Trends in Trucks and Vans

In today’s truck and van market, vehicle manufacturers are focused on helping customers maintain and drive business with vehicles that are capable, reliable and fuel-efficient. But manufacturers also offer upgrades to personalize work vehicles to the customer’s individual style, so practical doesn’t mean stripped down.

All manufacturers offer vehicles in every gross vehicle weight (GVW) category, from light-duty to heavy towing capacity. And selecting the appropriate GVW goes hand-in-hand with fuel efficiency.

“Whether it is a van or truck, the question is what goods are you carrying?” says Steve Higgs, medium-duty truck marketing manager for GM Fleet and Commercial. “A lot of these people tow things — from towing things to the site or taking things out of the structure. A lot of people don’t think of this, so the vehicle is overloaded, which is also a safety issue as far as braking.”

“The most important feature now in the truck market is capability, specifically trailer tow and payload,” says Mark Grueber, F-150 Expedition/Navigator marketing manager for Ford Motor Company. “What’s happening today is customers are looking for not just capability as far as numbers, but they want to be able to tow confidently.”

“At the end of the day, it’s still all about capability and utility,” says Joel Fukumoto, truck product manager for Toyota Motor Sales, USA. “It’s the reason why you buy a truck in the first place, and there really is no other vehicle that can do what a pickup truck does.”

The Toyota Tundra is available in regular and double-cab models with a standard 4.0-liter V-6 producing 236 hp at 5,200 rpm and 266 lb.-ft. of peak torque at 4,000 rpm. The mid-grade option for these models — and standard for the company’s CrewMax models — is a 4.7-liter i-Force V-8 producing 271 hp at 5,400 rpm and 313 lb.-ft. of peak torque at 3,400 rpm. The Tundra’s TripleTech frame uses wide, full-boxed frame rails for the front portion, reinforced C-channel under the cab and an open C-channel underneath the bed.

“If you’re buying a truck in today’s market, you know that you’re committing yourself to dealing with the fluctuations in fuel prices,” advises Fukumoto. “For the near-term, there will always be a trade-off between capability and fuel economy. In the end, though, capability is still the prime consideration — a contractor is not going to buy a truck that won’t deliver the payload or towing capacity he knows he’s got to have for an extra 1 or 2 mpg.”

“Historically, fuel economy has been ninth most important but our research shows that it is now No. 3,” says Ford’s Mark Grueber.

The 2009 Ford F-150 promises fuel economy that is improved an average of 8 percent across the entire line. The new models deliver a towing capability of 11,300 lbs. and hauling capacity of 3,030 lbs. The Ford F-150 SFE “superior fuel economy” edition delivering up to 21 mpg on the highway with 7,500 lbs. of towing capability. SFE pickups promise 15 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway.

While cost of ownership has always been a factor in vehicle selection, it must be weighed with dependability. “The first thing is they want reliability — knowing it will start in the morning and it will be there for them,” says Steve Higgs. “At the end of the day, this vehicle is the unit that gets them to their place of work and carries their equipment. It’s one of the building blocks of their business”.

The GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express vans are available in quarter-ton, half-ton and 1-ton weight classes, in regular and long wheelbase and with five engine choices. These vans also offer a Duramax 6.6L turbodiesel V-8 engine that delivers 250 hp and a class-leading 460 lb.-ft. of torque. The Duramax 6.6L’s GVW is 12,300 lbs., with a towing capacity of 10,000 lbs. Safety features include head curtain side air bags and Enhanced Technology Glass.

Slick Enhancements

Manufacturers have also advanced vehicle technology with Internet access, tracking and security packages and even equipment inventory systems.

For 2009, the Chevrolet Silverado includes OnStar 8.0, Bluetooth connectivity and XM Satellite Radio with NavTraffic. The vehicle is available in a range of configurations — three cab styles, three cargo box styles and five wheelbase lengths. The Silverado HD offers 18,500-lb. gross combined vehicle weight rating for vehicles with a gas V-8 and a 13,000-lb. conventional trailer weight rating enabled by a larger-capacity trailer hitch platform. Maximum towing capacity is 16,700 lbs. when equipped with a fifth-wheel hitch.

The Nissan Titan full-size pickup has several new features and equipment packages, including new Max Utility Packages that combine various towing and bed utility items. Nissan offers a matte black finish grille and body-color front bumper for Titan XE models and an auto-door locking feature to all power door lock-equipped vehicles. Titan is offered in King Cab and Crew Cab body styles with a choice of 4x4 and 4x2 drive configurations, along with two wheelbases and four bed lengths.

Responding to customer demand, Toyota now offers enhanced control capabilities. Fukumoto says “rear differential enhancements like electronically controlled limited slip or lockers are increasing in popularity, and Tundra’s automatic limited slip differential has been extremely well-received.”

Ford E-Series vans offer four Ford Work Solutions features. An in-dash computer provides high-speed Internet access and navigation by Garmin. Tool Link is a radio-frequency identification asset tracking system enabling a real-time inventory of the tools or equipment stored in the vehicle. Crew Chief is a fleet telematics and diagnostics system for vehicle management and dispatch. Last, a cable lock security system secures large tools or equipment in the cargo area.

Ford still finds a demand for vanity features like 20-in. wheels. Grueber says “Even though you don’t need them, it’s for the looks. We also have a platinum series, very luxurious with real brushed aluminum on the inside and polished wheels and satin chrome on the outside. Even with the market changing, we would expect the platinum series to be about 3 percent of the mix.”

The bottom line is capability; fuel economy and safety are key, but they need to be balanced with style. Steve Higgs explains, “This vehicle reflects the image of the company and it reflects the image of what you’re trying to portray to your customer.”