HPAC Magazine

FEATURES FROM HPAC MAY/JUNE 2012 Future Truck Technologies Target Fuel Economy

May 1, 2012 | By Bill Roebuck

The newest technologies aim to help work vehicles boost their usefulness and reduce operating costs.

It looks like the battle of the future for work truck builders will focus less on brute strength and more on technological and fuel-saving innovations. The most significant of the new technologies won’t be introduced in earnest until the 2013 or 2014 models come out, although 2012 models are starting the trend.

Over the next two to three years, we will see more gas-mileage-boosting direct fuel injection and improved diesel setups, smoother body designs for less wind resistance, efficient electric steering instead of hydraulic steering pumps, weight reduction using high-strength steels and unique alloys, and more efficient and powerful turbocharged V6 engines to replace fuel-hungry V8s.

It is significant that almost everybody these days wants better fuel economy from their work trucks – but not fewer capabilities.

The fuel economy of its service vehicles is one of the biggest concerns for J&A Heating and Plumbing in Saskatoon, SK. The residential and light commercial HVAC contractor is a member of the SaskEnergy network and is a Lennox Premier Dealer. The company has a dozen work trucks on the road, says Della Janzen, office manager. They are all Fords, ranging in age from 2002 to 2012 models. Most are E-Series cargo vans, with a couple of F-150 pickup trucks in the mix.

Janzen monitors all of the fleet’s expenses, saying the contractor uses a local garage for maintenance. “We get rid of them when they start costing more than they are worth, but all are working pretty well now,” she says. Janzen notes with some surprise that the fuel economy of the newest models does not seem to be any better than the older ones, so the promise of better fuel economy in upcoming models is of keen interest.

Fluid Management Technologies Inc. in Whitehorse, YK, supplies industrial and mining equipment, and specializes in septic and water purification systems. As a result, says manager Bernie Foster, “we’re packing fairly heavy loads.” The company uses a half dozen heavy-duty flatbed trucks – a mix of Chevrolet and Dodge in three-quarter and one-ton sizes. They range from 2008 to 2011 models.

Generally, they are driven on paved roads around Whitehorse, but Foster says they occasionally have to go into mining camps. “That’s detrimental to the fleet; it’s really hard as far as maintenance is concerned.

“We’re looking for payload and cargo capacity, but there’s a plus-plus when it comes to fuel economy.” The Cummins diesels in the Dodge trucks give better fuel economy over time, he has noticed. But Foster has reservations about the future trend to using lighter metals. It is a concern that “they won’t support the weights we’re used to carrying,” he says. “The manufacturers really need to understand how we use their vehicles.”

2012 Work Trucks Innovation Highlights


Ford says its 2013 Ford F-Series Super Duty will bring no-compromise truck luxury to the market with its first-ever Platinum heavy-duty pickup. Standard features will include a truck-specific version of Ford SYNC with MyFord Touch, navigation, a rear view camera, a remote start system, power-telescoping mirrors and power-adjustable pedals. The truck version of MyFord Touch provides tactile button controls and large rotating knobs to accommodate users wearing work gloves.

For 2012, the standard full-size Ford F-150 pickup has several new technologies and driveline upgrades. They include the addition of Hill Start Assist, a new automatic 4×4 system for the Lariat trim level and above, and expanded availability of electronic locking rear axles on 3.5-L and 5.0-L engines. It is now available in a range of axle ratios, and is offered on 4×4 and 4×2 models.

The previous model’s electronic shift-on-the-fly has been replaced with a two-speed automatic 4×4 system for Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum trim levels. If the truck senses a loss of traction, it immediately transfers torque from the rear to the front wheels.

Ford’s entire full-size pickup line now has six-speed automatic transmissions as standard. For the fuel-frugal driver, there is an impressive 3.5-L EcoBoost V6 producing 365 hp and 420 lb.-ft. of torque, with 11 300 lb. of trailer towing capacity. As Ford boasts, you get V8-like power with a fuel-efficient, turbocharged V6. The 2012 F-Series Super Duty’s standard 6.2-L V8 gas engine has 15 per cent better fuel economy compared with the previous engine and produces 405 lb.-ft. of torque and 385 hp. It is capable of running on E85 ethanol. New for 2012 is a compressed natural gas/propane prep engine option.

To save weight, the hood is made from lightweight material. But by the 2014 model year, the F150 is expected to feature extensive use of aluminum body panels, doors and fenders. Other lighter components will be introduced as part of a long-term goal of cutting over 300 kg from the vehicle’s weight by 2019.

Ford claims the E-Series – 2012 marks its 50th anniversary – is the smartest full-size van on the market, offering the SYNC voice-activated communications and Crew Chief fleet management technology. For the 2014 model year, it is likely the E-Series will be replaced by a version of Ford Europe’s Transit van.

General Motors

Two marques from General Motors, the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra, make up its line of full-size pickups. Both are nearly identical mechanically, with trim levels and options varying slightly between the two.

We won’t get to see the new iterations of them until the 2014 models are launched in mid-2013. They are expected to feature a new V8 engine boasting direct injection and cylinder deactivation to save fuel. GM is also said to be working on an eight-speed transmission.

For 2013, Chevrolet and GMC will offer bi-fuel Silverado and Sierra 2500 HD extended cab pickups, which will be available early next year. They will use a compressed natural gas (CNG) capable Vortec 6.0-L V8 engine that seamlessly transitions between CNG and gasoline fuel systems. The trucks are expected to offer a range of more than 1000 km.

The current 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 lineup is wide-ranging, offering everything from job-ready Work Truck models to a luxurious Sierra Denali. The full line has six-speed automatic transmissions. GM also boasts the only hybrid pickup on the market, which is rated at 8.4 L/100 km on the highway, yet it still offers a 6100-lb. trailering capacity. New technologies for 2012 are electronic trailer sway control and hill start assist.

Also available is the Heavy Duty lineup. There are 10 Sierra 2500HD models, eight 3500HD models and six Sierra Denali HD models. In the HD lineup, hitch-trailering capacity ranges up to 18 000 lb., with towing capability up to 23 000 lb. Maximum payload is up to 7215 lb.

GM’s cargo vans, the Chevrolet Express and the GMC Savana, are mostly carryovers for 2012. Minor improvements are expected for the 2013 models, with the addition of navigation, a rear vision camera and rear park assist.


The 2012 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter has as much as 600 cu. ft. of cargo space and up to 84.3 in. of interior height in its largest configuration. Its cargo capacity ranges up to 5375 lb. and the towing capability runs up to 7500 lb. The Sprinter comes in two wheelbase versions and is available in three lengths. The van is also available with three different roof heights. In fact, there are around 1000 combinations of wheelbases, heights, weights and engine variants possible. Power is from a 188-hp V6 turbodiesel mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.

The 2012 models get a bit more standard equipment, including heated and powered side mirrors and a trailer hitch prep package. A new, optional, long axle is available in th
e 2500 models, providing more torque, and a Crew Van package is now available on all cargo configurations. The next iteration of the Sprinter won’t be until the 2014 model year, when the body will receive a facelift, and may include a four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel engine.


The 2012 Nissan Titan is offered in King Cab and Crew Cab body styles with a choice of 4×4 and 4×2 drive configurations, along with two wheelbases and two bed lengths. The model is expected to be totally revamped for the 2014 model year – a decade after the original was launched.

There are four trim levels in the Titan lineup. Both 2WD and 4WD drivetrains are available. On its 4WD models, Titan has an advanced shift-on-the-fly system. The maximum towing capacity is up to 9500 lb. for the King Cab version.

The engine is a 5.6-L V8 rated at 317 hp and 385 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a standard five-speed automatic that has tow/haul modes.

Nissan Canada is now offering the Nissan Commercial Advantage Program on its 2012 Nissan NV commercial van. The offers include two no-charge commercial upfit packages and installation from Adrian Steel.

Available on both the Standard and High Roof Van is a Cargo Management System, providing a steel cabin/cargo partition, three shelving units, rail-mounted installation for easy reconfiguration and a four-hook bar for hanging storage. The second option is a Utility Package, providing the convenience of carrying cargo and ladders with a steel cabin/cargo partition and utility rack. The third option is a commercial rebate of $1000.

The NV is available in three models, the NV1500, NV2500 and NV3500. All are available with the Standard Roof, while the High Roof body is offered in the NV2500 and NV3500 models. Two engines are offered – a 4.0-L V6 or a 5.6-L V8; both are matched to a five-speed automatic.

The High Roof version provides a maximum 76.5-in. of cargo room height – enough for most users to stand up straight. The standard height version has 234 cu. ft., while the high-roof model offers 323 cu. ft.

Nissan will also introduce its new NV200 Compact Cargo Van in early 2013, with a cargo capacity of 123 cu. ft. It is powered by a 2.0-L, four-cylinder engine. Available technology includes a Nissan Navigation System, Bluetooth wireless communications, a rear view monitor and telematics pre-wiring.


Chrysler’s Ram 1500 will be significantly refreshed for the 2013 model year and the truck’s engineers have truly embraced the latest available technology. It will include many technologies that have never been offered on pickup trucks before. Among them are an eight-speed automatic transmission and engine stop-start (the engine shuts down when you come to a stop and restarts when the brake is released). It will also have electric power steering.

The design has been smoothed out, resulting in a six per cent aerodynamic improvement. An auto-adjusting air sus–pension can lower the ride height automatically while travelling or can be manually set to one of five heights.

A newly redesigned frame benefits from a weight reduction of up to 30 lb. by using advanced high-strength steels. Aluminum upper and lower control arms in the front suspension contribute to additional weight reduction. The Ram 1500 also features an aluminum hood, saving another 26 lb.

Also, a new 3.6-L V6 engine will boast more horsepower and torque than the existing 3.7-L model, while reducing fuel consumption by around 20 per cent. A similar improvement is also expected from Ram’s V8 engines thanks to the use of the eight-speed automatic, versus the current four-speed. Another new technology, available with the eight-speed transmission, is a thermal management system that is designed to quickly raise engine and transmission fluid temperatures. With it, losses resulting from high-viscosity engine oil and transmission fluid can be reduced, improving fuel efficiency by 1.7 per cent.

The eight-speed transmission created the need for an innovative rotary e-shift dial in the cockpit to replace the centre console gate shifter – a first for pickups.

Pulse-width modulation (PWM) is another new fuel-saving technology that reduces parasitic electrical load. It not only eliminates unnecessary load on the alternator but also improves the durability of benefitting systems. Fuel delivery and the forward cooling fan are two systems that take advantage of PWM.

Voice recognition and touch-screen technologies will also be available for the driver. A Uconnect Media Center will provide a built-in cellular connection with Internet and WiFi hotspot capability. Drivers can remotely lock or unlock truck doors, start the vehicle, and flash lights from any distance via the web or a smartphone application.

For 2012, there are 11 Ram 1500 models. A new Trades-man HD model has an 11 500-lb. maximum trailer rating, 3100-lb. payload and 17 500-lb. gross combined weight rating.

The 2012 Ram 1500 provides more than 30 safety features, including Hill Start Assist and Trailer Sway Control.

This year, the truck’s 5.7-L HEMI V8 gets more horsepower (390 hp) and torque (407 lb.-ft.). Also available is a flex-fuel-capable 4.7-L V8 and a 3.7-L V6.

The 2012 Ram 2500/3500 Heavy Duty lineup gets a new six-speed automatic transmission that can be mated to a choice of diesel- and gasoline-fuelled powerplants. The HD models are available in eight trim levels.

On the cargo van front, Chrysler no longer has a full-size version – only offering the Ram C/V, basically a Dodge Caravan minivan without rear seating and with the cargo area side and rear windows blocked out. However, Chrysler is expected to introduce a version of the Fiat Ducato – a large panel van similar to the Mercedes Sprinter – to the North American market for 2013, calling it the Ram Cargo Van.


Around the middle of 2013, Toyota is expected to release its 2014 Tundra, which likely will have a more aerodynamic design and a new interior, but probably no new engines. It is expected that Toyota will use direct injection technology with its 5.7-L V8, though.

For the current 2012 models, the Tundra full-size pickup offers simplified option package selections, as well as various appearance enhancements in its models. The Limited grade and TRD Rock Warrior package now include a standard back-up camera for 2012.

For 2012, all Tundras have as standard a heavy-duty battery; a heavy-duty starter; windshield wiper de-icer; and heated, power outside mirrors; along with newly styled steel wheels.

The 2012 Tundra is offered in two grades (Tundra and Limited), three cab styles, three wheelbase lengths and three bed lengths. A Tundra Work Truck Package is aimed at those who need a no-frills truck. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Platinum Package, available for the Tundra CrewMax Limited model, offers numerous luxury features.

The V6 is paired with a five-speed automatic transmission with uphill/downhill shift logic. Both V8s are teamed with a six-speed automatic. A warming unit quickly brings the transmission fluid up to operating temperature to optimize cold-weather performance.

Inside, large door handles and easy-to-turn control knobs can be operated even while wearing work gloves. The centre console in bucket-seat models can hold a laptop computer or hanging file folders.

As you can see, options abound when it comes to choosing the right pickup for your needs and the future is certainly looking brighter in regards to fuel economy and innovative technologies. <>

Bill Roebuck is a voting member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).



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