Shifting Gears

For 2008, manufacturers have heeded the call of customers who need more power, functionality and security. They have equipped their trucks and vans with features that specifically respond to the practical needs of contractors.

Recognizing that a contractor’s vehicle is the key to his livelihood, today’s trucks and vans are efficient, powerful and upfit-ready. Since many work vehicles serve a dual purpose as weekend cruiser, there are plenty of cool new bells and whistles available for sheer pleasure. And they are backed by a service network trained to cater to commercial customers.

Today, fuel economy is everyone’s concern, but when selecting a commercial vehicle, it is a secondary consideration. The primary goal is to choose a vehicle that is powerful enough to handle the job the owner needs it to do and manage the load it must carry. So simple physics dictates that the vehicle’s fuel efficiency is strongly impacted by the amount of weight the vehicle carries.

“Fuel efficiency isn’t really an issue with commercial customers but it is one of the important measures to keep in mind,” says Todd Kaufman, Ford chassis cab marketing manager. “Building trucks is a series of trade-offs. The trade-off for fuel economy is capability — what the truck can do for the business.”

“In vehicles over 8,500 gross weight rating, obviously there are no fuel economy ratings,” says David Gutman, Ford commercial truck and van marketing manager. “The way that you spec it and the stuff you load on it are big variables that can move the fuel economy up or down.

“Year after year in vans and trucks, the request is for more GVW (gross vehicle weight) because they want the truck to have more capability than before,” says Gutman. “You’ve got to engineer it so you can tow more, carry more haul more because the consumer is demanding increased capability.”

The Ford F-Series Super Duty has been overhauled for the 2008 model year. Ford’s Super Duty pickup has been the leader in the over 8,500-lb. truck segment since its launch, offering best-in-class payload, GVWR and trailer tow ratings. Offered in three cab styles — Regular Cab, SuperCab and Crew Cab — and with two bed lengths, the new Super Duty features a bold new look and includes a state-of-the-art Power Stroke V8 Turbo Diesel. The F-450 pickup incorporates a new rear leaf-spring suspension while using the radius arm front suspension from the F-450 chassis cab. This setup provides for a tight turning radius, greatly improving maneuverability when towing. The F-450 pickup offers a maximum payload of more than 6,000 lbs. and towing capacity of more than 24,000 lbs.

“Our light duty offers class leading fuel efficiency,” says Robert Minton, GM fleet and commercial director of communications. “Some of our trucks are available with diesel as opposed to gas engines, and six-speed transmissions. If you’ve got more gears to choose from, the truck can choose the most efficient gear for the given speed and load its bearing so it allows the engine to run at optimal efficiency.”

Weight capacity is a larger concern for contractors than for the average consumer. “Most consumers, even if they do the weekend Home Depot trips, are not even close to maxing out the vehicle’s load capability,” adds Minton. “But on the contractor side, that’s something they need to pay attention to. That’s going to determine the type of vehicle you need.”

Chevrolet Silverado heavy-duties are offered in a range of 2500HD (3-quarter-ton) and 3500HD (1-ton) models. The range of configurations includes three cab styles, three cargo box styles and five wheelbase lengths. Silverado HD pickups offer 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. Changes to the Silverado 2500HD and 3500HD for 2008 include standard XM Satellite Radio on all models, availability of a power-adjustable driver’s seat on regular cab models with a bench seat, brighter instrument pointers in the gauge cluster and two new exterior colors: Dark Cherry Metallic and Deep Ruby Metallic.

All new for 2008, Dodge introduced the Ram 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cabs. Ram 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cabs feature numerous attributes including large standard fuel tank (52 gal.) and large brake rotors (390 mm). For upfit-friendliness, these vehicles feature industry-standard 34-in. frame rail spacing and flat, clean frame rails on a one-piece C-channel rear-frame rail (50,000-psi steel). All chassis components are below the frame surface assuring easy adaptability and versatility for virtually any upfit application. Offered in dual-rear-wheel models, four cab-axle lengths (60, 84, 108 and 120 in.) are available. The Ram 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cabs features a gross vehicle weight range of 14,000 to 19,500 lbs.

Options for Work and Play

Since the range of occupations is so varied, commercial trucks have to be as adaptable as possible in order to accommodate the needs of the owner. Everyone has a specific idea of the vehicle they need and want, so manufacturers have options and upgrades to create trucks that satisfy almost anyone.

“Everybody has their own thing,” says Minton. “One very popular option on work trucks is power seats. This is important because a lot of companies don’t have just one driver. Having power seats is a convenience factor and also a comfort factor.

The ability to have infinite adjustment capability allows you to tailor your seat to where you’re most comfortable.”

Minton adds, “One relatively new option on our pickup trucks is the cargo management system. The cargo management system is all snap-in and plug and play. Before if you wanted those accessories, you had to go to an aftermarket supplier and have them added on, but in this case it’s available as a standard feature.”

Additionally, oversized wheels, heated leather seats, premium sound systems and lots of chrome are hugely popular options today. Minton describes it as “the bling factor.”

Ford’s upgrade options include power folding telescoping mirrors and leather interiors. Gutman says, “In the area of remodeling, the truck has to complement both areas of their life, from utilitarian to a modern-day, personal-use, high-end status symbol. But the personal use guy uses his truck for work so he’s got it dolled up.”

For 2008, Nissan has expanded the Titan pickup line with the addition of two new long bed configurations and a new PRO-4X grade, which is available in both King Cab and Crew Cab four-wheel-drive standard bed configurations. The 2008 Titan features revised front styling with a new grille and light design, a redesigned brake system with larger front rotors, and larger standard wheel sizes — including 20-in. alloy wheels on Titan LE models. Also, XM satellite radio, Bluetooth hands-free phone system and wood appearance trim are now standard on Titan LE models. Titan is built on Nissan’s rugged F-Alpha pickup platform, featuring a powerful 5.6-liter DOHC Endurance V8 rated at 317 hp and 385 lb.-ft. torque. Titan features a standard five-speed automatic transmission and a maximum towing capacity of up to 9,500 lbs. for King Cab and 9,400 lbs. for Crew Cab.

Cargo Van Guards

“On the van side of the business, security is an issue for contractors who store their tools in their vehicles,” says Gutman. “They have to know their tools are protected. For 2008, we did upgrade the security fairly substantially with the E-guard cargo protection system. This was a direct response to our customers needs.”

The new 2008 Ford E-Series commercial van has been improved with a number of chassis and suspension upgrades that increase capability and improve ride and handling. Safety and security are also improved with the addition of available traction control and features such as the advanced E-Guard Cargo Protection System for added door-lock security. The new design features all new sheet metal from the A-pillars forward including hood, fenders, radiator support, grille and bumpers. The newly designed grille also improves capability by increasing airflow to the powertrain.

The all-new 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan cargo van is powered by a 3.3-liter V-6 engine with flex-fuel capability mated to a four-speed automatic transmission delivering 175 hp and 205 lb.-ft. of torque. This powertrain provides fuel economy of 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. The drivetrain has a commercial-tuned heavy-duty front and rear suspension allowing for heavier cargo and added capability. The suspension, combined with hydraulic power-assist rack-and-pinion steering, front anti-roll bar and twist beam rear suspension with coil springs, provides enhanced handling and driver comfort. The Dodge Grand Caravan cargo vans provide business customers both a comfortable and utilitarian 143.8 cu. ft. of cargo capacity, 58.9 cu. ft. of front compartment volume, maximum GVWR of 6,050 lbs., Gross Combined Weight Rating (GCWR) of 7,000 lbs., payload capacity of 1,500 lbs. and impressive towing capacity of 1,800 lbs.

For 2008, the Chevrolet Express promises a higher level of safety, an altered interior that includes a new driver information center and a small-block V-8 engine. The vehicle’s safety features now include a standard tire pressure monitoring system, as well as new flat and convex exterior mirrors that offer a wider field of vision. Other Chevrolet Express safety features include four-wheel antilock disc brake system with Hydroboost, dynamic rear proportioning, StabiliTrak, driver and front-passenger air bags and Daytime Running Lamps. The 1500 Series vans include light-duty models rated at 7,200 lbs. GVW. The 2500 Series includes heavy-duty models rated at 8,600 lbs. GVW. The heavy-duty 3500 Series includes full-bodied cargo/passenger vans rated at 9,600 lbs. GVW, and commercial and RV cutaway chassis, with GVW ratings of 9,900 to14,050 lbs.

Influential Incentives

Most manufacturers provide programs designed for fleet and commercial buyers. These dealer training and incentive programs are intended to help the contractor customer drive the best truck to drive their business.

The Ford Truck Commercial Connection is a program designed to encompass all aspects of caring for the commercial customer in a single comprehensive program. This includes customer rebates, or fleet incentives when purchasing 10 or more vehicles. The Ford Truck Commercial Connection covers an array of the company’s commercial vehicles and offers incentives for upfitting.

Additionally, Ford’s Business Preferred Network is made up of Ford dealers that offer special services to small business customers and are trained to sell and cater to the commercial buyer. Gutman says, “Many of our dealers participate in the network and they’re dealers that are set up to accommodate commercial buyers and business users. With specialized trainings and sales and service requirements, we help them support the commercial market.”

For customers buying a small number of vehicles, GM has specialized Business Central Dealers. This is a coast to coast network of Chevy and GMC dealers who specialize in the needs of people who use their vehicles for work purposes.

Recognizing that a vehicle is critical to the contractor’s livelihood, GM requires members of this dealer network meet two important criteria. First, they have to carry a good inventory of vehicles so if an accident happens, customers don’t have to wait for a replacement truck. Second, they must provide extended service hours to work around the customer’s schedule.
Minton adds, “We do offer even someone buying one truck a deal with the GM Business Choice Program. If you go to Business Central dealer to buy a pickup truck, you can choose from a number of different offers; for example, bin packages or Lowe’s gift cards. They’re incentives that tie directly to the customer’s business.

“The most important thing is that if you’re not sure of the best vehicle for your business, talk to a dealer,” advises Minton.

“They have experience, they know the industry and business, and they can help you figure out the best vehicles and accessories.”