Light Duty Rescue

By Tom Kelley | September 28, 2010

Facing increased competition for car sales, two Detroit brands have opted for an early upgrade on their most reliably profitable models, their light duty pickups. With their current models still sporting some fairly recent sheet metal, both Dodge and Ford used the recent North American International Auto Show to debut new half-ton models for 2009.

Set to debut later this year as 2009 models, the Dodge Ram 1500 and the Ford F-150 include many new features aimed at improving comfort, convenience and safety. Additionally, both brands have announced that they will begin offering 2010 emission-compliant diesel engines in their half-ton models, beginning in calendar year 2009.

While the consumer pickup market is the prime target for these two new trucks, it's no secret that the vocational/construction market still accounts for a significant percentage of half-ton pickup sales, so Detroit's efforts to attract "civilian" buyers will also benefit contractors who use the lighter-duty models.

Because the trucks are still in the prototype stage, we haven't yet had the opportunity for any test drives, but for now, here is a sneak peek:

2009 Dodge Ram 1500

Research for developing the all-new 2009 Dodge Ram 1500 was centered on direct feedback from truck owners and potential buyers. Truck designers also hit the road on ride-and-drive trips, driving pickups outfitted for typical users: ranchers, tradesmen, firefighters, and suburbanites. Driving outfitted trucks gave designers better insight into real-world considerations for pickup owners.

Engineers at Dodge have conducted approximately 40,000 hours of full-scale vehicle and system testing for durability and reliability of the Ram. Testing and validation in various climates included road trips to a variety of locations including Death Valley, Bemidji, Tampa, and Denver. A full battery of lab testing included full-frame fatigue testing, door-slam testing and a road test simulator.

In addition, the new Ram has gone through more than 200 hours of wind noise and aerodynamic evaluations in Chrysler's aerodynamic and acoustic test facility in Auburn Hills, Michigan. By the time the 2009 Ram goes on sale, nearly 6.5 million customer-equivalent miles will be logged by Dodge Truck engineers.

New Cab, Frame & Engine

The 2009 Ram 1500 pickup is offered in regular cab, Quad Cab and a new crew cab, with three box lengths. Five trim levels are available, each with a unique appearance: ST, SLT, TRX, Sport, and the top-of-the-line Laramie.

An improved frame design incorporating high-strength steel supports an all-new, first-in-segment, multilink coil spring rear suspension that improves ride and handling characteristics without sacrificing payload (up to an estimated 1,850 pounds) and towing capability (up to an estimated 9,100 pounds).

In addition to a new-generation 5.7-liter HEMI, the 2009 Ram is offered with either a 4.7-liter V-8 or a 3.7-liter V-6 mated to four-speed or five-speed automatic transmissions, and part-time or on-demand four-wheel-drive transfer cases.

RamBox Storage

Available as an option on 2009 Ram Crew 1500 models, the RamBox provides secure storage options with three key elements:

  • Two weatherproof, lockable, drainable, lighted storage bins that run the length of the 5-foot-7-inch pickup bed and are as wide as the wheel well, creating a total of 8.6 cubic feet of space.
  • An adjustable bed divider/extender that fits on the lowered tailgate and adds 2 feet of additional length to secure loads up to 7 feet long.
  • A cargo rail system with sliding, adjustable cleats for tie-down versatility.

The idea for RamBox resulted from market research that told the designers that dry, lockable storage was critical to light-duty pickup owners. Beginning with the simple premise that additional storage shouldn't look like an afterthought, the design had to be sized to keep enough width in the pickup bed for a standard sheet of plywood.

RamBox side bins create storage along each side of the pickup bed space previously left untouched because of wheel-well intrusion. RamBox bins fit the length of the pickup bed and incorporate the space over each wheel well to secure cargo within a lit, lockable and drainable container. Lids include swing hinges with intermediate and full-open positions that lift the lid 90 degrees perpendicular to each side.

Another new innovation for the Ram Crew 1500 is a pair of "store in the floor" bins with removable liners. There are many other convenient storage locations throughout the Ram including a large upper glove box, map pockets in door panels and a configurable center console.


On the safety and security front, the 2009 Ram offers more than 30 active and passive safety features, including standard front and rear side-curtain air bags with Enhanced Accident Response System, knee bolsters, seat-belt pre-tensioners, Anti-lock Brake System, BeltAlert System, and Electronic Stability Control; and available adjustable pedals, ParkSense Rear Park Assist and ParkView Rear Back-up Camera.

New HEMI Engine

A new, more fuel-efficient and more powerful version of the popular 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine will debut in the 2009 Ram 1500. While the new engine maintains the popular HEMI architecture, Dodge powertrain engineers improved engine breathing and added new technologies, including Variable Valve Timing (VVT) that substantially improves fuel economy and refinement while maximizing performance.

The new 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 will produce 380 horsepower, a 10-percent increase, and 404 pound-feet of torque, an 8-percent increase, while delivering an estimated 4-percent improvement in fuel economy.

Dodge's fuel-saving MDS system seamlessly alternates between smooth, high-fuel-economy four-cylinder mode when less power is needed and V-8 mode when more power from the new 5.7-liter HEMI engine is in demand. This optimizes fuel economy when V-8 power is not required, without sacrificing vehicle performance or capability.

New Cummins Light-Duty Clean Diesel For 2010

Armed with new Cummins clean-diesel technology, Dodge will introduce a new turbodiesel engine in its light-duty pickup trucks after 2009. The new engine will provide a dramatic increase in low-end torque, up to a 25-percent improvement in fuel efficiency and a 20-percent reduction in carbon dioxide (C02) emissions when compared to an equivalent gasoline engine.

The new clean diesel engine will meet 50-state emissions standards for 2010 and is the cleanest in the marketplace. Dodge now offers a 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel in its Ram Heavy Duty trucks that meets 2010 standards in all 50 states.


A crew cab model is all-new for the 2009 Ram. The new package offers an additional six inches of leg room and in-floor storage. The new crew cab features full-access rear doors that open 90 degrees for easy entry and exit.

The pickup bed height on all three body styles (52 inches on two-wheel drive models, 53 inches on four-wheel drive models) allows easy over-the-side loading. Three bed lengths are available: 96 inches on the regular cab, 76 inches on the regular cab and Quad Cab, and a new-for-2009 box length of 67 inches on the Ram Crew 1500. All beds now feature integrated bed-rail caps on all three sides, and a lift-assisted tailgate that decreases the effort needed to raise and close the tailgate.


The interior of the 2009 Ram features soft-feel door bolsters and armrests and one-piece molded door panels. The center stack is designed for optimum "reach zones," placing controls in the most intuitive and comfortable locations. The center stack includes strategic placement of a large radio yet still allows room for a navigation system screen upper and lower switch banks for control switches (based on vehicle options), climate controls, improved cup holders, 12-volt and 115-volt power outlets, and a sunglass bin.

Seats for the 2009 Ram have improved side bolsters for increased comfort and front seats are available with full power and memory. A first for the 2009 Ram is heated and ventilated (for cooling) front seats, available in leather. Heated rear seating is available on crew cab models.

An upper glove box provides 391 cubic inches of storage capacity, and combined with the lower glove box volume of 426 cubic inches, provides best-in-class glove-box volume. Driver and front-passenger seat backs include map pockets. The interior features built-in garment holders and new larger passenger-assist handles at all locations.

Safety & Security

In addition to offering a standard four-wheel Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) and standard Electronic Stability Program (ESP) with Hill Start Assist (HSA) and Trailer Sway Control (TSC), Dodge Ram safety and security features include advanced multistage front driver and passenger air bags, supplemental side-curtain air bags and ParkSense Rear Park Assist System.

Chrysler employs a two-fold safety approach: passive safety features including pretensioning and load-limiting seat belt retractors and supplemental side air bags combined with active accident-avoidance safety features including responsive steering and handling and braking.

Some of the safety and security features in the 2009 Ram include:

  • All-speed Traction Control: Senses drive-wheel slip and applies individual brakes to a slipping wheel(s), and reduces excess engine power until traction is regained.
  • Brake Assist: In a panic brake condition, the system applies maximum braking power, providing the shortest possible stopping distance.
  • ParkView Rear Back-up Camera: Provides a wide-angle view of the area immediately behind the vehicle, giving the driver greater peace of mind before backing up. Also aids in lining up a trailer to the vehicle's trailer hitch, when so equipped. The image automatically displays on the navigation screen when the transmission is shifted into reverse.
  • Trailer Sway Control System: Reduces trailer sway and improves handling in adverse towing conditions caused by crosswinds and traffic. Software monitors the vehicle's movement relative to the driver's intended path, then applies brake pressure to slow the vehicle and increases the pressure on one front wheel to counteract sway induced by the trailer.

2009 Ford F-150

When faced with the task of completely redesigning one of the company's best-selling vehicles, the Ford truck team adopted a 360-degree approach to revamping the new 2009 F-150, from its tough new exterior and more spacious interior to the extensive choice of cab styles and trim levels.

Beneath the sheet metal, a new high-strength, lighter-weight chassis is the backbone that allows this truck to deliver more horsepower, better fuel economy and safety, along with additional towing and payload capacity.

The improvement starts with a fully boxed frame constructed from hydro-formed and high-strength steel side rails. The chassis paves the way for the 2009 F-150 to improve upon the current model's towing and hauling capability across all cab configurations.

Complementing the frame is a high-tech suite of features that ensures the F-150 is sure-footed and safe in all driving and load conditions. The F-150 offers segment-first standard AdvanceTrac with RSC (Roll Stability Control) and Trailer Sway Control plus available Rearview Camera Assist as well as Integrated Trailer Brake Controller.

The interior of the 2009 F-150 SuperCrew offers more usable space for moving more people and gear thanks to a 6-inch stretch that improves rear seat legroom and cargo capacity. A mechanically articulated second-row seat flips up and out of the way. Combined with a truly flat load floor, the feature gives the new SuperCrew class leading 57.6 cubic feet of space behind the front seats and can accommodate items up to 47.9 inches tall.

Configurations Galore

With three cab styles, four box options and seven unique trim levels, the F-150 comes in 35 different configurations to meet the widest range of customer needs and wants. Buyers can choose from the XL workhorse, the sporty STX, the off-road capable FX4, or the mid-range XLT. For those looking for tough luxury, Ford offers the high-end Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum F-150 models.

New Power Options, More Coming In 2010

Under the hood, the new F-150 will be powered by three modern V-8 engines, mated to either a four-speed or a new fuel-efficient six-speed automatic transmission. The engines include:

  • 5.4-liter, 3-valve Triton V-8, which is capable of running on E85, regular unleaded gasoline or any blend in between.
  • 4.6-liter, 3-valve V-8, which is new for F-150. Both the 5.4-liter and 4.6-liter 3-valve V-8s utilize open valve injection. This unique feature improves the flow of fuel into the combustion chamber, which results in an increase in horsepower during towing and reduced emissions.
  • 4.6-liter, 2-valve V-8, a third V-8 choice in the line-up that delivers more horsepower with the same fuel economy performance as the outgoing truck's V-6.

This all-V-8 engine lineup delivers a fleet-average 1-mpg improvement in fuel economy versus the outgoing F-150. Diesel and EcoBoost gas turbo direct injection engines are planned for F-150 in 2010 as well.

Smart Features

Ford's researchers spent thousands of hours listening to truck buyers to gain inspiration for a host of smart new features for the 2009 F-150.

It starts with an interior that features a console large enough to stow two or more laptop computers. Special ridges are molded into the edges of the console bin to accommodate file folders. The console also has a multitiered, removable tray and locks to protect valuables.

More than 30 storage areas are built into the interior, ranging from a bin on the top of the instrument panel to a number of small spaces designed to accommodate items like cell phones, MP3 players, PDAs and gate access cards.

New, larger buttons and switches are ergonomically designed and within easy reach and view of the driver. A USB port and auxiliary MP3 player input are conveniently mounted on the dash. Two 12-volt outlets are located on the dash and center console.

The F-150's 65.5-cubic-foot pickup box is made easier to use, more flexible and accessible with such new features as Ford's Tailgate and Box Side Steps, Stowable Bed Extender and Cargo Management System.

Improved Chassis

The 2009 F-150 features a fully boxed frame constructed from hydro-formed high-strength steel side rails and cross members that pass through the frame rails for increased durability and safety. The high-strength steel does double duty, providing about 10 percent more torsional rigidity, while also contributing to a 100-pound weight reduction versus the current F-150.

The F-150's double wishbone short- and long-arm front suspension with coil over shocks shares components with the 2008 Expedition, although it has been further refined for the F-150. Double ball joint links allow for more precise steering inputs.

The FX4 version features an Electronic Locking Differential axle for off-road performance. There is also a special 17-inch LT tire available to further enhance off-road capability. All 4x4 trucks offer a choice of manual or electronic shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive systems.

The F-150's four-channel Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) not only improves braking performance but provides the necessary foundation for enabling technologies like AdvanceTrac with RSC and the integrated trailer brake controller. A large brake booster and master cylinder offer more responsive braking with a better pedal feel and less noise and vibration.

Size Matters

In addition to improved payload and towing capacity, the 2009 F-150 SuperCrew offers more usable space for moving people and gear, thanks to a 6-inch stretch that improves rear seat legroom and cargo capacity.

A mechanically articulated second-row seat flips up and folds against the back of the cab, allowing easier loading and unloading of the truck's rear seating area. The flip-up seats, combined with the flat-load floor, allow items up to 47.9 inches to be stored safely from the outside elements and secured in the locked cab. The total cargo space behind the front seats is 57.6 cubic feet.

Towing Skills

The 2009 F-150 offers several features built with the trailer-towing market in mind, including Advance Trac with RSC as standard equipment on all F-150 models. The system can predict the vehicle's path using a sensor to detect and measure oversteer and yaw by monitoring the vehicle's speed, throttle position and steering wheel angle. When the system senses wheel slip or the loss of traction, it applies braking where needed to keep the truck tracking safely on its intended path. If a significant roll angle is detected, the system applies additional countermeasures to enhance vehicle roll resistance.

The "Trailer Sway Control" function works in conjunction with AdvanceTrac with RSC and can determine from the yaw motion of the truck if the trailer is swaying in order to take measures, such as applying precise braking or reduced engine torque, to bring both vehicle and trailer under control.

Selecting the "Tow Haul Mode" changes shift points under acceleration, keeping the truck at a higher rpm and further up in the power range. Tow-haul also prevents the transmission from upshifting when the vehicle crests a hill, and it provides downhill braking that allows the transmission to downshift, letting engine-compression braking slow the vehicle and maintain a steady speed.

A "Reverse Camera System" mounts a small camera in the center of the tailgate that is activated when the truck is shifted into reverse, giving the driver a clear view behind the vehicle. The system provides the visibility needed to back up to a trailer and precisely line up the hitch. The screen image includes a centerline and colored guides, giving the driver a better perspective of the vehicle's center point and periphery.

Stay Tuned!

Later this year, we'll have an opportunity to test-drive both of these new trucks, so keep an eye on these pages for a full report.