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  • 2009 State Fair of Texas: The Stories Behind the Stories

2009 State Fair of Texas: The Stories Behind the Stories

Going Big in Texas

Mark Williams
Dec 30, 2009
SUV makers look at Texas with great interest-this is the single biggest market for Ford, Chevy, and Dodge pickups in the U.S. Even in difficult times, it's not uncommon for Texas to sell 20 percent of the nation's pickup trucks in a given month. And that's why the State Fair of Texas is always a special event. During the course of the month-long event, more than three million people will walk the fairgrounds outside Dallas, which include a built-in auto show as part of the yearly festivities. Some (mostly Texans) argue because of the huge attendance numbers, this is the largest auto show in the world.
Photo 2/45   |   2009 State Fair Of Texas Ford Tower
This year's State Fair auto show did have its highlights, not the least of which were the debut of the all-new 2011 Ford Super Duty, the first public viewing of the new 2010 Dodge Ram HDs, and the introduction of the restyled and reengineered Toyota 4Runner. We've spent quite a bit of seat time in the Ram HD (a Motor Trend 2010 Truck of the Year contender) and 4Runner. You can read stories about both elsewhere in this issue. As for the Ford Super Duty, you'll have to wait a little longer (as will we) for driving impressions.
We couldn't help but notice General Motors had no future news to report at the event, making it the conspicuous no-show there. We know the 2011 Chevy and GMC Heavy Duty trucks are just around the corner, and we hear they'll have quite a few changes in the powertrain and chassis arenas, but we're guessing GM has been a bit preoccupied lately. However, there was plenty to see at this year's State Fair. Here are a few of the stories behind the highlights.
Photo 3/45   |   2009 State Fair Of Texas Ford Exhibit
Toyota needed to do something special with the fifth-generation 4Runner. Looking tired and bloated, if not a bit soft around the edges and dealing with a marketplace of crossover grocery haulers, the new 4Runner takes a different route. Knowing they already had a competent all-weather people-carrier in the Highlander, Toyota's executives had the luxury of giving the 4Runner's chief engineer's job to a real truck guy. Akio "Jack" Nishimura first bounced onto our radar when he led the team in redesigning and reengineering the current-generation Tacoma. Although that segment is in shambles, Toyota's market share is impressive.
Photo 7/45   |   Toyota 4runner Exhibit
Likewise, Jack's follow-up project, the FJ Cruiser, received similar praise and success in the marketplace-due in large part to his unwavering focus that this new Toyota would be true to its heritage and intended buyer. Jack's next assignment, the fifth-gen 4Runner, similarly, needed to reconnect with its roots.
As the story goes, Toyota built a few prototypes and ran them over the famous Rubicon Trail in the Sierra Nevadas near Lake Tahoe. Like good engineers, they had sensors everywhere and wanted to measure and quantify every broken part.The only problem was that, by the end of the trail, they hadn't broken anything. In fact, there were barely any dents or scratches. Maybe this isn't so surprising given the particular abilities of the new Trail Grade package, which includes a Multi-Terrain system, Crawl Control, and a flexible Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System that swallows boulder-size obstacles without much effort.
Toyota is predicting this back-to-basics approach will make its traditional SUV enthusiasts happy, and if that amounts to annual sales of only 30,000 or 40,000, that'll be just fine. (It helps that pricing is almost the same as that of the outgoing fourth-gen 4Runner.) Must be nice to have that luxury in today's market. But we're guessing anything less than that target will get the higher-ups worried in a hurry.
Mark Fields, Ford's President of the Americas, likes to come to Texas. This year in particular, with the unusually early intro of the 2011 Super Dutys, Mr. Field's presence underscores the importance this truck has for Ford. This truck needs to be a home run-Ford need to win back Super Duty buyers and get more market share to survive.
Photo 8/45   |   2009 State Fair Of Texas Mark Fields Vertical
We think this is the new Dana 80 rear axle for the 2011 F-450, just one of the changes made to the biggest personal-use heavy hauler sold. This helps bring max speed up to 85 mph, improves fuel economy, and smooths out the characteristic rear-end bounce.
Photo 9/45   |   Ford F450 Rear Axle
Few things in life are forever, but clearly one of them is Big Tex at the State Fair of Texas.
Photo 10/45   |   2009 State Fair Of Texas Big Tex Vertical
We spotted this while walking the grounds. Nothing looks funnier than a Class II hitch on anything other than a compact car. There should be a law that, if a vehicle has a bed, it can't leave the factory with anything less than a standard Class III hitch.
Look for the new Super Duty lineup to get to dealerships by midyear 2010 with pricing to be released by April, but don't expect any significant changes from current pricing. Currently in a huge trough, this segment will likely be very price sensitive. Alternatively, Doug Scott, marketing manager for Ford Super Duty, is predicting this heavy work-truck segment could be more likely to recover faster than half-tons because so many in the commercial and construction industry have been holding off on their big-ticket purchases-and this is likely to be where the backlog breaks first.
Photo 13/45   |   2011 Ford Super Duty Front Three Quarters View
As to the trucks themselves, probably the most under-the-radar change to the new Super Dutys was to the new F-450. A single line in the in the press material noted the new F-450 had shed some "unneeded" weight, without any more specifics. Turns out those changes were designed to give the new F-450 a higher top speed, better fuel economy, and a smoother ride. We have to admit, at first glance, it sounded like Ford was trying to make its biggest monster tow vehicle more like an economy car, but after delving into the details with some of the Ford engineers, we learned that what they've done is smooth out some of the rougher quirks of the truck by incorporating several of the F-350's design characteristics.
The new F-450 uses a smaller Dana axle, has new rear spring rates, and has gone away from using the 19.5-inch wheels and commercial-grade tires. The result, Ford reports, is a loss of over 600 pounds, a top speed of 85 mph, and a significant increase in fuel economy (although much of the mpg improvement comes from the all-new 6.7-liter V-8 Power Stroke). It's important to note that the new F-450 (though it may seem more like a stronger version of an F-350 now) is still rated to tow and haul more than any other personal-use pickup sold, with a towing capacity above 22,000 pounds.
Photo 14/45   |   2011 Ford Super Duty Engine 2
The 2009 State Fair of Texas was the Dodge Ram HD's coming-out party. Although much is the same underneath, just about every detail of the exterior has been restyled to more closely match the well-received 2009 Dodge Ram 1500. In addition, the new HDs now offer a true four-door Crew Cab model. Previously lacking in the lineup (Quad Cabs were always a touch too small), the more traditional Crew Cab sits in between Regular Cab and Mega Cab models. Crew Cabs will be offered in long- and shortbed configurations. Dodge will continue to offer a six-speed manual transmission with its Cummins option (the only one of the Big Three truck makers to do so). While the 6.7-liter I-6 Cummins and 5.7-liter Hemi are basically carryover engines, the Cummins doesn't have to use the expensive and complicated urea-injection systems as do the big trucks from Ford, and likely GM) to pass the 2010 emissions regulations; expect Dodge to enjoy a significant price advantage. Dodge retuned the suspension and added a new steering gear to improve the overall ride and everyday handling.
Photo 21/45   |   2010 Dodge Ram HD Exhibit
We were disappointed that Dodge chose not to display its new-generation Power Wagon (one of our favorite trucks) at the fair, but were told that many of those particular vehicles were needed for various 4x4 magazine tests and couldn't be pried away.
Photo 22/45   |   2010 Dodge Ram HD Suspension
On that note, a Dodge insider said the new Italian owners knew all about the Dodge Ram Power Wagon and its incredible mountain-climbing abilities and traction technologies. He also told us Dodge's engineers did significant testing on various hardcore trails on Utah's famed Moab slickrock. In fact, a train of Power Wagons navigated Hell's Revenge and Hell's Gate without any trouble (we're guessing that's impressive). Look for early Power Wagons to have the 5.7-liter Hemi in Crew Cab configurations.
There are plenty of custom trucks around the state fair but this one caught our eye, and for good reason. If you don't know who Chrome Shop Mafia is, then you probably don't own or love a big-rig. This custom F-650 gooseneck hauler is actually one of the smallest trucks they've customized.
Photo 27/45   |   Custom Ford F 650 Front Three Quarters View
Dodge Ram 1500 CAMO
This Ram 1500 4x4 with the Rambox is built for high adventure with a unique camo-like metal finish nose-to-tail decal, for both protection and illusion. The side boxes are to store firearms and ammunition, while the roof rack holds all the camping and bivouac gear. We're guessing the rims are sprayed with Rust-Oleum BBQ Flat Black paint.
Photo 37/45   |   Dodge Ram 1500 Camo Front Three Quarters View
Built in association with the National Ski Patrol, this 2009 Subaru Forester (based off the vehicle named Motor Trend's 2009 Sport/Utility of the Year) has been heavily modified with a custom Air Lift suspension, aggressive Yokohama tires, a Warn winch, and plenty of fog-piercing roof lights.
Photo 42/45   |   2009 Subaru Forester National Ski Patrol Front Three Quarters View