Light Truck And Van Review
As the standard-issue model year continues to evaporate into the past, manufacturers are no longer sticking with early fall introductions of models for the following model year. Our 1999 roundup includes brand-new 1998 models that were introduced just as the model year started, and also preliminary information on some 2000 models announced at press time that will go on sale next June. Let’s stick with those most likely to end up in your fleet.
Ford Super Duty F-SeriesFord’s new truck line, the Super Duty F-Series, departs from the industry standard of “one size fits all.” Designated as 1999 models, the Super Duty trucks went on sale in early March of this year. The F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 models will be rated up to 19,000 lbs. Gross Vehicle Weight.
Pickup models will be available in regular cab, four-door SuperCab, and four-door crew cab configurations. Regular cab models will only be available with the 8-foot long bed. SuperCab and crew cab models will be available with either the 6.75-foot short bed or the 8-foot long bed.
Fuel capacity has been changed to 29 gallons on short-bed pickup models, 38 gallons on long-bed pickup models, and 36 gallons on chassis-cab models, all from a single tank. Pickup models use a midship-mounted plastic tank, while chassis-cab models use a steel tank mounted behind the rear axle. An optional 19-gallon steel tank, mounted midship, is available on chassis-cab models.
The Super Duty’s biggest strength is hauling and towing. With pickup-configured models built for Gross Com lbs. and engine choices that include a 275-HP gas V-10 and a turbocharged, intercooled diesel V-8 rated at 235-HP and 500 lbs./ft. of torque, the Super Duty has an ample foundation for serious hauling. Because braking has long been a soft spot with many commercial pickups, the Super Duty’s brakes have been upgraded to include standard four-wheel disc brakes with rear ABS and a four-wheel ABS system is available as an option. The brakes on gas engine equipped models under 12,500 lbs. GVW are vacuum boost assisted. Diesel and gas-equipped models are over 12,500 lbs. GVW are fitted with a hydro-boost brake assist system.
Elsewhere At Ford: Other pickup developments at Ford include alternative fuels as well as the move to four doors on its SuperCab F-Series and Ranger models. The four-door feature will be standard on the F-Series and optional on the Ranger. Although in limited production, Electric Rangers and CNG F250s have begun to appear in some fleets. The under-8,500 lb. GVW F-Series models will get a slightly revised grille/headlamp arrangement for 1999, and the 5.4L SOHC V8 will get a boost from 235-HP to 260-HP. Econoline van models are mostly unchanged for 1999, with the exception of ABS becoming standard on E-350 (1-ton) models.
General Motors Chevrolet Silverado & GMC SierraRecognizing that many pickup buyers want their truck to look like a truck, the design teams charged with replacing Chevrolet’s and GMC’s 10-year-old pickup lines concentrated on change for the sake of improvement.
Apart from the actual vehicles, the new names are also a major change. Since the Silverado name has always been applied to top-of-the-line Chevy trucks, Chevrolet decided to adopt Silverado as the name for the new line to help reinforce the trend toward higher levels of standard equipment. Likewise at GMC with the Sierra name replacing C/K at that division. The Silverado will share much of its chassis and drivetrain with the new Sierra Pickup from GMC. But with GMC redirecting its light truck focus at the high end of the market, the Silverado is expected to be GM’s main fleet pickup offering. GMC will still offer a “fleet-spec’ed” Sierra. However, it will be an option rather than the base trim level.
With a shared chassis, and a few common body panels, some features apply to both the Sierra and the Silverado. Starting at the ground and moving up, the new GM pickups benefit from a new four-wheel disc brake system with four-wheel ABS. An increase in the existing front caliper size and a Dynamic Rear Proportioning system are combined to provide more efficient braking whether loaded or empty and increase lining life by up to four times. These improvements have also enabled the change from semi-metallic linings to non-asbestos organic linings.
Moving up to the frame, stiffness and strength has been improved by using a box-section, hydro-formed front rail, mated to a lipped, C-section mid-rail that varies in length depending on wheelbase and cab style. The rails are joined with welded tubular crossmembers to provide a solid foundation for the new body. According to the engineers, the new pickups equal the best-in-class ratings for body stiffness without resorting to welding the front inner-fender structure to the cab. The bolted front-end assembly will save considerable time and cost on collision repairs.
Under the hood is a new series of Vortec engines, cast-iron V8s that are near twins to the aluminum Corvette engine. Principal changes from the existing small-block engine include lengthening the lower block skirt to accommodate cross-bolting of the main bearing caps. A structural oil pan provides a 360-degree mounting surface for the transmission bellhousing to minimize flexing of the drivetrain. Engine choices range from 4.8L through 6.0L gas V8s and a 6.5L turbo-diesel V8.
Continuing through the drivetrain, automatic transmissions are now equipped with a tow/haul mode switch that alters shift patterns to minimize “shift hunting” when hauling heavy loads. Heavier 3/4-ton models with automatic transmissions will be equipped with a transmission temperature gauge and the heavier manual transmissions feature a PTO mount. Other drivetrain improvements include an optional locking differential for the rear axle.
A Bussed Electrical Center under the hood centrally locates the majority of the electrical system functions, simplifying maintenance and making accessory circuit connection points easier to find. Inside, an upgraded instrument cluster includes an engine hour meter integrated into the odometer and a reconfigurable telltale that monitors 19 vehicle functions.
Regular cab models will gain a larger behind-seat storage area. Around back, the tailgate design has been changed to improve theft resistance. For the 1999 model year, the Sierra and Silverado will only be available in 1/2-ton and 3/4-ton models, with either a standard cab or a three-door extended cab. New versions, including a four-door extended-cab and heavier GVW models, will follow within the next few years. For now the over-8,600 lb. GVW models will be built using the old C/K design.
Previously unavailable, a short-bed crew-cab C/K pickup will be available for 1999. This model is said to have a 3-foot tighter turning radius than the long-bed crew-cab model.
Chevy Express Cargo Van & GMC SavanaSince the introduction of the completely redesigned GM vans in 1996, these two models have retained the honor of having the best-in-class legroom for the driver and front-seat passenger. Available engines include four gas-powered offerings ranging from a 4.3L V6 to a 7.4L V8, as well as a 6.5L turbo-diesel V8. Changes specific to the 1999 model year include reduced-power driver and front-passenger air bags along with enhancements to the automatic transmissions to increase durability and improve sealing.
Dodge Ram & Dakota PickupThe most significant change to report for the Dodge Ram is the move to four-doors and the availability of a stronger Cummins engine for the 3/4-ton models. The extended-cab four-door, Quad Cab, option was introduced just as the 1998 models went on sale, too late for many of the fall truck round-ups. The new Cummins engine boasts 230-HP at 2,700 RPM and 450 lbs./ft. of torque at 1,600 RPM, a notable increase over the previous engine. The up-rated diesel engine went on sale midway through the 1998 model year and will continue through the 1999 model year. Changes that will appear on the 1999 Ram include standard ABS on 3500 (1-ton) models as well as revised trim packages and improved electronic convenience accessories. As a limited-production option, the 5.9L V8 engine is now available on Dakota R/T mid-sized pickup models.
Ram VanIn another last minute 1998 introduction, Dodge announced some significant changes to its full-sized Ram Van. As the oldest design among the Big Three’s van lineup, the Ram Van was more than a bit overdue for an overhaul. Although there have been rumors regarding a complete redesign in the works, the 1998 model was improved by lengthening the front unibody frame rails to accommodate the 4.5-inch forward relocation of the V8 engine. This change reduces the intrusion of the engine “doghouse” into the driver and passenger seating area, improving legroom and adding extra “crush space” for protection in front-end collisions. The change did not, however, include moving the front wheels forward, which would have greatly increased driver legroom.
Naturally, this change includes new front-end sheet metal to enclose the relocated engine. This, along with assembly process changes, contributed to a 40 percent stiffer body than previous models. Other changes included new front and rear twin-piston caliper disc brakes, as well as the reduced-power air-bag restraint system. Changes for the 1999 model year include the availability of a 5.2L Compressed Natural Gas engine for fleet models, and a 32 percent increase in manual seat-track travel.
Imports - Isuzu Hombre PickupAs of press time, information regarding the GM-based 1999 Isuzu Hombre pickup was not yet available. However, contacts at Isuzu indicated that there were no significant changes from the 1998 model year beyond a revised front bumper and the availability of a third door on the extended cab “Spacecab” models. The new reduced-power air-bag restraints have also been added.
Nissan Frontier Crew-CabThe biggest news among the import producers was Nissan’s recent announcement of the first compact crew-cab pickup to be available in North America. Although work crews in the rest of the world have benefited from these compact crew-cab models from several manufacturers for years, the conventional wisdom in North America has held that nobody would buy a pickup that couldn’t hold an 8-foot sheet of plywood. Studies by many manufacturers, however, contradicted the conventional wisdom by finding that most pickup beds are rarely more than half-full. This combined with the fact that the trucks frequently carry more than two adult passengers, has led many of the pickup manufacturers to look into compact crew-cabs for the North American market.
Nissan managed to beat its competitors to the punch when the company announced that the Frontier crew-cab pickup would be available as a 2000 model, beginning in the summer of 1999. Key changes to the Frontier for 1999 include the availability of a 170-HP 3.3L V6 engine on 4x4 King Cab models.
ToyotaIn August, Toyota rolled out its all-new Tundra full-size pickup. After teasing the public with a look at its T150 concept truck during the Chicago Auto Show earlier this year, Toyota had remained tight-lipped regarding news of the actual launch date for its new full-size pickup. The truck had originally been designated the T150, to continue on the series from its predecessor, the T100. However, the folks at Ford decided that was just a bit too close to their F150 moniker, so rather than enter a debate about the trademark potential of an alphanumeric product name, Toyota decided to shift to a more brand-identifiable name, hence the new designation, Tundra.
The first Tundras should arrive in dealer showrooms during late-May next year, but will be sold as 2000 models. The new model will be available in two- or four-wheel drive, powered by either a V6 or V8 engine. Body configurations will initially be limited to a two-door regular cab with an 8-foot bed or a four-door, extended “Access” cab with a 6-foot bed. As earlier reported, the Tundra will be available with a 245-HP DOHC V8, based on the earlier Lexus LS400 engine.