The next generation of heavy duty pickups

Howard J Elmer
June 09, 2010
By Howard J Elmer
The first year of this new decade sees new Heavy Duty trucks from each of the Big Three.  And while this means little to the broader spectrum of the automotive market these HD offerings are much more than fashion accessories to the buyers who work and play with them.  New engines, cabs, electronics and of course increased capability is to be found in each.  For an industry, like Construction, this is going to an interesting truck buying year.   

The 2011 Chevrolet Heavy Duty truck.

As part of the Detroit Heavy Duty pickup truck trilogy Dodge is first out of the blocks with a new HD truck for a new decade.  It’s also the first all new product from the newly restructured Chrysler and (as if that wasn’t pressure enough) it’s the first new truck to shortly wear the “Ram” badge – as Dodge becomes a car-only company and the Ram name becomes a brand used exclusively for trucks.  Of course, so far all this is just more ink on brochures, which means nothing if the product is weak.

The 2010 Dodge Heavy Duty truck in action at its October 2009 introduction.

Having recently driven this HD iron I, can happily say it’s not. Plus with a decent field of options offered across the HD line Dodge is a real contender - even starting its price walk at $700 less than last year’s base MSRP.

Among the new options added to 2010 build sheets is a crew cab (replacing the smallish Quad Cab) – which Dodge simply calls “Crew”. The unique Mega Cab is still available along with a regular cab making for three Dodge cab offerings that can be matched to either a 6’4” or 8-foot cargo box. As for trim – there are four distinct levels – ST, SLT, SXT and Laramie.

This year Dodge has joined GM and Ford in offering an integrated trailer brake controller, one with a nifty feature. The gain settings and actual braking action appear in the center screen (between the speed and rpm gauges) as numbers and a bar graph.

In terms of capability, the 2010 HD Ram can tow up to 8,391 kg (18,500 lb) and carry 2,318 kg (5110 lb) of payload.  On all 3500 models with dual rear wheels GCWR is increased to 11,521 kg (25,400 lb) with the 6.7L TD. For those who also plough snow with their trucks note that a higher front Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) of 2,495 kg (5500 lb) has been added to all 4x4 models.

Power for the 2500-series and up trucks remains the veteran combination of the 5.7L Hemi V8 (383 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque) or the 6.7L Cummins I6 Turbo Diesel (350 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque). These come with a six-speed automatic (with electronic range select feature) or six-speed standard (with ultra-low first-gear ratio) tranny. The only standard transmission offered in a HD truck in Canada says Dodge. Another feature introduced two years ago on the diesel is also still a segment-exclusive, a standard switch actuated exhaust brake.  

Other braking advances includes new larger front (360mm ) and rear (358mm) brakes with integrated ABS and electronic brake force distribution that adjusts braking pressure front to rear. New features and options include manual and electric shift-on-the-fly 4x4 transfer cases; ParkView – a back-up camera for easy hook-ups; a larger grille opening for better cooling and a Vehicle Information Center.

The other substantive upgrade in the ’10 Ram HD is the interior. It’s all new and takes its inspiration from last year’s light-duty Ram restyle. But in addition to an award winning cab design new features abound. For instance: premium front seating with heat and ventilation; heated rear-seats, heated steering wheel; automatic temperature control; two-tone upholstery; memory seats, radio and mirrors; navigation; adjustable pedals; SIRIUS Backseat TV with three channels of programming, uconnect tunes with a 30-gigabyte hard drive and an available first-in-segment 10-speaker surround-sound system. These trucks are available at dealers now.

For 2010 the Ford Super Duty trucks remain unchanged, but these trucks are also being rushed off the stage, so to speak, with the recent November release of the 2011 Super Duty lineup. These trucks were shown at the Regina Agribition to a crowd of rural buyers in a province that (thanks to) the discovery of more oil, gas and potash is buying up more large pickups than ever before.  

First Drive of the 2011 Ford Super Duty truck. 
This rushed intro follows the successful release of the all new Dodge Ram HD. An event I’m sure hastened Ford wanting to show off a substantially changed Super Duty.

But this 2011 is not just about changes to the tin because when it does come to market it will have two entirely new engines as well.  Coincidence or stroke of luck – however caused this event makes this third generation of Super Duty’s that much more important in the continuing lineage of this brand.

First, and probably most important, is the debut of the all-new 6.7L V8 Power Stroke turbodiesel.  This new engine heralds the end of the International/Ford Engine program that has seen at least twenty years of Ford diesels being built by Navistar International.  Instead this new design is by Ford, and built by Ford. For example, the exhaust manifolds reside in the valley of the V8 engine rather than outboard, while the intake is outboard where the exhaust normally is.  Also the cylinder heads are flipped around in comparison with previous V8 layouts.

Ford says this unique layout – an automotive-industry first – has several advantages.   Exhaust system pressure is reduced, meaning air is fed to the single turbocharger faster; it’s also bolted to the block, rather than hanging on the outboard exhaust system, reducing vibration and noise. 

Also new are aluminum cylinder heads making the engine lighter and the mid-deck construction has dual water jackets for optimal cooling; also, six-head bolts, instead of four, help improve sealing.  New instant-start glow plugs start even in extremely cold temperatures.

This newest Power Stroke is designed by Ford and built by Ford; a first in all respects. This debut also signals the end of a relationship that Ford has had with International of Indianapolis – who for over thirty years built all its diesel engines – the last one being the current 6.4L Power Stroke.

So, what? Well if you have a current 6.4L you know that the engine is tight but the fuel economy sucks. There is no other word for it – and Ford knew it too. 

Unfortunately the reasons for the decline in fuel economy on the 6.4L had as much to do with the implementation of new environmental devices to clean up the diesel exhaust over the past two years; a job they accomplished but with this serious side effect – a situation that has been costing Ford sales and a situation they had to change.

That said I drove a new 6.7L engine through the flat Arizona desert, and through the switchbacks of the mountains and achieved 23 miles to the US gallon even with all the current emissions gadgets in place. Also I had 1,000 lb of cement in the bed and four adults in the cabin. That number converts to 10.2L per 100/km combined – and that is my personal un-doctored number, not Ford’s.  That’s around 10 miles to the gallon (US) or 6L per/100km better than the ’09s I tested just last summer. 

But fuel economy is just one aspect of this new design. What this 6.7L V8 turbocharged diesel engine also brings to the Super Duty equation is a staggering 735 of torque and 390 hp as well. If there is a downside to the new diesel it is going to be the price. The premium for the 6.7L is just shy of $10,000 over the price of the standard gas engine.

Also all new is the standard gasoline engine that will be a 6.2L V8.  This motor also promises more power yet with better fuel economy. The engine is E85/flex fuel capable, meaning you can run regular, partial or up to 85 per cent ethanol mixed gasoline.

Getting the power to the wheels is a new 6R140 heavy-duty TorqShift six-speed automatic transmission.  This transmission will come with Ford’s SelectShift feature which lets the driver shift manually.  Downshifts can also be commanded through brake pressure; (using a brake pressure transducer) which monitors the pressure applied then down-shifting the tranny.

 For even greater trailer control, the new Super Duty is going to harness the back pressure of the Power Stroke diesel by increasing pressure; helping to slow the vehicle and trailer.  There will be no buttons to push; the calibration will work automatically when slowing.  This transmission will also have an optional Live Drive Power Take Off (PTO) for diesel equipped trucks.

It’s been a decade or more since the truck industry as a whole recognized the need to make truck cabs more work friendly. Features that let Fleet buyers and individual contractors run their business out of their trucks have been increasing across the board – so what’s new in this Super Duty is just adding to good systems already in place.

At the centre of Fords offering is a new 4.2-inch LCD screen and a five-way button on the steering wheel that lets customers navigate through menu options that cover everything from fuel economy to towing convenience; an off-road message center is added as well.  While message centres are not new – the information they now offer is truly impressive.

The trucks will be available sometime in summer.

The third act of the trilogy, that is the North American Heavy Duty Pickup market, debuted at the Chicago International Auto Show in February and this time around it was General Motors who showed its current HD updates.  As the last out of the gate this release has been much anticipated by its competitors – Ford in particular – because the engine specs, payload and towing capacities will now vie for “greatest” bragging rights.

2011 Chevrolet Heavy Duty truck rear seat.
 2011 Chevrolet Heavy Duty truck interior.
With this newest HD truck, Chevy is claiming best in segment towing and payload with weight ratings of 9,072 kg and 2,873 kg respectively. I said Ford in particular was waiting to see what Chevy claimed because despite having shown its own 2011 SuperDuty pickup in Regina last November, they wouldn’t release any weight claims, no doubt waiting for GM to make theirs. Dodge on the other hand debuted its recent HD pickup as a 2010 and is on record with its numbers.

Powering the new truck is a beefed up, 6.6L Duramax diesel coupled to a six-speed Allison 1000 automatic transmission.  This engine will make 397 hp and 765 lb.- ft. of torque.  This is the game of one-up-man-ship these competitors have always played. 

Other features on this Silverado HD (or its sister the Sierra HD) are a new stronger frame, stiffened suspension, an integrated exhaust brake, new louvered hood front bumper and grille treatment and 20-inch wheels.  This new fully-boxed frame features asymmetrical rear leaf-springs riding on larger brakes and the latest safety technology. A neat new function is the 170-degree opening rear door on extended cab models.

As for improvements on the most often ordered Duramax diesel GM is also claiming class-leading fuel economy and improved acceleration. But this Duramax has to (and does) meet new emissions regulations. To do that, GM is using a new liquid urea-injection system which nets at least 63 per cent lower emissions. This engine is also B20 (as in biodiesel) capable. Trim levels include the basic WT (work truck) and the upscale LT and LTZ designations.  With these in the mix the Silverado HD line-up grows to 11 2500-series and eight single and dually 3500-series models.   The “first drive” for these trucks is slated for this summer with the trucks arriving at dealers this fall.

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