The buzz hasn't been this loud in five years. New trucks are hot again. And from what we hear around the industry, the bigger they are the faster they're going. Larger truck sales are expected to hit record levels this calendar year, thanks to pent-up demand unleashed by an economy finally in recovery — and by highway fleets pre-buying now to avoid purchasing heavy-duty trucks when the next round of EPA engine-emission regulations hit in 2007.

On the light-duty side, commercial Class 1-2 vehicles continue to gain more of the features once common only on heavier trucks. Several OEMs are rolling out all-new pickups while others are making improvements primarily geared toward increasing the efficiency and productivity of their vehicle on the job. Ready to kick some tires?



DaimlerChrysler's Sprinter continues to be badged either a Dodge or a Freightliner. Commercial versions of the Class 2 van are available as cargo, cab/chassis or passenger units. The cargo, passenger and cab/chassis versions all offer a choice of three wheelbases (118, 140 and 158 inches) and two GVWRs (8,550 and 9,990 pounds). Cargo and passenger models can be had with a standard (64.3 inches inside) or high roof (73 inches inside).

The OEM points out the Class 1-2 trucks boast straight frame rails, integrated body-mounting rackets and a fuel system integrated into the cab to ease body installations. Standard features include an Electronic Stability Program (ESP) on 2500 models only. The OEM says ESP helps reduce the danger of skidding by helping the driver handle critical driving situations more effectively through electronic intervention.

All Sprinters are powered by a 2.7-liter Mercedes-Benz CDI turbodiesel engine that generates 154-hp at 3,800 rpm and torque of 243 pounds-feet at 1,600 to 2,400 rpm. It is driven through a Mercedes-Benz 5-sp. automatic transmission with electronically controlled shifting. Other features include power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, a body structure designed to channel the force of an impact to the frame, full-size driver and passenger airbags, and four-wheel disc ABS brakes. Visit www.sprinter.com for more information on this vehicle.
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DaimlerChrysler's Dodge truck division has put together an all-new Dodge Dakota mid-size pickup for 2005. It offers a stronger and more durable fully boxed frame, along with new front and rear suspensions to provide 7,000 pounds-plus of towing capability and a gross combined weight (GCW) of 11,500 pounds. The '05 Dodge Dakota is 3.7 inches longer than its predecessor, primarily ahead of the front axle, to provide added crush space for improved impact performance. The bumpers are extended slightly farther fore and aft to increase their protective capabilities in low-speed impacts, and the body is 2.7 inches wider.

Dodge is also offering new engine options for the '05 Dakota: a standard 3.7-liter Magnum V-6 rated at 210-hp and 235 pounds-feet of torque; a 4.7-liter V-8 Magnum rated at 230-hp at 4,600 rpm and 290 pounds-feet of torque at 3,600 rpm; and a new 4.7-liter High Output Magnum V-8 with 250-plus-hp and 300 pounds-feet plus of torque. Both V-8 engines are rated between 3 percent and 4 percent more fuel efficient than the previous Dodge Dakota V-8 engines, the company says.

The interior has been upgraded as well: The Dakota Quad Cab is available with six-passenger seating, and can be equipped with heated cloth seats if desired. Fore more information, visit the company's Web site at www.dodge.com.
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Ford Motor Co. continues to tweak its popular F-150 pickup, despite a complete overhaul of that line last year. For 2005, Ford is offering a new 4.2-liter V6 gasoline engine option and a 5-speed manual transmission option, along with a new electronic throttle and powertrain control module.

Aside from those changes, Ford continues to tout the improvements it made to the F-150 line overall for the 2004 model year: a 50-percent stiffer frame, 6 additional inches of room added to the Regular Cab and SuperCab models, an exclusive overhead rail storage system and enhanced noise-dampening to make the F-150 cab much quieter.

The F-150 still comes in three cab styles, Regular, Super and Crew; three box lengths, 5.5, 6.5 and 8 feet; two box styles; and five distinct series, the XL, STX, XLT, FX4 and Lariat. Maximum tow rating is 9,500 pounds and maximum payload capacity is 2,900 pounds.

Also for 2005, Ford's Mercury division plans to roll out a four-door luxury pickup based on the F-150. Looking ahead to 2006, Ford noted that its compact Ranger pickup line is earmarked for a major overhaul to improve power, for greater towing and hauling capability. Visit www.ford.com for more information about this vehicle.
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General Motors

General Motors is beefing up the brake systems for its 2005 model-year GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickup trucks. Working with Robert Bosch AG, GM says the '05 versions of both pickup lines should show dramatic braking improvement, reducing braking time by two seconds and cutting stopping distance by 85 feet.

The OEM expects the half-ton crew cab versions of the Silverado and Sierra should continue to be big draws in '05, along with its specially equipped Z71 Off-Road Silverado model. These half-ton Crew Cabs provide four full-sized doors; roomy, comfortable six-passenger seating; and a new 5-feet 8-inch cargo bed that permits easy handling and parking, said GM.

GM is formally introducing a hybrid version of the Silverado and Sierra pickup for '05. The new trucks will be powered by GM's 5300 Vortec V-8 engine and Hydra-Matic 4L60-E 4-speed automatic transmission, coupled with hybrid technology that delivers 10 percent to 12 percent improved fuel economy over current GM half-ton pickups. According to GM, the hybrids have reduced emissions and unique accessory power capability, without any sacrifice in load-carrying, towing and grade-climbing capability. In addition, four 120-volt, 20-amp electrical auxiliary power outlets located under the rear seat of the cab and in the pickup bed can accommodate up to four accessories while driving or when parked. Visit www.chevrolet.com and www.gmc.com for more information about these vehicles.
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Nissan is revamping its Frontier pickups for 2005 along the lines of its forceful redesign of the Titan pickups in 2004. The new Frontier is larger and more powerful than its predecessor, and shares a number of features with the full-size Titan: similar suspension; factory spray-in bedliner; utili-track bed channel tie-down system; and a fully boxed, all-steel frame based on the Titan platform. Nissan plans to offer the 2005 Frontier in both King Cab and Crew Cab body styles, with both vehicles available in 4 × 2 and 4 × 4 configurations.

The wheelbase is 9.8 inches longer than the current model; overall length is slightly longer at 205.5 inches. Width and height measurements have been increased and the suspension layout gains the design benefits of the Titan, including an all-steel double-wishbone front suspension and rigid leaf rear suspension with overslung leaf springs and a long suspension stroke for better off-road ride. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS are standard.

Power for the Frontier comes from a new 4.0-liter DOHC V6 engine offering 250-plus-hp; a 2.5-liter DOHC inline 4-cycle engine is standard on the base model King Cab. Transmission choices include a 5-sp. automatic or a 6-sp. manual. Four-by-four models include a shift on the fly 4-wheel drive system and an optional off-road traction system featuring performance gas shocks and alloy wheels. For more information on this vehicle, visit www.nissan.com.
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Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. is introducing the all-new Tacoma X-Runner pickup, one of several new Tacoma redesigns for 2005. “The new Tacomas will offer an extensive variety of body-and-bed configurations with substantially more passenger room, cargo volume and towing capacity than ever before,” says Don Esmond, Toyota division senior vice president and general manager.

The X-Runner will ride on a wheelbase that has been extended by a full five inches, and a track that has been widened by 4 inches compared to the previous-generation Tacoma S-Runner. The increased size translates to an extra 4.5 inches of interior shoulder and hip room.

Chassis for the X-Runner will sit 1 inch lower than the standard Tacoma frame, resting on 18-iches 45-series V-rated performance radials wrapped around alloy wheels. Firmer and shorter springs are mounted at all four corners, while specially tuned gas shocks are positioned outboard of the frame rails for increased stability. Power comes from a 4.0-liter, 240-hp V6 engine that cranks out 275 pounds of torque, and a 6-sp. close-ratio manual transmission. Safety features include ABS (standard) and optional side-curtain airbags and electronic vehicle stability control. Visit www.toyota.com for more information on this vehicle.
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