As usual, the “big six” truck makers—Chevy, Ford, GMC, Nissan, Ram and Toyota—broke out rugged new pickups for the model year, still trying to outdo one another to see who could produce the most fearsome-looking front grille. But when you look beyond cosmetics, it’s different fuel choices, special incentive packages that cater to fleets, and a factory-installed telematics system providing some of the highlights in the market.
Check on Incentives for Fleets Before Buying
Don’t forget to ask your pickup truck dealer—or to delve deep into manufacturers’ websites before you buy—to find out if your preferred pickup maker has incentive, financing, service, or other programs to help your business with its fleet.
For example, Ford has a program of upfit incentives designed for construction fleets to help them tailor trucks to exact needs and specifications. For the F-250 Super Duty pickup, get up to $500 in assistance for upfit options such as tool boxes, rear lift gates, side racks, winches, and paint and vinyl graphics and logos. As you get into larger truck chassis cabs, the incentives, and upfit options, increase.
Chrysler Group has done a similar program of retail incentives for Ram trucks, called “On The Job,” that included graphics and upfit allowances of up to $1,000. The latest round, touted at World of Concrete 2013, expired earlier this year, but keep an eye on ChryslerCommercialVehicles.com to see if it’s been updated or renewed.
Ram’s, BusinessLink, also available through Chrysler Group, is another service for business vehicles. The service features priority next-available service bay, extended service hours, free loaners, free shuttle service, an inventory of commercial vehicles, commercial financing options, and available 24/7 towing service. Membership is free.
Alternative fuel choices have come a long way in recent years, as manufacturers respond to both consumers and fleet owners concerned about higher diesel and gasoline prices.
Some pickup makers have even been promising new fuel offerings up to two years out, signaling that the green (and green savings) trend is gaining steam. Such commitments wouldn’t be taking place if pickup makers weren’t confident in future demand. Third-party fuel system suppliers are stepping up to partner with the manufacturers in a not-so-silent confirmation.
CNG pickup partnership
In the latest announcement reflecting demand, Westport Light Duty, part of Westport Innovations that makes heavy-duty diesel-based gas engines, is partnering with Ford in a bi-fuel system for SuperDuty F-250 and F-350 pickups.
“WiNG” trucks equipped with Westport Natural Gas systems will have CNG components added to Fords with specially prepped 6.2-liter V8s. A WiNG engine will run primarily on CNG and switch to gasoline if the gas tank is empty. It will start on gasoline or CNG.
WiNGed trucks will come with Regular, Super and SuperCrew cabs, with short or long pickup beds, and with two- or four-wheel drive. The CNG tank is housed in a cabinet behind the cab, and the gasoline tank remains below the bed.
Westport says the CNG system’s weight is 200 pounds with tanks empty. The incremental price is $9,750, with a 32-gallon gasoline tank and a 14.4-gasoline-gallon-equivalent CNG tank. Note that fleet prices will be less. Using both fuels, range will be as much as 630 miles, according to Westport.
Starting this month, Westport will add the CNG equipment in a facility next to Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant. Production will ramp up gradually, and sales will be handled through selected Ford truck dealers.
Ford’s F-250 to F-650 models already offer a propane autogas fuel system from ROUSH CleanTech, another third-party partner. The fuel systems fulfill certification requirements in all 50 states by the California Air Resources Board and Environmental Protection Agency and achieve the same torque, towing and horsepower as conventionally fueled models. For a review of the technology from Construction Equipment truck editor Tom Berg, go to www.constructionequipment.com/propane.
The company says its propane autogas vehicles emit 20 percent less nitrogen oxide, 60 percent less carbon monoxide and up to 25 percent less greenhouse gases. Historically priced 30 to 40 percent less than gasoline, propane autogas is readily available through a growing nationwide refueling infrastructure.
Chevy and GMC bi-fuels
General Motors began offering the Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 HD extended cab 2013 model-year trucks in dual-fuel versions that can use CNG as well as gasoline. The vehicles include a CNG-capable Vortec 6.0-liter V8 engine that transitions between CNG and gasoline fuel systems. Combined, the trucks offer a range of more than 650 miles. The Silverado and Sierra are available in standard and long box, with either two- or four-wheel drive.
“The bi-fuel Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra provide customers with choices in advanced propulsion technology, and because CNG is a clean-burning, domestically produced fuel, it has wide appeal,” says Ed Peper, general manager, GM Fleet and Commercial Operations.
GM says it’s the only manufacturer to offer a single-source option for its gaseous fuel vehicles. The bi-fuel trucks are built with a specially designed engine; GM’s Tier One supplier installs the fuel system, and the completed vehicle is delivered directly to the customer.
“The bi-fuel truck provides businesses with added re-fueling flexibility and eases consumer range concerns that typically come with CNG, all while reducing emissions and controlling costs,” says Joyce Mattman, director, GM Commercial Product and Specialty Vehicles. “This turnkey ordering process makes our bi-fuel truck an attractive option, especially for commercial customers.”
The trucks are built in Fort Wayne, Ind., and then sent to the Tier One supplier for installation of the CNG bi-fuel delivery and storage system. The entire gaseous fuel system meets GM’s quality, durability, safety testing and is covered under the warranty.
In addition to GM, Ford and Ram offer trucks that run on CNG and gasoline, as more manufactureres turn their attention to fleet buyers.
“Businesses are looking for ways to control their costs while reducing vehicle emissions and becoming less dependent on fluctuating gas prices—the low cost of ownership makes these vehicles a realistic solution,” Mattman adds. “CNG has maintained a significantly lower retail price than either gasoline or diesel. A recent average price of CNG is equivalent to $1.89 per gallon of gasoline. Customers could save $5,000 to $10,000 over a three-year period, depending on their driving habits.”
“Eco” adjustments to diesels
Diesel engine technology in pickups has not been standing still while CNG and propane have gained favor from manufacturers and fleet owners.
The 2014 Ram 1500 pickup truck will have a 3-liter V6 EcoDiesel that the company says will produce low emissions. The engine will be paired with an 8-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission.
“Truck owners have been emphatically asking for it, and Ram will be the only manufacturer to offer a diesel powertrain in the half-ton segment with the 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel,” says Fred Diaz, president/CEO for Ram Truck. Ram’s newest turbo diesel engine is manufactured by VM Motori, a Chrysler Group diesel engine supplier since 1992.
General Motors’ 2014 Chevrolet and GMC 1500 series pickups, in the half-ton category, will have three EcoTec3 engine choices.
The EcoTech3 gasoline engine family includes a 4.3-liter V6, and 5.3- and 6.2-liter V8s, as now, but all get direct fuel injection for the first time. Advanced combustion and spark timing to control knock have been enhanced, and variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation found in current engines continue.
A deactivation function turns the V6 and the V8s into four-cylinder engines to save fuel under light load, and reactivates the extra cylinders for more power when loads increase. Horsepower and torque outputs are still to be determined by final testing, but they will be greater than from current engines, GM says, and will be released later, along with pricing. The 2014-model 1500 crew cab pickups will start production this quarter. Other cab styles will follow later in the year.
Engine-related data is just one paramater measured by Ford’s Crew Chief product (from familiar third-party telematics provider Telogis), an online tool for equipment managers to keep track of their pickup truck fleets. Ford says it’s the first certified, factory-installed solution designed specifically for commercial fleets.
“We know construction fleets are scattered among job sites, often for long periods of time, adding an additional layer of complexity to fleet management,” says Len Deluca, Ford’s director of Commercial Truck Sales & Marketing. “Our programs promote the success of construction fleets, with fleet management software and a comprehensive fleet management program.”
Crew Chief features a GPS-enabled “black box” hidden in the dashboard of the pickup that records and processes everything from current location and speed to low battery levels.
The aim, not dissimilar to the goal of telematics in heavy iron, is to increase fleet efficiency in three main areas, vehicle location, exception alerts, and vehicle and driver performance.
Managers can use the vehicle tracking to find the closest driver or vehicle, and monitor and manage any dangerous driving. Real-time diagnostic alerts can help keep costs down and minimize downtime. Crew Chief also allows readings of real-time fuel tank levels, fuel consumed, and fuel purchases, allowing comparisons against average, or expected, fuel efficiency. Like heavy equipment telematics systems, you can establish custom landmarks to visualize and report on important or prohibited locations, and geofences to monitor unauthorized use, or detect arrivals at specific locations. Idling can be monitored, as well.
If you pre-order a Ford with the telematics feature, you’ll have access to a wider range of metrics such as seatbelt use, airbag faults, or oil life remaining. The system is Web-based; there is no software to install or back-ups necessary.