Weighing in for the fight
By BILL ROEBUCKManagement Automotive Design
The aluminum versus steel battle heats up the pickup truck market, while cargo capacity remains the benchmark for big cargo vans.
It is an exciting year for new developments in both full-size pickup trucks and cargo vans. Both General Motors and Ford have come out with lighter-weight aluminum body parts, with Ford going all the way into it with its 2015 F-150. In this fight, nothing will change the weight class from heavyweight to welterweight, but a lighter weigh-in thanks to the use of aluminum versus steel generally means better fuel economy in a category known for gas guzzlers.
Also noteworthy: Nissan is taking the light-duty pickup game more seriously with its all-new 2016 Titan, to be available later this year with a Cummins turbodiesel engine. That kind of engine cachet under the hood, along with a completely redesigned truck, could mean the Titan may be added to a lot of buyers’ short lists this year.
Meanwhile, the full-size cargo van line up has expanded. We now have the Dodge ProMaster and the Ford Connect to compete with market leader, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Also playing in this field is the Nissan NV Cargo.
The Ram ProMaster cargo van, based on the Fiat Ducato, was new in Canada last year, but the vehicle it is based on has been tooling around Europe for more than three decades. That means it has a lot of history under the Fiat nameplate. Taking direct aim at the Sprinter, this built-in-Mexico van is offered in 1500, 2500 and 3500 versions in three wheelbase lengths and in low- and high-roof models.
The ProMaster is a front-wheel-drive van (the only one in this classification, which allowed a reduced overall weight, increased payload and cargo capacity, and a lower step-in height). Maximum towing capacity is 5100 lb. and maximum payload is 4400 lb. Cargo capacity ranges up to 462.9 cu. ft. in the largest model.
This van has a jobsite-friendly turning circle of just 36 ft. (quite impressive compared to competitors that range from 42.9 to 47.6 ft.) and includes electronic stability control with brake assist, hill start assist, trailer sway control and all-speed traction control on all models.
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Cargo
It was the Sprinter that launched the tall cargo van concept in North America. It was first built for Europe in 1995 and came to North America in 2001. Canadian models are manufactured in Düsseldorf, Germany.
The rear-wheel-drive Sprinter Cargo is offered in 2500 and 3500 models, with three roof heights, two wheelbase lengths, and three cargo bed lengths. It has a maximum cargo capacity of 586 cu. ft. and a maximum payload of 5508 lb., with a maximum towing rating of 5000 lb.
Its most recent major refresh was for the 2014 model. For 2015, Crosswind Assist became standard and an optional 4×4 model with low-range is now offered. In addition, each Sprinter has an Extended Service Interval of up to 30 000 km.
Two diesel engines are available. The 3.0-litre V6 engine produces 188 hp and 325 lb.-ft. of torque and is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. A 2.1-litre, inline 4 turbodiesel engine offers 161 hp and 265 lb.-ft. of torque. It is mated to a seven-speed automatic for fuel efficiency.
What the contractors are saying
General Motors is the favoured brand for trucks owned by Ermen Plumbing & Heating Ltd. in Monton, NB. The fleet includes GMC Sierra and Chevy Silverado half-ton and three-quarter-ton pickups, 32 vehicles in all. Most are rear-wheel-drive and four are 4x4s. Some are as old as model year 2000.
“We like to buy lease-backs. Two-year-old ones come at a good price point,” says Derek Ermen. “We’ll get them with about 50 000 K on them. We generally run them into the ground.”
Just two of the models are diesels.“I run a diesel truck myself,” says Ermen.
Ermen’s business is focused on service and construction, both commercial and home, including renovations and new construction. The trucks tend to last because the company’s suppliers are all within a five-minute drive, and 95 per cent of its customers are within a 10-minute drive.
All-new for 2015, the Ford Transit also comes to Canada from Europe. The Transit nameplate has been in the market since 1953, with more than seven million of the cargo vans on the road, mainly throughout Europe, and in Asia and Australia. The current model, built in Missouri for North American markets, is the fifth generation of the Transit.
The cargo van version is offered in three body lengths, two wheelbases and three roof heights. Cargo volumes range from 246.7 cu. ft. to 487.3 cu. ft. This rear-wheel drive van offers a maximum towing capacity of 7500 lb. and a maximum payload of 4650 lb.
Both gasoline and diesel engines are offered. The standard engine is a 275-hp, 3.7-litre V6 engine that produces 260 lb.-ft. of torque. Also available is a 310-hp, 3.5-litre V6 EcoBoost turbo that generates 400 lb.-ft. of torque, and a 3.2-litre five-cylinder Power Stroke turbo diesel with 185 hp and 350 lb.-ft. of torque. All engines are mated to a six-speed automatic that lets you pull the shift lever into M for manual mode and use a toggle switch to select the gear desired.
Nissan NV Cargo
If you are used to driving a pickup truck, then the Nissan NV might appeal, as its cab and front-end design are made to seem similar to a pickup format.
The 2015 Nissan NV Cargo is offered in three models, the V6-equipped NV1500; the NV2500 HD, which is available with a 4.0-litre V6 offering 261 hp and 281 lb.-ft. of torque, or a 5.6-litre V8 engine with 317 hp and 385 lb.-ft. of torque. The NV3500 HD gets the V8 engine. Both engines have a five-speed automatic transmission.
Maximum payload is 3858 lb., and maximum towing capacity is 7000 lb. for the V6 and 9500 lb. for the V8. Cargo volume is 234.1 cu. ft. in the Standard height model, and 323.1 cu. ft. in the High Roof version.
All three vans are available with a Standard Roof, while the High Roof is offered in the NV2500 HD and NV3500 HD models. New for 2015 is an updated NissanConnect system with navigation and mobile apps and 5.8-in. touch-screen display, Nissan Voice Recognition for audio and navigation, and a hands-free Text Messaging Assistant. As well, Nissan recently extended its basic limited and powertrain warranties to five years or 160 000 km.
The upfitter-friendly NV Cargo has up to 10 exterior roof rack mounting points and 57 integrated reinforced interior cargo mounting points, as well as pre-wiring for electrical needs.
What the contractors are saying
Variety is the name of the game for Dawe’s Mechanical (1981) Ltd. of Grand Falls, NL, which has 30-35 technicians on staff. Its fleet consists of four Chevy Uplander front-wheel-drive vans, 10 full-size Chevy Silverado 1500 4×4 pickups, a 2010 Ford F-150 4×2 pickup, a 2014 Toyota Tundra pickup with a cargo box, a 2009 Toyota pickup, a Toyota Sienna van, a Sterling one-and-a-quarter ton truck and three cars. The older pickups range from 2006 to 2009.
“We keep them pret
ty well,” says assistant manager Maurice Bartlett. “We try to keep them for seven to eight years.”
“We’ve no complaints about the Chevys or the Toyotas,” he says, but he is “interested in looking at that tall van from Chrysler [the ProMaster] next time we need a new one. It would be good to put in a hot water tank and
be able to stand it up.”
“We have a full fabrication shop here; 50 per cent of our business is commercial and the other 50 per cent is plumbing and heating. There’s not much we don’t do.” He adds that some of the vehicles are better suited to plumbers, others are better for the sheet metal guys.
GM’s near-twins, the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana offer many up-to-date options like navigation radio, Bluetooth technology, a rear vision camera, rear park assist and mobile Wi-Fi, which turn the trucks into a mobile hotspot. New for 2015 are an optional digital AM/FM radio with USB and an auxiliary port, a standard 110-V power outlet, and three roof-mounted LED lights in the cargo area.
A wide range of configurations in 2500 and 3500 versions (the 1500 model was dropped last year) is available and includes two wheelbase lengths, a six-speed automatic transmission, a payload ranging up to 4145 lb, and a trailer tow rating of up to 10 000 lb.
Engine options include a 4.8-litre V8 and a 6.0-litre V8. The V8 features a fast-idle option that makes it easier to run accessories at a work site. A 6.6-litre turbodiesel V8 is available.
What the contractors are saying
“We’re selling our fleet,” says Don Grundy of Arpi’s North Inc., Edmonton, which currently has about 30 company-owned vehicles.“We’re going to have our guys get their own trucks.”
Arpi’s will pay an allowance to the drivers instead. The management discussed all available options, and Grundy says he expects this will give the mechanical/HVAC construction contractor a better idea of its vehicle costs.
LIGHT-DUTY PICKUP TRUCKS
For 2015, Nissan’s Titan full-size half-ton pickup is available in King Cab and Crew Cab body styles in a 4×4 configuration, along with two wheelbases and three bed lengths. Unique features are Wide-Open rear doors in the King Cab that open nearly 180 degrees, and an integrated, lockable bedside storage compartment.
The truck continues with an all-aluminum 5.6-litre V8 engine. Its five-speed automatic transmission was designed especially for heavy-duty truck use. Towing capacity ranges up to 9500 lb. and payload is up to one ton.
The big news from Nissan is its 2016 Titan full-size pickup, to be available “late 2015.” One of the new models, the Titan XD, is designed to stake out a unique position between traditional heavy-duty and light-duty pickups.
The XD gets a Cummins 5.0-litre V8 turbodiesel engine. With heavy-duty-like capabilities such as a maximum towing capacity of more than 12 000 lb. and a maximum payload capacity of 2000 lb., Nissan says the XD also will have the fuel-efficiency and affordability of a half-ton pickup. The engine is mated to a heavy-duty six-speed automatic.
The 2016 Titan will be available in three cab configurations, two frame sizes, three powertrain offerings (including 4×2 and 4×4) and five grade levels. It also will be offered with V8 and V6 gasoline engines, although details on them had not yet been revealed at press time.
Compared to the 2015 model, the new Titan’s front storage has been increased 33 per cent and rear storage 28 per cent.
The battle among light-duty pickup trucks for the 2015 model year has turned to vehicle weight as a benchmark, thanks to Ford launching its newly redesigned F-150 with a pound-reducing all-aluminum cab and cargo box (up to 700 lb. less, says Ford). The F-150 was named the 2015 Canadian Truck of the Year by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and has been the best-selling pickup truck in Canada for the past 49 years.
Ford’s F-150s are available in rear-wheel-drive and four-wheel drive configurations, with a maximum payload of up to 3,300 lb. Ford offers four engines with the F-150: a new 2.7-litre EcoBoost V6 with 8500 lb. of maximum towing capability; a 3.5-litre EcoBoost V6 with a 12 200-lb. maximum tow rating; a new 3.5-litre V6; and a 5.0-litre V8.
Ford also offers a range of Super Duty F-250 and F-350 models. They are available in 15 different versions.
The Ram pickup from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was
redesigned for the 2013 model year, with a highlight being its eight-speed automatic transmission. Ram offers nine different models for its light-duty pickup, from the base ST to the Laramie Limited. Regular, Quad Cab and Crew Cab configurations are available, with three box lengths. It is available in 4×2 and 4×4 setups, and offers a maximum towing capacity of 10 650 lb. and a maximum payload
of 1930 lb.
Available transmissions include a six-speed automatic or the optional eight-speed version. A 5.7-litre V8 HEMI engine is standard. Also available is a 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine that has a maximum towing capacity of 7600 lb.; and a 3.0-litre Ecodiesel I4 that offers a maximum towing capacity of 9200 lb.
This pickup features the handy Rambox Cargo Management System for stowing tools and gear in the rear wheelwell area and there is new in-floor storage in the passenger compartment. Ram also offers a full line of heavy-duty versions of its pickups.
What the contractors are saying
Four cargo vans and a couple of extended-cab pickups are the mainstay of the fleet for Dual Mechanical Ltd., Surrey, BC. Dual specializes in commercial and industrial mechanical work.
“We prefer to buy our vehicles,” says the company’s owner, Jason Collett. The vans and the pickups are GMC and Chevrolet models, ranging in age from 2010 to 2013 models.
“We find them to be pretty decent,” he says. “We’ll drive them as long as we can.”
The last van they had to replace had 400 000 km.
The Toyota Tundra full-size pickup was refreshed for 2014 and basically is a carry-over for 2015. It is available in 10 models in four grades and a total of 25 configurations.
New for 2015, the TRD Off-Road model is now available as a Limited grade in both Double Cab and CrewMax configurations.
Engine options include a 4.6-litre V8 and a 5.7-litre V8, both mated to a six-speed transmission. Towing capacity ranges up to 10 800 lb. and maximum payload is 1895 lb. Choices include 4×2 or 4×4 models.
eral Motors redesigned its near-twin Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 half-ton models in 2014. Improvements included a trio of new EcoTec3 engines – a V6 and two V8s. For 2015, the models offer an optional eight-speed automatic transmission that can be mated to 6.2-litre V8 models. Engine choices include a 4.3-litre V6, a 5.3-litre V8 and a 6.2-litre V8. Maximum trailering capacity is 12 000 lb. Payload capacity can be as high as 1980 lb.
Models include a crew cab, regular cab and double cab models, in seven trim levels, in 4×2 or 4×4 configurations. Work Truck models feature black bumpers, door handles and outside mirrors, and a 40/20/40-split vinyl bench seat; a high-wear seat cloth is available on all trim levels. Step-in assist depressions in the corners of the rear bumper to make it easier to climb into the bed, no matter if the tailgate is up or down.
High-strength steel is used in the frames for strength with less weight. Aluminum alloys also have been used to reduce the weight of engines, front suspension components, hoods and other parts.
The 2014 GMC Sierra 1500 was named the Best New Pickup by the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and the Chevy Silverado was named the 2014 North American Truck of the Year. Both the Sierra and Silverado are offered in Heavy Duty versions.Bill Roebuck is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), which produces the annual Canadian Car of the Year and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards.
Full-size too big?
Almost all manufacturers produce smaller versions of their cargo vans and pickup trucks for those who want better manoeuvrability on tight jobsites and who do not need the payload and cargo capacity of the largest models.
For cargo vans, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA Canada) offers the Ram ProMaster City, as well as the minivan-style Ram Cargo Van; from Ford it is the Transit Connect; from Nissan it is the NV200 Compact Cargo; from General Motors, it is the Chevrolet Express Cargo and GMC Savana Cargo, plus the newly available Chevy City Express (built in the same factory as the Nissan NV200); and later this year, we will see the new-to-Canada Metris van from Mercedes-Benz.
With midsize pickup trucks, the choice includes the GMC Canyon/Chevrolet Colorado (redesigned for 2015), Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma (a redesigned next-generation 2016 Tacoma is due out later this year). The midsize Ford Ranger was phased out in 2011; likewise, there is a hiatus on the Honda Ridgeline, although it may return in 2016.