It doesn't happen very often -- two manufacturers coming out with a new truck at exactly the same time. It almost seems manufacturers make sure they don't come to market at the same time to get the maximum amount of attention. Of course, it used to be there were only three or four half-ton pickup trucks to choose from, so there was plenty of space to move around in. These days, however you define it, the competition is getting crowded, but it's not as if this segment has seen stunning growth.
Ten years ago the half-ton or light-duty pickup truck market sold just over two million units. Last year it was just over 2.5 million. The result has been nothing short of Darwinian pandemonium. Pickups have spun off the odd hybrid and freak here and there, but the core of the vehicle has remained relatively unchanged. And now companies like Honda are offering their interpretation, while others like Jeep, Hummer, Kia are thinking about jumping into the pool.
Whatever happens next, there will always be a need for a vehicle that can work hard and carry a big trailer. As long as manufacturers keep those priorities straight, truck guys should be fine.
In the meantime, things aren't as bad as some might have you think. It looks like we're about ready to get some fairly creative solutions to the age-old problem of fuel economy and power in the form of diesels and hybrid technology. Likewise, we're hearing that interior functionality and bed versatility seem to be the next frontiers to conquer. So we'll be right here, waiting to see what happens next, passing their ideas to you, and your ideas to them. After all, who better to decide what a truck guy needs in his next truck than a Truck Trend reader. Let us know what you're looking for and we'll pass it along. What do you want in or on your next truck?
The new light-duty GMT900 Silverado and Sierra look impressive, even beyond their hugely improved interior layout and materials choices. Ride and handling are the most obvious improvement from behind the wheel (that engineer needs to be promoted!) with the new rack-and-pinion setup. We're hearing that the six-speed transmissions, now available only on the Escalades and Denali 6.2-liter V-8, will make it into the rest of the V-8 lineup starting next year. This new six-speed not only makes towing easier, it has some of the smartest software we've experienced in a pickup. And with a little diesel coming (we're guessing the V-6 baby Duramax), the setup might just cause some car people to get back into a pickup. Also, look for the dual-hybrid technology (slated to go into the SUVs by 2008) to make it into the pickup truck the year after that. But the big news will be the Silverado SS (right now, flatly denied), which we'd assume to get the 400-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 but modified with a few GM specialty parts to get to the 500-horsepower number. That'll do a burnout.
Dodge Ram 1500
Ram made big news when it came out with the HEMI V-8 (seems like years ago), but has since dropped off in popularity. They got their interior freshening last year, with a few modifications to the 4x4 Rams, but really nothing new on the horizon. There's been talk about a small Cummins V-6 or V-8 that would be perfect for the 1500 Ram or Dodge Durango (and now Chrysler Aspen). Certainly, Mercedes-Benz has plenty of diesel technology available, not the least of which are the Bluetec engines that are getting so much attention on the car side as well as the seven-passenger M-B GL (see the Sport/Utility of the Year winner's story in this issue). Don't look for a MegaCab 1500 since sales of the Ram HD MegaCab have been disappointing.
Reports are that the expected success of the new Silverado and Toyota Tundra means Ford has no time to spare. We've heard they're trying to pull the product cycle forward (not an easy thing) and want to get to market by the end of next year. And we've heard they have several tricks up their sleeve. For one, after dealing with some V-6 diesel problems two years ago, Ford is working to use the clean-diesel-running Land Rover Discovery engine from Europe in the next Ford F-150. Word is it'll take some significant reworking and modification of the engine bay and front frame rails, but it'll hit all the right fuel economy and torque numbers they need. Expect horsepower ratings to hover around 240 and torque numbers in the 340-pound-feet ballpark. In addition, we're hearing Ford will be ramping up its specialty versions -- for example, offering a significantly improved FX4 and FX2 option packages.
Lately, Nissan Titan sales haven't been flat, to say the least. The truck made a big splash when it first came out, but has had declining sales numbers ever since. Strange, from our view, because in our last five-way head-to-head half-ton pickup truck shootout, the Titan was the winner. We're hearing the internal design team wants to turn down the polarizing design volume and make it more "traditional looking." And like every other truck maker nowadays, it looks like Nissan is thinking about a small personal-use diesel as well. Rumors are they've spoken with International and Caterpillar, among others. Additionally, we've heard there are some grumpy people on their truck team who've dedicated the last two years to the coming heavy-duty Titan just to see the program pushed back almost two years in the name of cost saving. Don't expect any changes to the light-duty model until the 2009 model year, with the heavy-duty coming in 2010.
The strategy is simple enough: Dive into the segment headfirst and make a big splash. That's why they've gone after the commercial market and tried to offer a truck for every segment in both the work and personal-use sphere: regular cab, short-bed, Double Cab, long-bed, extra large, and three different powertrains. We've done quite a bit of driving with the truck and it's impressive. Although they couldn't give us the numbers at the time, we're hearing the 5.7-liter V-8 will have the biggest torque numbers of any vehicle in the class and be able to tow more than any other half-ton. It's clear they're going big to gain credibility with the size guys. Would be nice if those guys could get a MegaCab-type choice as well. As to where these 200,000 Toyota truck buyers are going to come from (Toyota's target number), they seem to think some will come from Ford, Chevy, and Dodge, but we're guessing many more will be moving up from Tacoma. Tacoma leads the compact segment with almost 200,000 sales -- even if half of those owners/buyers decide to go bigger, that's a hefty profit on each vehicle in their pocket, and they're still giving their customers what they want. As to diesels, Toyota owns a company named Hino in Japan, which is quite capable of supplying a strong, clean turbodiesel for the Tundra, and we'd guess it's already been fitted. But maybe more interesting is what's happening on the Lexus side of the pond. The flagship ultra-high-lux rear-drive LS 600 that'll have one of the most impressive hybrid-drive systems on the planet (at $110,000), we're told, could work quite nicely in a full-size rear-drive platform as well. Hmm.
What about the others?
Let's not forget about Honda. Although Ridgeline sales are flat, the vehicle seems to be filling a niche, very similar to that of the Chevy Avalanche and Ford Sport Trac. These SUV-platform mini-bed full-size pickups have a place and seem to provide a service, albeit a limited one. Plenty of other companies are looking seriously at the full-size truck market, which includes Hummer and Jeep as well as Kia and even International. The trick seems to be finding the right blend of real-truck capabilities and stylish design. We expect a few other makes and models to come out in the next few years, but nothing earth-shattering.