes with a USB port with iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth, which provides for hands-free phone and streaming music capability. Steering wheel audio controls are new as is a “shark fin” antenna. 

2012 Toyota 4Runner SR5                                                          Photo: Toyota Motor Co.

The 4Runner Limited model gets a new Display Audio System, with a 6.1-inch screen that incorporates navigation, Toyota Entune services, SiriusXM Satellite Radio and the 90-day trial subscription. Optional for all other 4Runner models, the system also comes with HD Radio with iTunes tagging and text/e-mail-to-speech.

With a maximum towing capacity of 5,000 pounds, the 2012 4Runner is available in SR5, Limited and Trail trim. It uses sturdy body-on-frame construction and comes standard with a 270-horsepower 4.0-liter V6 engine, which is more powerful than the V8 offered in 2009, and can be fitted with an optional third row of seating.

Scheduled to begin arriving at dealerships in late October 2011, the new 4Runner will be priced as follows. Delivery, processing and handling fees are extra and vary depending on region.

2WD SR5, five-speed manual                                         $31,090

2WD Limited V6, five-speed automatic                            $38,595

4WD SR5, five-speed automatic                                     $32,830

4WD Limited, five-speed automatic                                 $40,630

4WD Trail, five-speed automatic                                     $36,755


Tow Test: 2011 Dodge Durango Citadel

September 2011 — The 2011 Dodge Durango is based on the same Mercedes-Benz ML chassis as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, a result of the erstwhile DaimlerChrysler marriage, but they are remarkably different vehicles. As with, say, a Land Rover, a Jeep must have certain off-road capabilities so it can safely be sold to the brand’s faithful, but the Durango has no such prerequisites. The only thing the new Durango had to be was better than the old one. And it is. By a wide margin.

To read the full tow test of Dodge's new Durango Citadel, click on the "Tow Vehicle Tests" button or click here.


Chevrolet Trailblazer to Return in 2013

October 12, 2011 — Following on the heels of its new Colorado, a new Trailblazer will be unveiled at the Dubai International Motor Show November 10 through 14. The Trailblazer nameplate has been absent from GM’s product portfolio since 2009.

Built on a new midsize platform designed for global application, the new Trailblazer was developed by GM do Brasil. GM said it will “combine the hauling and towing capability of an SUV with the ride comfort and efficiency of a crossover.”

Like the recently announced Colorado, the new Trailblazer will first be offered for sale in Thailand beginning in early 2012. Though there is no official word from GM about this, our estimation is that the Trailblazer will use the same platform—or a derivation of it—as the Colorado. Details are few at this point, and as you can see from the image shown, the product is complete, but GM is keeping specifics to a minimum.

Based on the image, rear cargo space looks smaller compared with other midsize SUVs such as Mercedes-Benz’s ML class or Volkswagen’s Touareg, or even GM’s own Enclave/Traverse/Acadia platform. We will follow the story as it develops.


Ram Trucks’ RamBox Option Gets Longer and Cheaper for 2012

October 11, 2011 — Anytime you can get more storage in a truck, it’s a plus. RamBox, Dodge’s lockable bedside storage system, was previously available only on 5-foot, 7-inch bed lengths.

For 2012, RamBox is now available on 6-foot, 4-inch bed lengths, which yields an extra 10 inches of storage space inside, and grows from 7.3 cubic feet to 8.6 cubic feet. As a result, the new RamBox can hold long-handled shovels, one-piece fishing rods or up to 140 beverage cans. It’s also available on more models

Now truck shoppers can get RamBox on the 1500 regular and Quad Cab models and single-rear-wheel 2500 and 3500  Crew Cab and Mega Cab models.

 “The 6-foot-4-inch RamBox is the definition of ‘more of a good thing,’” said Fred Diaz, president and CEO Ram truck brand and Chrysler de Mexico – Chrysler Group LLC. “We have dramatically expanded RamBox availability and given it an outstanding price. Having convenient, secure storage for your gear – whether it’s worksite tools, sporting equipment or a few cases of refreshments for the team – makes RamBox one of the greatest innovations that you’ll find on a pickup truck.”

Pricing for the optional storage system has decreased for 2012, despite the added capacity.  Regardless of bed length, the RamBox option costs $1,295.

The compartments are lockable, lighted and self-draining. They are as wide as the wheel wells, so you can still lay a 4 by 8 sheet of plywood in the bed. The lids feature swing hinges with intermediate and 90 degree open positions. The RamBox system also includes an adjustable bed divider/extender and a cargo rail tracks with adjustable cleats.

For more on RamBox storage systems, visit:


It’s Official: New Colorado Will be Built and Sold in U.S.

October 10, 2011 — General Motors confirmed Monday that the new Chevrolet Colorado that debuted in Thailand last week also will be built and sold in the United States and other markets around the world.

The current Colorado and Canyon will be built in Shreveport, La., through the 2012 model year, GM said.

“The new Chevrolet Colorado is generating a lot of excitement as we begin its launch in Thailand,” said Chris Perry, vice president, global marketing and strategy for Chevrolet. “We think the design, capability and fuel efficiency of the new Colorado will make it attractive to U.S. customers.”

Although the new pickup is a global platform, the truck we ultimately get in the U.S. market likely would be different from the one launched in Thailand. In a conference with automotive journalists in Los Angeles last week, president of General Motors North America Mark Reuss said platforms will differ—in fact, should differ—from market to market to best serve the needs of those customers.

One of the key differences between the U.S. and Thailand markets is powertrain. Thailand Colorados come with two different four-cylinder diesels. In the U.S., that could change. GM said engine availability for the American market, in which towing capacity plays a greater role, will be announced later.

“For example, Chevrolet Colorado Chief Engineer Roberto Rempel and his team lived in Thailand during the Colorado’s development,” said Brad Merkel, global vehicle line executive. “They immersed themselves in the highly competitive truck market and observed how the Thai people use their vehicles and the driving conditions they experience.

“A similar development process will precede the launch of the truck in the U.S. market,” said Merkel. “We think American customers will be pleased with the results.”


Chevrolet Unveils All-New Global Colorado Pickup

October 7, 2011 — Chevrolet’s all new Colorado made its global debut Wednesday in Bangkok, Thailand, but the question on the minds of interested customers in the United States, “Will it be available in our part of the globe?”

So, what follows may or may not apply here in North America, but GM did say it will announce more markets and production sites for the Colorado in the coming months.

2012 Global Colorado introduced in Thailand.                                    Photos: General Motors

Five years and $2 billion in the making, the new Colorado is slated to be sold in more than 60 markets around the world. The rest-of-the-world Colorado comes in 26 combinations of models, powertrains, two- and four-wheel drive, cab configurations and ride heights.

Details are scarce, but it is difficult to imagine GM spending so much money on developing a model that won’t make it to the U.S. market. Even Buicks developed by and for the Chinese market are selling here.

“Our objective from the beginning of the program was ‘haul anything, go anywhere’ – and that’s exactly what the new Colorado delivers,” said Brad Merkel, GM’s global vehicle line executive for midsize trucks. “We have engineered it to meet the needs and desires of commercial and personal buyers alike. It can be a workhorse, a family hauler, a lifestyle vehicle, or a truck that plays to the higher-end premium buyer.”

The Colorado features a global—there’s that word again—body-on-frame chassis that was designed to meet “the highest possible safety standards wherever it is sold.”

Engine choices so far are two four-cylinder diesels. The first is a 2.8-liter turbodiesel rated at 180 horsepower and 346 pound-feet of torque. The other is a 2.5-liter diesel rated at 150 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices are a Hydra-Matic six-speed automatic or a five-speed manual gear box.

It also comes with electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, traction control, hydraulic brake assist, cornering brake control and driver and occupant front air bags. 

On four-wheel drives, the Colorado comes with a new electronically actuated part-time transfer case.

In terms of styling, the new Colorado looks like Chevrolet concept truck displayed in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last year, with a power dome in the hood, the dual-inlet grille with the bowtie located dead center. A first for Colorado, LED tail lamps are used on high-level models. Trim levels are identical to those used in U.S.: LS, LT and LTZ.

“The new Colorado represents our largest-ever engineering and manufacturing program and demonstrates the outstanding skills and capability that exist in this country,” said GM Thailand president Martin Apfel. “Our manufacturing operations have the ability to meet the needs of the local and global marketplace now and well into the future.”

For more information, visit


2012 Toyota Sequoia Gets Towing-Friendly Features

October 5, 2011 — Toyota’s Sequoia has been a competent tow vehicle since its introduction, and for 2012 it gets a few tweaks to make towing safer and easier. Toyota announced that the Sequoia Platinum edition will be fitted with a new blind spot monitor and that the trailer sway control system, which also comes on the Tundra pickup, will be standard.

Simply stated, the optional blind spot monitor sounds an alarm to alert the driver that a vehicle is traveling in his or her blind spot, which is typically in the three-quarter rear position to the right and left.

Trailer sway control is new for 2012. The system uses the SUV’s vehicle stability control to assist in countering forces that act on a truck and minimize the impact of trailer sway.

2012 Toyota Sequoia                                                                                   Photo: Toyota

The Sequoia also comes with some towing features that aren’t new for 2012, but are worth pointing out. With a towing capacity of 7,400 pounds, the Sequoia’s hitch is integrated into the frame as a single unit. As with other Toyota SUVs, the Sequoia comes in SR5, Limited and Platinum trim levels.

Engine choices are the 310-hp 4.6 liter V8 and the 381-hp 5.7 liter V8, which produces 90 percent of its peak torque at 2,200 rpm. Regardless of engine choice, the Sequoia’s transmission comes with tow/haul mode. In select areas, Sequoia 4x4 5.7-liter models have E85 Flex Fuel capability.

There is also a host of safety enhancing technology. In addition to vehicle stability control, the Sequoia comes with antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, traction control. The Platinum edition comes standard with dynamic laser cruise control, which helps maintain a preset distance from the vehicles ahead.

In terms of crash safey, the Sequoia comes with a dual-stage advanced airbag system. Airbags are located in the sides of the front seats, as side curtains for all three rows, plus for the driver and front passengers knees, still the only SUV to offer them in that location.

For more information, visit:


GMC Terrain Debuts Camera-Based Collision-Alert System

October 4, 2011 — GMC just announced a new optional crash-avoidance system that uses one windshield-mounted camera to help drivers avoid front-end collisions, and crashes that can result from unsignaled lane departures.

Debuting on the 2012 model, Terrain Active Safety uses a high-resolution camera mounted ahead of the rearview mirror that detects shapes of vehicles and lane markings. The Terrain, which has a maximum towing capacity of 3,500 pounds, also comes standard with a rearview camera.

When a collision is imminent or, at speeds above 35 mph, when the driver moves out of a lane without signaling first, the system triggers an audible warning and a lighted display mounted atop the center stack.

“Digital image sensors are used in just about everything from cameras to mobile phones to computers and this is making them a more-affordable alternative for use in vehicles,” said Raymond Kiefer, General Motors technical fellow for crash avoidance systems. “By combining a digital camera with state-of-the-art image processing algorithms, we’re able to estimate when a crash may be imminent.”

According to GM, the system uses software that examines each of the 14 frames per second the camera captures and searches for shapes “characteristic of vehicles.” The system then checks detected vehicles over successive frames for changes in size and calculates time to collision. The system also takes speed, directional change, and accelerator and brake pedal applications into account.


The system operates at speeds 25 mph and above, and when it predicts an imminent collision, it precharges the brake system to help the driver quickly achieve maximum braking. It works as long as the camera eye is unobstructed by things such as snow or mud.

For gathering visual information at night, the system analyzes four separate exposures. Why? To get clear images of light sources, the camera needs short exposures. To detect shapes and textures, it needs longer exposures.

“GM is committed to providing protection before, during and after a crash, but the best scenario is to avoid a collision in the first place, and this technology is designed to assist drivers for that purpose,” said Gay Kent, GM executive director of Vehicle Safety and Crashworthiness.

The system is optional, but the price is just $295

For more on the GMC Terrain, visit:


GM to Sell Compressed Natural Gas-fueled Commercial Pickups

October 3, 2011 — General Motors already sells Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana cargo vans that can be powered by conventional gasoline or compressed natural gas, and it announced today that it will begin selling bi-fuel commercial pickups in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Bi-fuel commercial trucks will still be covered by GM’s three-year, 36,000 mile new vehicle limited warranty and its five-year 100,000 mile limited powertrain and vehicle emissions warranty. The vehicles meet all emissions requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board.

IMPCO's assembly line in Union City, Ind.                                          Photo: General Motors

“GM’s original equipment is engineered, validated and warranted, which makes the decision to purchase our bi-fuel pickup trucks easy,” said Joyce Mattman, director, GM commercial product and specialty vehicles. “Like our CNG vans, this turnkey product will be the best solution in the market and makes good business sense.”

According to the news release, GM is the only OEM that currently offers a single-source commercial option. Roush CleanTech will convert Ford pickups and vans, but Ford Motor Company doesn’t offer “off-the-shelf” products on its dealers’ lots.

In producing the bi-fuel vehicles, GM has partnered with IMPCO Automotive, a tier-one supplier in Union City, Ind., for integrating the CNG delivery and storage systems in its vans and pickups.

For comparison’s sake, .77 cubic foot of CNG at 2,400 psi contains the same amount of BTU’s of energy as a gallon of gas. The bonus is that CNG costs roughly 40 percent less than gasoline, equivalent to about $1.78-per-gallon gasoline, according to Southern California Gas. Remember when gas cost that little?

“Customers want a choice when it comes to fuel because it helps them manage their business costs,” said Brian Small, general manager, GM Fleet and Commercial Operations. “We listened and we are going to move fast to bring a bi-fuel CNG product to market to meet our customer’s needs.”

For more on the story, visit:



2012 F-150 Gets a New FX Appearance Package

September 30, 2011 — Ford redesigned and built to the F-150 to get the best fuel economy in its class. For 2012, it’s making other improvements.

Ford used the Texas state fair for public debuts of its new Harley-Davidson edition and it’s new FX appearance package, which features exterior touches like flat black paint accents and 20-inch wheels. On the inside, the FX package delivers black leather seating surfaces with red trim, brushed metal accents and a red-stitched steering wheel.

2012 Ford F-150 FX2                                                              Photos: Ford Motor Company

“The new FX package delivers a distinctive style that truck buyers are looking for without compromising on any of the F-150’s rugged qualities,” said Raj Sarkar, F-150 marketing manager. “It expands our range of specialty vehicles with custom elements that customers previously could find only in the aftermarket.”

In terms of technology advances, the FX package includes a hill-start assist feature, a new automatic four-wheel-drive system for Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum models, and expanded availability of electronic locking rear axles for 3.5-liter EcoBoost and 5.0-liter V8 power plants.

Hill Start Assist, keeps the truck from rolling backward as the driver moves his foot from the brake pedal to accelerator when stopped on a hill, especially when towing. When the brake pedal is depressed, and the sensors detect the vehicle is on a slope, it engages automatically. Braking pressure holds for up to two seconds after the driver releases the brake pedal. It prevents the driver from having to operate the pedals with two feet.

All 2012 F-150 four-wheel drives now have neutral tow capability, which means they can be flat-towed behind a motorhome. Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum models get a new two-speed automatic transfer case, which has high and low ranges in four-wheel drive, but now also offers a 4x4 auto mode. According to the news release, “If the truck senses a loss of traction, it immediately transfers torque to the front wheels, making the system more seamless for the customer.”

“These changes are centered around making F-150 an even more useful tool for our customers,” said Jackie DiMarco, F-150 chief engineer. “We’re continuously raising the bar when it comes to capability, and these upgrades and new technologies push us even further.”

For more information, visit:


GM Introduces Front Center Air Bag on Crossovers

September 29, 2011 — In analyzing data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, General Motors found that side impact-crashes were responsible for a significant amount of passenger fatalities.

According to GM’s analysis, far-side impact crashes, “accounted for 11 percent of the belted front occupant fatalities in non-rollover impacts between 2004 and 2009 involving 1999 model year or newer vehicles. These far-side fatalities, where the occupant is on the non-struck side of the vehicle, also represent 29 percent of all the belted front occupant fatalities in side impacts.”

Video screen-grabs of single-occupant crash tests with and without center air bag. Photos: GM

The new airbag deploys from the right side of the driver’s seat backrest. It’s a tethered, tubular airbag designed to provide restraint during crashes when the driver is the only occupant. It’s also desgined to serve as an absorbing cushion between the driver and front-seat passenger.

“The front center air bag is not required by federal regulation, and no other air bag in passenger vehicles today offers the type of restraint and cushioning this air bag is designed to provide for front occupants,” said Scott Thomas, senior staff engineer in GM’s advanced restraint systems.

Video screen-grabs of double-occupant crash tests with and without center air bag.

The first vehicles to be fitted with the new airbag will be the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia.

“While no restraint technology can address all body regions or all potential injuries, the front center air bag is designed to work with the other air bags and safety belts in the vehicles to collectively deliver an even more comprehensive occupant restraint system,” said Gay Kent, GM executive director of vehicle safety and crashworthiness.

For a slow-motion video of crash tests with and without the center airbag, visit:


Ford Debuts Web Tool for Cross-Comparing Pickups

September 28, 2011 — Some Web developer somewhere just cashed a huge check from Ford Motor Company.

Ford just launched an online tool that allows users to enter details about how they use their trucks—for work or play, for example—and find out which F-150 engine suits their needs. Then users can enter how much weight in cargo they typically carry, how heavy the trailer they tow and recommend an engine package to the user.

The page has video, flash graphics, sound effects and lots of interactive features. It’s kind of cool to see even if you are not in the market for a new tow vehicle.

On the recommendation page, the site compares the F-150 with comparable models from Chevrolet, Dodge and Toyota, highlighting city and highway fuel mileage figures, horsepower and torque and cargo and towing capacities. Nissan’s Titan was not included the comparisons.

“We found a way to bring F-150’s key advantages to life in a relevant and engaging manner that tells the customer a story,” said Raj Sarkar, F-150 Marketing manager. “No matter what kind of capability someone is looking for in their truck, they can find a combination that fits their needs and beats the competition.”

In addition to a site option to build and price their truck, users can share their findings on Facebook or Twitter and print the results. Users also can view the whole series of EcoBoost V6 torture tests we reported on earlier.

The F-150 comparison tool also will be accessible on in the coming weeks. A neutral third party, Kelley Blue Book ensured all information was accurate.

To access the comparison tool, visit:


A.R.E. Debuts New MX Series for ‘11 Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram

September 27, 2011 — Versatility is the watchword for A.R.E.’s new MX series camper shell. With its walk-in door option that eliminates the truck’s tailgate and the ability to lift the entire rear hatch assembly, the MX series makes pickups even more versatile.

The MX series features a raised ceiling for additional headroom and greater storage capacity, and it’s now available for the 2011 Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram in all cab and bed configurations.

“Our popular walk-in door is unique to A.R.E. customers and delivers easy access to the truck bed, making it perfect for camping, tailgate parties, transporting large pets and other outdoor family activities,” said Bryan Baker, director of marketing, A.R.E.  “It also provides a better line-of-sight for users who pull trailers.  And thanks to our standard T-lock design, any gear your store in the bed will stay secure.”

Painted to match the truck’s factory finish using identical OEM paint codes, A.R.E. camper shells are available with options such as single or double front sliding windows, side access “win-doors,” screen-side vent windows, a battery-powered dome light, interior clothes rods. The shell and its finish is backed by a limited warranty for the life of the pickup on which they were originally installed.

For more information, visit


When a Good Deal is too Good to be True

September 26, 2011 — Used car prices spiked in April and May, so good deals were tough to find. As rental car companies begin selling portions of their fleets this autumn, prices should begin to soften, but consumers should be aware that some deals are too good to be true.

Record rainfall and hurricanes in the eastern United States mean flood-damaged vehicles could begin turning up in classified ads in or near those regions. According to a news release from the American Automobile Association, flood-damaged vehicles could linger in the marketplace for up to a year, so consumers looking for a good price on a used tow vehicle should be wary.

“Depending on the vehicle make, model and age, the cost of a thorough cleaning and drying may exceed the car’s value,” said John Nielsen, director of AAA Auto Repair. “In many cases, insurance companies ‘total’ flood-damaged vehicles, which are then sold to salvage companies.

However, rather than being disassembled for parts, some of these vehicles end up being purchased by individuals who bring varying levels of expertise to the restoration process."


Given the amount of electronics on modern automobiles, flood damage can continue to create problems for years. Items such as window mechanisms, switches, door locks, power modules and air conditioning components are particularly vulnerable to flood damage, according to the release.

AAA offered the following tips for detecting whether a given vehicle was involved in flood damage:

— Obtain a CARFAX vehicle history report, which can potentially reveal if the vehicle has been involved in a flood, major accident, fire, or uncover odometer fraud. Engage your sense of smell to detect any damp or musty odors inside the vehicle.

— Has the carpet or upholstery been replaced or recently shampooed? Pullback the carpet at different areas and look for mud, dirt or signs of water stains.

— Inspect the dashboard underside for signs of mud and dirt. This is a particularly hard area to clean.

— Look under the vehicle for corrosion. It is uncommon to find corrosion in newer vehicles and those that are owned or sold in southern states.

— Open all doors, hood, and trunk to inspect for corrosion, mud and dirt or discoloration on the door frames, hinges and under the weather stripping. Pay special attention to small spaces and crevices that are difficult to clean.

— Check all warning lights, window motors, and all electrical components to ensure they are working properly. While a non-working part alone does not mean the vehicle was flooded, it combined with other difficulties is a cause for concern. 

— If you prefer to have an expert look at it, have the vehicle inspected by a quality repair facility prior to purchasing. You can locate AAA-approved auto repair facilities at


The Most Effective Tool for Achieving Fuel Economy: The Driver

September 23, 2011 — As much as technology has advanced, with improvements in fuel delivery systems, transmissions and even the fuel itself, still the biggest single determinant of a given vehicle’s fuel economy is the driver.

A new report released by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute studied three types of driver decisions: strategic (vehicle selection and maintenance), tactical (route selection and vehicle load), and operational (driver behavior).

Of those three parameters, vehicle selection was the most important factor in achieving greater fuel economy. However, if you need to pull a trailer, you can’t use a Chevrolet Volt or a Nissan Leaf. You need a truck.

The study noted the biggest factors that affect fuel economy. According to the study, aggressive driving represents the largest drop in mileage, followed by driving at excessively high speeds, which tied with route selection.


Wind resistance is exponential. In other words, the increase in wind resistance between 65 and 75 mph is greater than the increase between 55 and 65 mph, which raises fuel consumption. Limiting speeds to 65 or less can have a positive effect on fuel economy.

In terms of route selection, drivers can plan their trips more carefully. One way that has proven useful is the “UPS method,” which means planning your route to include more right turns than left turns. In theory, it reduces idling time spent at traffic lights.

For the full report, visit:

There are more tips at:


New Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon in Final Testing. But Will the U.S. Get These new Models?

September 22, 2011 — GM has been testing preproduction versions of its midsize Colorado and Canyon pickups—in Thailand—but is still mum about whether these models will be built for the U.S. market and whether they will be built in the U.S.

The new models, are destined for Asia Pacific markets as well as Africa, the Middle East and South America. Thailand will be the first nation to get the new Colorado, which will come in crew- and extended-cab configurations. GM’s Rayong plant in Thailand has undergone a $300 million retooling to produce the new pickups. Engines for the new models will be GM’s new 2.5-liter and 2.8-liter turbo diesel engines.

Testing preproduction models in Thailand.                                       Photos: General Motors

The new truck is so important to GM that its chief engineer Roberto Rempel lived in Thailand during its development in an effort to discover how the trucks are used and the environments in which they operate.

“The hard work for this program has been done, and we are incredibly pleased with the results,” Rempel said. “This is a world-class truck that will appeal to buyers not just in the heavily concentrated truck markets of Southeast Asia, but around the world.

“We know customers of this type of vehicle want a workhorse and a daily-use vehicle all in one, so our product has to deliver. We have benchmarked the toughest, most flexible vehicles around the world,” Rempel said. “When you combine that approach with our detailed consideration of global expectations, we are confident the new Colorado will be a winner.”

Colorado chief engineer Roberto Rempel.

Based on his comments, it stands to reason that the trucks could be sold in the U.S market. It’s also interesting to note that Chrysler will not replace its midsize Dakota, and Ford’s Ranger pickup also is going away.

“As we’ve previously announced, production of the U.S.-built Ford Ranger is scheduled to end by the end of 2011,” said Mike Levine, Ford truck communications manager. “There will not be a 2012 Ford Ranger sold in North America, although an all-new Ranger will be available in countries outside of the U.S.”

Such a product void would effectively cede the market to Toyota’s best-selling Tacoma and Nissan’s Frontier.

Colorado rally concept shown in Buenos Aires, Argentina in June.

According to a story in Automotive News, compact and midsize pickups comprised 16.5 percent of the U.S. pickup market in 2010. That’s more than 800,000 vehicles. The story added that U.S. sales of the current model Canyon are up 47 percent through August and the current Colorado is up almost 40 percent.

Adding to the speculative nature of the story is that GM said it will close its assembly plant in Shreveport, La., where the current Colorado and Canyon are built, by June 2012. Another piece of the puzzle is that Dana Corp. was selected to supply axles for GM’s new midsize pickups, but not for Asian production.

Contract negotiations with the United Auto Workers are coming into play as to what models will be built at which plants. GM is expected to release more details next week.


BoatUS Memberships With Trailer Assist a big Plus for Towed Boats

September 21, 2011 — You will read many times in the coming months that it’s never too early to start thinking about Christmas gifts. We don’t necessarily agree, but now seems as good a time as any, particularly when it relates to towing and trailering.

The Boat Owners Association of the United States is offering three different memberships available as gifts online at

The first is a simple Boat US membership, and at $24 it’s a decent deal for the boater on your gift list. The membership includes a subscription to Boat US or Boat US Angler magazine, 24/7 dispatch and $50 worth of on-water or on-the-road towing assistance. It also includes fuel, slip and repair discounts.

You can also opt for the unlimited gift for an additional $34 for freshwater boaters and $125 for saltwater boaters, which covers soft ungroundings, jump starts, fuel delivery and tows back to a marina, home dock or launch ramp on any boat you own, charter or rent.

However, the membership of interest to those who trailer their boats to the water and back is the “trailer assist” membership, which adds $14 to the base price and includes 24/7 dispatch and 100 miles of free towing for the boat trailer and tow vehicle, vehicle lock-out, flat tire, battery jump start and fuel drop-off service. It even covers pulling the boat trailer up a slippery boat ramp if you get stuck. You also get a subscription to Boat US Trailering magazine.

For more information, visit


Toyota Announces Features and Prices for 2012 Tacoma

September 20, 2011 — Toyota’s Tacoma, the best-selling small pickup on the market, will continue on its current chassis, with 2012 changes that include a refreshed exterior look, a redesigned and upgraded interior. Other changes include those focused on comfort, usability and in-vehicle media.

Available in two- or four-wheel drive, the Tacoma comes in Regular Cab, Access and Double Cab configurations. Exterior changes include a redesigned grille and hood, headlamps and fog lights and upper and lower front bumper sections.

In terms of towing capacity, Access Cab and Double Cab models with the V6 tow package are now rated to pull up to 6,500 pounds. The 4.0-liter DOHC V6 is fitted with variable valve timing, and is good for 236 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque.

Photos: Toyota Motor Corp.

Other hard goods include available new heavy-duty all-weather flooring, water resistant fabric used in the seats on TRD Sport and Off-Road models. All new models now have front deck D rings.

Inside, Toyota redesigned the center “stack,” with new HVAC controls and power outlet locations, and redesigned the instrument cluster, dashboard and steering wheel.

The new emphasis on in-vehicle media focuses on the available Toyota Entune system, and the Tacoma is one of the first Toyota vehicles to get it. The system, which includes mobile apps, data services and three years of complimentary service, can be operated via vehicle controls or voice recognition. Smart phones connect via Bluetooth wireless technology or a USB cable. Entune includes Bing and Pandora and real-time information such as traffic and weather.

Two-wheel drive model prices range from $16,875 to $24,760. Four-wheel drives range from $20,725 to $27,835. New models begin arriving in Toyota showrooms in September.

For more information, visit


The Price of Driving Rises Despite Decrease in Maintenance and Insurance Costs

September 18, 2011 — It should not surprise anyone that the costs of driving seem to be going up. Now it’s official.

According to the American Automobile Association’s annual “Your Driving Costs” study, increases in gas and tire prices combined with depreciation drove average costs up 3.4 percent over last year. For example, the average four-wheel-drive SUV costs up to $11,239 per year, or 74.9 cents per mile based on 15,000 miles of driving. 

“Despite seeing reduced costs for maintenance and insurance this year, there is an overall increase in the costs to own and operate a vehicle in the U.S. this year,” said John Nielsen, AAA national director of auto repair, buying and consumer programs. “The 2011 rise in costs is due to relatively large increases in fuel, tire and depreciation costs as well as more moderate increases in other areas.”

According to the study, the cost of tires comprised the largest percentage increase, up 15.7 percent over the previous year. Raw materials, energy prices and transportation costs all played a role in the increase.

Obviously, fuel prices have had significant effect on driving costs, particularly for trucks and SUVs, which have larger fuel tanks and yield fewer miles per gallon. Diesel prices also are typically 10 percent higher than regular gasoline. However, the highest annual cost of driving is also the most overlooked: depreciation.

The study found an increase of 4.9 percent in depreciation costs, with an average of $3,728 for sedans. The study also highlighted two bright spots: maintenance and insurance costs, which showed a year-over-year decrease.

For a downloadable PDF of the study brochure, which includes a handy worksheet for calculating your driving costs, visit:


Infiniti Unveils Sebastian Vettel Edition FX50

September 15, 2011 — Well, it doesn’t have a trailer hitch, so it won’t be used for towing, but it is a SUV worth talking about.

Infiniti just released photos and information on its latest limited-production vehicle, the Sebastian Vettel Edition FX50. If you don’t follow Formula 1 racing, Germany’s Sebastian Vettel is the current points leader and the current world champion. He races for Red Bull Racing, and his car is powered by a Renault engine.

Renault owns 44.3 percent of Nissan, which is the parent company to Infiniti, and Nissan owns 15 percent of Renault, so the tie-in is relevant. The FX50 Sebastian Vettel edition benefits from a raft of mechanical upgrades and aesthetic touches to make it stand out.

Photos: Infiniti USA

“This is the first road car I have helped develop,” Vettel said. “Usually I have hundreds of engineers building one car just for me. So it is fantastic for me to contribute to the design of a car. The result is an Infiniti I am very proud to have my name on. It is all I hoped for: 300km/h, plenty of downforce – and I can still fit my mountain bike in the back. Plus it is totally exclusive – and as an Infiniti driver, that’s important.”

In terms of performance, the FX50 already had a 5.0-liter V8, but Vettel wanted to be sure the car would run 300 kph (186 mph). So engineers tossed the speed limiter, added a new exhaust system and taller gearing, and reprogrammed the ECM, which resulted in 30 more horsepower. Despite higher gearing and top speeds, zero-to-60 times are still under 6 seconds, according to Infiniti. Suspension upgrades include stiffer springs and reworked dampers and a 20 mm lower ride height.

On the outside, Infiniti added a carbon rear wing that creates downforce and stability at high speeds. Engineers also made a 30 percent improvement in the FX50’s coefficient of lift and a 5 percent improvement in the coefficient of drag.

Carbon fiber is used liberally on the SUV, on the splitter, sills, grille, mirror covers and rear diffuser, which also features a central rear fog light that mimics the rain light on a Formula 1 car. Use of carbon fiber continues inside on the doors and center console with black chrome accents. For wheels, Infiniti went with 21-inch black alloys with bright rims, which would look good on darn near anything.

The standard FX50 is rated to pull 3,500 pounds, but this SUV is too pretty to be used for towing.

“We are always keen to listen to what our customers have to say about our cars, whoever they are,” said Shiro Nakamura, Infiniti senior vice president and chief creative officer. “Equally we are always keen to show how individual our cars are, and how personalization can subtly alter their character. Making the perfect FX for Sebastian was the ideal demonstration of this.”

For a video on the car’s development process, visit:


EPA and DOT Announce Next Generation of Fuel Economy Labels

September 14, 2011 — As automotive technology has advanced, with particular regard to hybrids, electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, the Evironmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation unveiled new fuel economy labels to help buyers understand how different vehicles compare with one another.

This is the first time in more than 30 years that the labels have been overhauled. Beginning in 2013, the new fuel economy labels will be required on all new passenger cars and trucks, whether they are powered by conventional internal combustion engines or new technologies such as plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. Automakers also can voluntarily use the new labels for 2012 vehicles.

Conventional gasoline engine label

"These labels will provide consumers with up-front information about a vehicle's fuel costs and savings so that they can make informed decisions when purchasing a new car,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The idea behind the over haul is to provide consumers with more complete fuel-economy information when purchasing a new vehicle. Developed with cooperation of automakers, the new 2010 fuel economy regulations will increase the efficiency of cars and trucks built in model years 2012 thorugh 2016, a move that reportedly will save the average consumer $3,000 in fuel costs.

"Today's car buyers want the best possible information about which cars on the lot offer the greatest fuel economy and the best environmental performance,” LaHood continued. “The new labels provide comprehensive information to American car buyers, helping them make a choice that will save money at the gas pump and prevent pollution in the air we breathe."

The new labels will provide the following information:

— New ways to compare energy use and cost between new-technology cars that use electricity and conventional cars that are gasoline-powered.

— Estimates on how much consumers will save or spend on fuel over the next five years compared with the average new vehicle.

— Ratings of how a model compares to all others for smog emissions and emissions of pollution that contribute to climate change.

— An estimate of how much fuel or electricity it takes to drive 100 miles.

— Information on the driving range and charging time of an electric vehicle.

— A QR Code® that will allow smartphone users to access online information about how various models compare on fuel economy and other environmental and energy factors. This tool also will allow consumers to enter information about their typical commutes and driving to get a more precise estimate of fuel costs and savings.

For more information and examples of the new labels, visit:


August Vehicle Searches Show Continued Interest in Trucks and SUVs

September 13, 2011 — released details of its August statistics, which show that interest in small and midsize cars has ebbed, and interest in new trucks and SUVs grew stronger. Guess what was the top-searched vehicle in new and used categories. The Ford F-150. No great shock there.

Despite fuel prices inching upward again toward the end of peak travel season, half-ton pickups from all three domestic automakers are among the top 10 searched vehicles in new and used categories. Even Ford’s F-250 Super Duty was among the top 10 used vehicles searched in August, according to a news release. Its F-350 was 20th on the list.

SUVs also climbed up on the stats list. For example, the new Chevrolet Tahoe moved up four spots to No. 17. The new Jeep Grand Cherokee moved up five spots to No. 14.

Top 10 Most Searched New Vehicles for August

1. Ford F-150

2. Chevrolet Camaro

3. Ford Mustang

4. Jeep Wrangler

5. Chevrolet Silverado 1500

6. Chevrolet Corvette

7. Dodge Ram 1500

8. Dodge Challenger

9. Ford F-250

10. Chevrolet Cruze

Top 10 Most Searched Used Vehicles for August

1. Ford F-150

2. BMW 3-series

3. Chevrolet Silverado 1500

4. Ford Mustang

5. Ford F-250

6. Jeep Wrangler

7. Honda Accord

8. Dodge Ram 1500

9. Honda Civic

10. Chevrolet Silverado 2500

For more on the story, visit:


Fuel Economy Ratings Driving Half-Ton Pickup Market

September 7, 2011 — Despite the dominant performance of Ford’s V6-powered pickups, General Motors management remains calm.

According to a Sept. 6 report on, GM has sold 252,738 Chevrolet Silverados and 93,438 GMC Sierra’s through the month of August, compared with 340,783 F-150s sold in the same period.

GM execs cite fuel mileage figures of its small V8s as comparable to the V6 Fords. However, every mile per gallon will become more important as new fuel economy standards begin to take effect from 2016 through 2025.

GM and Chrysler are working on hybrid and V6 powertrains that could prove capable in half-ton pickup applications. Also, engineering companies such as Ricardo and others are working on turbocharged V6 gasoline engines that use direct injection and alcohol injection on the same engine.

One reason the EcoBoost V6 F-150s haven’t taken over the market is that they offer only marginally better EPA fuel economy ratings. Price also comes into play, but that’s a complicated issue because some of the more expensive engines are not available in lesser trim levels, which are less expensive than more well appointed models, and it’s not relevant to capability.

For the sake of comparison, the chart below lists the fuel economy ratings for a cross section of V6 and V8-powered half-ton two- and four-wheel drive models on the U.S. market, their towing capacities (with automatic transmissions) and EPA fuel economy ratings. The comparison pertains to 2011 extended-cab standard bed models.

Ford F-150 SuperCab, standard bed

Engine: 3.5L EcoBoost V6

Horsepower: 365 @ 5,000 rpm

Torque: 420 pound-feet @ 2,500 rpm

EPA Fuel Economy 2WD:               16 city, 22 highway

EPA Fuel Economy 4WD:               15 city, 21 highway

Towing capacity 2WD: 9,800 lbs. (3.55:1 axle ratio)

Towing capacity 4WD: 9,800 lbs. (3.55:1 axle ratio)

Ford F-150 SuperCab, standard bed

Engine: 3.7L V6 (nonturbocharged)

Horsepower: 302 @ 6,500 rpm

Torque: 278 pound feet @ 4,000 rpm

EPA Fuel Economy 2WD:               17 city, 23 highway

EPA Fuel Economy 4WD:               16 city, 21 highway

Towing capacity 2WD: 5,800 lbs. (3.73:1 axle ratio)

Towing capacity 4WD: 5,500 lbs. (3.73:1 axle ratio)

Chevrolet Silverado Extended Cab, standard bed

Engine: 5.3L Vortec V8

Horsepower: 315 @ 5,200 rpm

Torque: 335 @ 4,400 rpm

EPA Fuel Economy 2WD:               15 city, 21 highway

EPA Fuel Economy 4WD:               15 city, 21 highway

Towing capacity 2WD:               9,700 lbs. (3.42:1 axle ratio)

Towing capacity 4WD:               9,600 lbs. (3.42:1 axle ratio)

Dodge Ram 1500 Quad Cab

Engine: 4.7L V8

Horsepower: 310 @ 5,650 rpm

Torque: 330 pound-feet @ 3,950 rpm

EPA Fuel Economy 2WD:               14 city, 19 highway

EPA Fuel Economy 4WD:               13 city, 18 highway

Towing capacity 2WD: 7,450 lbs. (3.55:1 axle ratio)

Towing capacity 4WD: 7,300 lbs. (3.55:1 axle ratio)

Toyota Tundra DoubleCab

Engine: 4.6L V8

Horsepower: 310 @ 5,600 rpm

Torque: 327 pound-feet @ 3,400 rpm

EPA Fuel Economy 2WD:               15 city, 20 highway

EPA Fuel Economy 4WD:               14 city, 19 highway

Towing capacity 2WD: 10,100 lbs. (4.10:1 axle ratio)

Towing capacity 4WD: 9,800 lbs.              (4.10:1 axle ratio)

Nissan Titan King Cab, standard bed

Engine: 5.6L Endurance V8

Horsepower: 317 @ 5,200 rpm

Torque: 385 pound-feet @ 3,400 rpm

EPA Fuel Economy 2WD:               13 city, 18 highway

EPA Fuel Economy 4WD:               12 city, 17 highway

Towing capacity 2WD: 7,400 lbs.

Towing capacity 4WD: 9,300 lbs.

For more on the story, visit:


Hemi-Powered Dodge Rams Get New Six-Speed Transmission in 2012

September 1, 2011 — The buzz in the media of late has centered on small cars and hybrids, but trucks are still one of the largest segments in the auto industry, with more than 1.1 million units sold last year.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to have a truck. Dodge understands that, and has made some improvements to its Ram lineup for 2012.

For example the Heavy Duty Ram gets a new six-speed automatic transmission in its Hemi-powered models. A replacement for the 545RFE five speed in the 2011 models, the new transmission features electronic range select and tow/haul model, which minimizes gear hunting and provides automatic downshift capability while decelerating, a big plus while towing on long downhill grades.

Dodge's new six-speed for HD Hemi models.                             Photos: Chrysler Group LLC

“Ram Heavy Duty truck owners need pulling power – 79 percent of them rate towing as extremely important,” said Fred Diaz, president and CEO, Ram Truck Brand and Chrysler de Mexico — Chrysler Group LLC. “Reliability and engine performance are tied for second – named as extremely important by 73 percent of owners. Ram Truck’s unsurpassed 5-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and Cummins’ proven reputation for reliability are a direct response to our customers’ high expectations. We stand behind our commitment to build great trucks with best-in-class capabilities.”

In addition to the new transmission, the 2012 Ram gets improvements under the hood. The Hemi now produces 383 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque thanks to new technologies such as variable valve timing,and an active intake manifold with long runners for low-end grunt and short runners for top end power. Cylinder heads have an increased compression ratio, flow more efficently and benefit from reduced restriction in the exhaust system.

Dodges’ Ram SLT, Outdoorsman, Power Wagon, Laramie and Laramie Longhorn models also get a standard electronic brake controller. The 2500 Ram gets a standard tire pressure monitoring system.

2012 Dodge Ram 3500

On the 3500, the max towing package boosts the Ram’s towing capacity to 22,750 and up to 30,000 pounds GCWR. Models equipped with the Cummins 6.7-liter diesel benefit from a standard exhaust brake and massive four wheel disc brakes with antilock. It’s also notable that the Cummins diesel is the only engine offered by any of the Detroit Three that passes 50-state emissions without need for diesel exhaust fluid.

Ram 2500 and 3500’s come standard with Class IV receivers. The 3500 comes standard with towing mirrors that flip up and out vertically for greater visibility. Even when flipped up, the orientation of the mirror switch inside the truck still functions as normal. Up moves the mirror up, not left. Down moves it down, not right.

For more information, visit:


Nissan Announces Pricing on 2012 Titan Pickups and Armada SUV

August 31, 2011 — Nissan’s full-size pickup and SUV, the Titan and Armada, respectively, continue for 2012. The Titan is available in King and Crew Cab body styles with two wheelbases of 138.9 and 159.5 inches and three bed lengths. Trim levels also will remain the same: S, SV, PRO-4X and SL.

For 2012, a new Sport Appearance Package is available with King Cab and Crew Cab SV models. The package includes 20-inch aluminum wheels in a dark, “hyper silver” finish, a darkened grille treatment, body-color front and rear bumpers and black step rails. Inside, Nissan lifted seats from the PRO-4X, with silver contrasting stitching, and installed white-face gauges, fog lamps and a new center console. Brilliant silver is a new color for 2012.

Power still comes from the immensely capable 5.6-liter Endurance V8, which is rated at 317 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque (it also has arguably the best-sounding stock exhaust note on the market).

Buyers who tow will like that the five-speed automatic features a tow/haul mode and that the truck holds 28 gallons of fuel. In terms of capacity, the 2012 Titan King Cab is rated to tow 9,500 pounds and the Crew Cab is rated for 9,400 pounds when properly equipped.

Some unique features include an available factory-applied spray-on bedliner, the Utili-Track bed channel system with adjustable aluminum tie-down cleats and the lockable storage compartment behind the left rear wheel. We also can appreciate the tailgate area illumination and available bed-mounted 12-volt utility power outlet.

Photos: Nissan

2012 Armada Pricing

Armada 4x2 SV 5AT              $38,490

Armada 4x2 SL 5AT               $43,940

Armada 4x2 Platinum 5AT      $51,050

Armada 4x4 SV 5AT              $44,090

Armada 4x4 SL 5AT               $46,840

Armada 4x4 Platinum 5AT      $53,950

2012 Titan Pricing

Titan S King Cab 4x2 SWB               $27,410

Titan SV King Cab 4x2 SWB             $29,410

Titan S King Cab 4x4 SWB               $30,260

Titan SV King Cab 4x4 SWB             $32,260

Titan PRO-4X King Cab 4x4 SWB      $35,140

Titan S Crew Cab 4x2 SWB              $29,960

Titan SV Crew Cab 4x2 SWB            $31,610

Titan SV Crew Cab 4x2 LWB             $32,060

Titan SL Crew Cab 4x2 SWB             $37,510

Titan S Crew Cab 4x4 SWB              $32,810

Titan SV Crew Cab 4x2 SWB            $34,460

Titan SV Crew Cab 4x4 LWB             $34,940

Titan PRO-4X Crew Cab 4x4 SWB      $37,340

Tital SL Crew Cab 4x4 SWB              $40,210


Chevrolet to Offer New WiFi System in its 2012 Silverado

August 29, 2011 — People who use their trucks as part of their businesses will appreciate Chevy WiFi, a new dealer-installed system from Chevrolet that delivers high-speed Internet service to the 2012 Silverado.

Also ideal for contractors or travelers who want access to the Web on something larger than a mobile device, Chevy WiFi provides full Internet access for multiple users within a 150-fot radius of the truck, via a laptop, smart phone or another WiFi-enabled device.

“We know business doesn’t stop when people are out of the office,” said Dan Tigges, product manager, full-size trucks and utility vehicles. “Autonet allows them to enhance productivity by seamlessly and conveniently continue doing business at the jobsite.”

The system requires no special hardware and can support video streaming services whether the vehicle is in motion or parked. Autonet Mobile supplies the router, which runs on 3G and 2.5G cellular data networks and provides the monthly service.

For fleet applications—or keeping watch on your teenager—apps such as Find My Car tracks the location of the vehicle. The app Geo Fence allows users to define multiple virtual geographical areas, and send a time-stamped notification of the location when a boundary is crossed. There is also an app called Content Filter that works like parental controls on a desktop to keep children from accessing inappropriate sites.

Available at Chevrolet dealers, the system sells for $399. For more information, visit: ado_wifi.~content~gmcom~home~vision~design_technology.html


Cadillac Escalade, Large Pickups Top Stolen Vehicles

August 26, 2011 — Maybe thieves do a lot of towing. That might explain the latest data from the Highway Data Loss Institute in Arlington, Va., which shows the Cadillac Escalade is more than six times as likely as the average vehicle to be stolen.

What is second most like vehicle to be stolen? Ford’s four-wheel-drive F-250 Crew Cab.

According to the HLDI, the Escalade EXT, which has a pickup bed had the most theft claims, 14 per thousand insured vehicle years, more than eight times the national average. Pickups overall have much higher theft losses than passenger cars, the HLDI data show.

According to the news released by the HLDI, “HLDI's theft numbers differ from reports by other organizations because they are based on the number of insured vehicles on the road. In contrast, information published by the National Insurance Crime Bureau simply lists the most frequently stolen vehicles. As a result, the list usually reflects the most commonly driven vehicles, not how likely a vehicle is to be targeted.”

Theft prevention technologies such as ignition immobilizers are becoming more common on trucks and SUVs, but they can’t stop all thieves. Aware of the luxury SUV’s allure to thieves, General Motors has fitted Escalades with its Pass Key 3+ system, which thwarts “driveaway thefts” and a steering column lock system. GM released a statement in response to the HLDI information and is implementing new theft-prevention technologies in its 2012 model Escalade. They include:

- A new and more robust steering column lock system that makes it nearly impossible to maneuver the Escalade onto a flatbed tow vehicle

- An available inclination sensor that sets off an alarm when the system senses a change of the angle of the vehicle, such that would occur with towing, flatbedding or jacking up the vehicle. 

- An available shock sensor intended to reduce content theft and push away theft by sounding the alarm when the vehicle is “shocked” such as breaking the glass.

- A new wheel lock system is available to help prevent the theft of Escalade’s wheels and tires.

“We are currently implementing four new pieces of ‘armor’ on Escalade intended to reduce vehicle thefts, particularly those called push away,” said Bill Biondo, GM’s global lead, vehicle theft prevention. “We are committed to beating the thieves and expect these new theft deterrent systems to greatly reduce the Escalade’s rate of theft and lower its position on HLDI’s list.”

For more on the story, visit:


Propane Autogas Fuels California Energy Efficiency Tour

August 24, 2011 — Roush Clean Tech, a leader in propane autogas technology and Ferrellgas, a nationwide propane supplier, are partnering with the California Center for Sustainable Energy for its 18-month tour that will showcase residential energy efficiency technologies and alternative-fuel transportation.

What does this have to do with trucks and towing? Lots. For example, the CCSE tour will use a Ford F-250 pickup with a Roush CleanTech liquid propane autogas fuel system to transport the exhibit. The community events will take place in San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The idea, of course, is to highlight home energy efficiency technology, but also to show that propane autogas is a viable fuel for heavy-duty pickups. According to Roush CleanTech, propane autogas offers more en ergy per unit mass and a higher octane rating than gasoline. One of the biggest drawbacks of ethanol is that has one-third fewer BTU than gasoline. So, although ethanol is cheaper per gallon than regular gasoline, performance is diminished and consumption is higher.

Propane autogas is also noncorrosive, unlike ethanol, and produces fewer emissions than gasoline.

“This is a great partnership that will showcase to Californians that propane autogas is the most readily deployable and flexible alternative fuel,” said Todd Mouw, vice president of sales and marketing for ROUSH CleanTech. “Propane autogas can immediately address air quality concerns for residents.”

Propane autogas-powered vehicles emit up to 24 percent fewer greenhouse gases and 20 percent less oxides of nitrogen and significantly fewer particulates, which is one of the drawbacks of diesel. Also, propane autogas typically costs 30 percent to 40 percent less than gasoline.

Roush CleanTech systems are available on the F-150, F-250 and F-350 Super Duty, F-450 and F-550 chassis cabs and E-150 through E-450 vans, including cutaway chassis. Factory performance is the same as gasoline engines as are the five-year, 60,000 mile warranties.


For more information, visit:

Or, to find liquefied petroleum gas in your area, visit:


Ford Super Duty Diesel Sets new Class Records at Bonneville

August 19, 2011 — Aerodynamics play a role in record-setting cars at Bonneville Salt Flats in Wendover, Utah, but in the case of the two new speed records set by Hajek Motorsports in its F-250 Super Duty it was simply a matter of horsepower.

Using mostly a stock F-250 Super Duty crew cab, Hajek Motorspots set a new B production speed record at 171. 123 mph, besting the previous record of 166.850 set by a Duramax-powered GMC truck. Hajek and his team also set another record for B20 biodiesel at 182 mph.

Photos: Ford Motor Company

Lowered, with front bumper access holes blocked off to decrease wind resistance, the truck featured a mostly stock engines. Performance enhancements to the engine included the high-pressure fuel pump, injectors and turbochargers and a modified compression ratio.

“The engineering that went into the base engine provided us with a rock-solid foundation to start from,” said Paul Niessen, powertrain engineer. “And it worked out great since we increased the output of the engine by more than 50 percent over production with just a few changes.”

Hajek is a corn and soybean farmer from Oklahoma. In addition to the land-speed record truck, Hajek owns six Super Duty Fords used on his farm, including a 1997 model with more than 400,000 miles on the odometer.

“Super Duty has always been the leader in the heavy-duty truck segment,” said Brian Rathsburg, Ford Super Duty marketing manager. “Breaking these records reinforces our leadership position, allows us to raise awareness around the truck’s biodiesel capabilities, and gives us an opportunity to reach out to enthusiasts in a fun and engaging way.”

For more on Ford’s new Power Stroke diesel, visit:


Tow Test: 2011 GMC Sierra Denali HD 2500

April 2011 — The previous generation of GMC's Denali pickup line was good. The new one is better in every way, and the new HD is a huge leap forward in terms of power, equipment and luxury.


We sampled one for a week, in town, on the freeway and, of course, towing a trailer. See the full evaluation in the "Tow Vehicle Tests" section or click the link below.




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