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 How safe are pickup trucks?
Two key safety issues affect pickup trucks because of their high centre of gravity and the fact that different regulations apply to them: rollovers and crash safety.

In the latest tests by the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the two-door Dodge Dakota and two-door Toyota Tacoma have earned the highest possible crash test safety ratings. The trucks earned five stars for all available seating positions in frontal and side crash tests.

Several pickup trucks earned four stars for rollover ratings in the results, released in April 2005. The highest-rated vehicle was the Chevrolet Silverado two-wheel-drive and its twin GMC Sierra, with a 15.9% chance of rollover if involved in a single-vehicle crash.

The lowest-rated vehicle was the Ford Ranger four-wheel-drive and its twin Mazda B-Series, with two stars and a 30.6% chance of rollover.

All results are available at the agency's web site at Additional crash test and safety information from the International Institute for Highway Safety can be found at

© Bill Roebuck, 2005

2005-2006 Pickup Trucks
2005 Ford F-150 pickup truck.

Large pickups go luxe

By Bill Roebuck

Because full-size pickups are such a large market for all manufacturers, there's lots of ongoing investment in innovations and improvements.

Recent developments in pickup trucks have mostly been about two things -- more power and better passenger comfort. With those changes already made by almost every manufacturer, now the all that's left is tweaking the formula. For most makers, that means laying on the luxury.

Most manufacturers also have started to put new technology into pickups, particularly hybrid engines and other fuel-saving innovations.

Within this so-called light truck segment, the Ford F-Series pickup is battling it out with the Dodge Caravan minivan for the best selling vehicle in the country in 2005. Number three and four spots go to the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra pickups, with the Dodge Ram pickup taking fifth spot.

Notwithstanding the innovative looks of the current Dodge Ram 1500 and new Honda Ridgeline, there's not much you can do to redesign the exterior of a pickup. Even the relatively new Ram is undergoing a redesign for the 2006 model, but its revamped appearance won't surprise anyone.

2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab pickup truck.However, Dodge says it will take interior luxury to a new level. The new 2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab version will have the largest pickup cab ever. And its fuel-saving innovations will include cylinder deactivation, running the V8 engine on four cylinders under low load to save fuel.

Despite all the bad news you may have heard about how lousy the North American-based auto manufacturers are doing, the pickup truck market remains dominated by Ford, General Motors (GMC) and DaimlerChrysler (Dodge).

In fact, the so-called 'Big Three' can lay claim to a 97.5% market share of large pickups and 73.2% of small pickups sold in Canada, according to Dennis DesRosiers of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc. in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Large pickups are the biggest market segment in the country, with 207,424 units sold in 2004 (compared to just 19,399 small pickups).

Here's an interesting statistic: You're more likely to see pickup trucks in Alberta, where light trucks are 60% of the market, than in Quebec, where they're only 34%.

It's often raw the power of large pickups -- more than 500 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque in some cases -- that satisfies drivers who need big cargo and towing capacities. It doesn't hurt that they also have spiffy interiors for driver comfort, bigger doors for easy entry and exit; extended cabs with good space for the family; and improved handling characteristics.

You can get them so loaded up that you can give your truck a wash after a day's work and it will feel elegant enough to take your spouse out for a night on the town. There may be room for the whole family, as many extended-cab models have proper rear seats and boast front-hinged rear doors, just like on the front, for easy ingress/egress.
2005 Nissan Titan pickup truck.
Many pickups last underwent significant changes in the 2004 model year. That's when Ford brought out its newly redesigned -- and highly successful -- Ford F-150, and Nissan launched its first full-size pickup, the Nissan Titan. Toyota's redesigned Tundra full-size pickup also came onto the market then, with specs highlighting brute strength and passenger comfort.

2005 Toyota Tacoma pickup truck.Ford's F-150 was voted as the 2004 Canadian Truck of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). In 2005, the company introduced a similar redesign for its larger and more powerful F-250 model. Meanwhile, the mid-size 2005 Toyota Tacoma was named Best New Pickup for 2005 by AJAC.

One of the most interesting pickup introductions this year is the all-new 2006 Honda Ridgeline half-ton, which puts a heavy emphasis on built-in safety equipment.

Power comes from a 255-hp V-6 engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. Despite using only a V6 engine, payload capacity is 705 kg (1,550 lb) including passengers, while towing capacity is a boat-hauling 2273 kg (5,000 lb).

Safety is prime with the Ridgeline. It comes equipped with standard anti-lock brakes with electronic brake assist; vehicle stability assist with traction control; advanced dual-stage, dual-threshold driver and front passenger airbags; driver and front passenger side airbags; two-row side curtain airbags with rollover sensor; and a tire pressure monitoring system.

The stylish model also boasts many car-like features, such as a full complement of power toys, a 100-watt stereo, optional leather seating and a moonroof.

But don't think any of this is new. Almost every manufacturer offers such amenities on their pickups, some making them as luxurious as limos.

2006 Lincoln Mark LTFor example, one contender in the limo-like category is the 2006 Lincoln Mark LT, a new model derived from the Ford F-150. From lavish real ebony wood accents to a DVD player and a spacious rear seat, it gets high marks for being big, bold and beautiful. It also will go to work when needed -- it tows a whopping 4,045 kg (8,900 lb).

GM's full-size heavy-duty pickups, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra twins, have refreshed styling for 2005, including a redesigned hood and grille. Powertrain combinations now include diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG) models, as well as a new gas-electric hybrid.

There's also a more powerful V8 engine available on four-wheel drive models. Other changes include a new rear axle ratio on two-wheel drive models, a more powerful alternator, and standard front-disc, rear-drum anti-lock brakes. But the company is ditching its innovative Quadrasteer four-wheel steering system after the 2005 model year.

Typically, both gasoline and diesel engines are available in pickups from the Big Three. As well, a wider variety of alternative-fuel engines are available to help reduce operating costs. Of particular interest for 2005 is a new breed of hybrid models that combine gasoline and electric motors for fuel savings (see next story).

As in the past, pickups are continuing their evolution into vehicles for both work and play. Whether you prefer power or comfort, there seems to be no limit.

© Bill Roebuck, 2005. Note: Duplicated text corrected Sept. 10, 2011.

Hybrid technology comes to pickups and vans 

One of the most significant developments this year in pickup trucks is the GMC Sierra/Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid. These new-technology, full-size, extended cab pickups are available in two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions with a 6.5-ft bed.

The models feature a 5.3-litre V8 gasoline engine and four-speed automatic transmission coupled with a new hybrid technology that delivers 10% to 12% improved fuel economy over regular GM half-ton pickups, as well as boasting reduced exhaust emissions.

This means the hybrids offer the best highway fuel economy of any full-size truck on the market, at 10.4 L/100 km or 27 mpg. But overall, the most significant improvement in fuel efficiency is with city driving, since the engine stops running when the truck is temporarily stopped, such as at traffic lights. City mileage is 13.2 L/100 km or 21 mpg.

Drivers don't get the savings cheaply, though, as the hybrid option adds about $3,500 to the price of the trucks.

The hybrid version features a compact electric motor that is integrated between the engine and transmission. The electric motor provides starting power and the ability to generate up to 14,000 watts of continuous electric power. A conventional starter motor and alternator are not needed.

The hybrid pickups are more efficient because of the engine start/stop function and regenerative braking, which turns the motor into a generator as the truck decelerates. Extra fuel savings come from quickly shutting off fuel any time the truck is coasting or braking, and using the electric motor to smooth out any resulting vibrations.

To ensure full accessory capability while the engine is temporarily stopped, an electrically driven hydraulic pump provides power steering, an electric pump continues to circulate hot water if cabin heat is needed in the winter, and cold, dry air is supplied in the summer for an extended period through control of the conventional air conditioning system.

"These hybrid pickups will save more fuel than gasoline-powered pickup trucks, with no compromise in performance or utility. In addition they have the flexibility and productivity of generating wall-quality electrical power from the pickup truck when in remote locations," said John Gaydash, GM's fleet and commercial marketing director.

In addition to improvements in fuel economy and emissions, the GM hybrid pickups feature four 120-volt, 20-amp electrical auxiliary power outlets under the rear seat of the cab and in the pickup bed that can accommodate up to four accessories while driving or when parked.

With this auxiliary generator capability, the truck's generator can operate when it is parked without a key in the ignition and can be used to power anything from tools at a construction site to appliances at a campsite.

In the event of a power outage, pickups could power tools or appliances for up to 32 hours non-stop. This design shuts the engine down before the tank is emptied, leaving enough gas to drive to a station for refuelling. All power supply circuits are protected by a ground fault detection system to prevent overloads and short circuits.

GM isn't alone in the hybrid truck market. Ford's 2005 Escape Hybrid, a small SUV, incorporates a 2.3-litre, 133-hp gasoline engine and an 87-hp electric traction motor. A separate 38-horsepower generator motor starts the four-cylinder engine, recharges the 330-volt battery pack and helps regulate power distribution.

Another hybrid example is the prototype Dodge Ram Hybrid, also dubbed the Contractor Special. It is equipped with diesel/electric hybrid propulsion.

Diesel works well as a hybrid because there is fuel economy savings with a diesel compared to a similar gasoline engine. This vehicle is designed to achieve 15% improvement in fuel efficiency, lower emissions and better performance than a comparably powered conventional Ram pickup.

It also provides 110/220-volt AC electric power. When parked, the components that make the Contractor Special a hybrid vehicle are converted to a stationary electrical generator to deliver up to 20 kW of power for work or other uses. The vehicle can be equipped with different gasoline and diesel engines and can be operated in electric-only mode for short distances.

In addition, in December 2004, DaimlerChrysler began production of the Dodge Ram Diesel HEV. The Ram HEV has start-stop capability, which shuts the engine off at full stop and restarts when the accelerator is pressed. A regenerative braking system helps recharge the batteries. The savings on fuel is up to 15% over comparable engines.

The Dodge Ram Diesel HEV is built on the Ram Heavy Duty 2500/3500 chassis. Like the others in this category, the HEV truck can operate as an electric generator, providing 110/220-volt AC power. It can provide enough electricity to power four average households.

Furthermore, DaimlerChrysler is producing a limited number of hybrid electric Sprinter vans powered by a diesel engine with a 40-hp electric motor located between the transmission and clutch. It can be driven on either battery electric or diesel power, or both, although driving on battery power is limited to about 3 km at this time.

Improved powertrain to extend the driving range remain under development, but you probably won't see a hybrid Sprinter in dealer showrooms anytime soon.

Research also continues by most major manufacturers into hydrogen-based fuel cell technology and a few demonstration vehicles have been built, but will be many years yet before we'll see this technology practically applied to work vehicles.

© Bill Roebuck, 2005

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