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Truck trends

Take a look at the latest in real and conceptual trucks, with a glimpse of where technology is taking the industry.

Quad cab DaimlerChrysler's Dodge division has reworked its larger-than-compact Dakota by adding two doors to create a cab that will seat six people, while shrinking the bed from 6_1/2 to 51/4 ft. long. The company calls it a synthesis of a Dakota and a Durango, appealing to the SUV owner who doesn't want messy cargo in a carpeted area. It also adds a new-generation, overhead cam, 4.7-liter V8 Magnum engine option (which first appeared in the '99 Jeep Grand Cherokee) that generates 245 hp and 335 lbs. ft. of torque. It can haul a payload of 1,450 lbs. or tow up to 6,350 lbs., which the company claims is the best-in-class power for this compact truck segment. The Quad cab model also features improved ride and handling characteristics with a new aluminum 4-wd front axle for increased durability and torque capacity. Base price: $19,490 for a 2-wd model; $22,135 for 4-wd.

Power Wagon This concept truck from Dodge is as refined and tailored as the original 1946 workhorse was rugged and simple. Built off the Ram chassis, it is similar in size to the Dakota Club Cab, and it earns the "Power" designation from a 7.2-liter, direct-injection I-6 turbo-diesel that generates 780 lbs. ft. of torque. Other proposed features include rear-hinged half doors into the storage area, a power-actuated tailgate, a front-mounted power winch, separated bumpers/fenders/running boards, exposed fasteners and bolts, and much more. The engine will not run on diesel but on a new sulfur-free designer fuel being developed in partnership with Tulsa-based Syntroleum Corporation.

Fourth door Fans of the full-size Chevy Silverado or GMC Sierra pickup trucks now have the option of adding that final door to the driver's side on extended-cab models. The other major improvement to the 2000 models is more horsepower for the Vortec 4800 V8 (270 hp at 5,200 rpm) and the Vortec 5300 V8 (285 hp at 5,200 rpm). Also available for certain Silverado models is an optional composite box made of reinforced reaction, injection-molded materials to improve wear and tear and eliminate corrosion.

The Blackwood Ford plans to bring Lincoln luxury to the pickup market with its Blackwood vehicle, slated for production in Kansas City late this year. It's a modern twist on the classic old "woody," obtaining its name from the use of a dark, dense, striated African wood on the trunk. The interior is based on the interior of the Lincoln Navigator, with the addition of a global positioning system integrated into the floor-mounted center console surrounded by four bucket seats trimmed in black Connolly leather. The hard top of the enclosed 42/3-ft.-long box opens hydraulically to a 45 degree angle for access. Powered by a 5.4-liter, double overhead cam V8 on a 4 x 2 chassis, it fits into a Class III trailer tow group that can handle a boat or horse trailer.

Sport Trac Ford has turned an Explorer into a pseudo-pickup, similar to Dodge's Dakota/ Durango combo rig, and called it a Sport Trac. It features a cabin that is the sa me size as the Explorer's, with a 4-ft. box behind and 2 ft. of additional storage with the tailgate/U-shaped cargo cage open. It is powered by a 4-liter, single overhead cam V6 engine that produces 205 hp at 5,250 rpm and 240 lbs. ft. torque at 3,750 rpm, riding on a frame that is stronger and stiffer than an Explorer frame. Unique features include a one-touch power rear cab window, a 12v power outlet in the cargo box, and a composite plastic box. Price: $23,050 for a 2-wd model; $25,800 for 4-wd.

MAXXcab DaimlerChrysler offers another concept based on a Dakota platform (but 12 in. shorter than the Quad cab) called a MAXXcab. Described as the first truck designed with "passenger priority," it doubles as an office-on-wheels or a mobile day-care center while still offering a half-ton payload. The posh cabin features leather and brushed aluminum details, plus a child-focused rear area with DVD player, Internet access and sketch pad. The middle rear seat can be electronically moved forward for child tending. Outside, it features an independent suspension at all four wheels and all-wheel drive. The MAXXcab's bed measures 41/3 x 43/4 ft. It will be powered by a 4.7-liter, next-generation Magnum V8 with a multispeed electronic automatic transmission.

Terradyne According to General Motors, its new Terradyne represents its commitment to authentic professional-grade trucks that exceed customer requirements. This five-passenger, full-size, mega-cab/short-box concept vehicle will offer a box that can be push-button extended from 6_1/2 to 8 ft. and a 5,000W engine-driven generator that can power a house using the 110v and 220v outlets in the tailgate area. Other unique features will include four innovative gliding doors that eliminate the B pillar, lockable storage in the side box panels, and rearview video monitoring to eliminate blind spots for precision backing and hitching.

The Equator If you're into trucks and harsh elements, you'll be interested in Ford's latest concept truck, the Equator. Built using the F-series pickup as the foundation, the Equator maintains the height of the 128-in. wheelbase F-150, while adopting the width of the F-350 Super Duty. It has an off-road-racing-inspired independent suspension with billet aluminum control arms, steel lower arms with all new geometry for maximum travel, adjustable 32-in. coils over gas-linked shocks, and custom-machined steering linkage. The bumper, fender, wheel wells and lower trim panels are made of almost indestructible Kelvar. Other proposed features include a central tire inflation system, clamp-on gauges for a customized instrument panel, four leather bucket seats, visor-mounted GPS, automatically deployed step to ease cab entrance, and much more.

Avalanche Chevy's latest concept truck, the Avalanche, uses a Silverado platform for SUV-type roominess with a unique Convert-a-Cab system. Taking a page from passenger cars that have a pass-through trunk, Convert-a-Cab is a pass-through truck. In its standard configuration, the Avalanche seats six with a 51/4-ft.-long bed. But if you need more cargo space, a convertible mid-gate folds into the interior of the cab to create a 4- x 8-ft. bed. Although a launch date has not yet been announced, current features include a Vortec 5300 V8 engine, 4-speed automatic transmission with Autotrac 4-wd, 130-in. wheelbase with total length of 219 in., rigid three-piece cargo cover and rear five-link coil suspension for enhanced ride and handling.

SSRoadster This Chevy concept truck, the SSR (Super Sport Roadster), appears to be an ultramodern El Camino-type vehicle. To add a sports car feel, the SSR has a power retractable hardtop that reveals a three-passenger bench seat with no center shifter console, which is integrated into the steering wheel. The roadster's styling incorporates a unique full-width grille, wide stance and distinct wheel-oriented forms. It will be powered by a longitudinally mounted, 6-liter, high-output V8 to power the rear wheels for high performance.

Super Crewzer Ford's ultimate luxury concept pickup, the F-550 Super Crewzer II, is based on the F-550 Super Duty crew cab model. Inside you'll find such features as plush leather seating and a flip-down video screen for rear-seat passengers. It features a complete bed with integrated, lighted running boards and fender flares, with an interior lined with diamond plate with a color-matched tool box. A fifth-wheel hitch finishes off the bed, and a Class IV hitch is integrated into the rear bumper for conventional towing. Power is provided by a 7.3-liter turbo-diesel with a four-speed transmission.

System electronics Vehicle electronics are the next revolutionary wave in the auto industry, following the microcomputer, according to Ford engineers. Look for a 42v system to replace the 1950s-developed 12v system, leading to a beltless engine where major accessories such as air conditioning, power steering and water pumps are no longer engine powered. A supplemental electric motor and batteries will fuel these systems, reducing a power plant's workload to provide a quieter engine and improved performance and fuel economy.

Engine operation Powertrain technology will continue to improve fuel economy, say engineers from General Motors. Several experimental engine system designs are being tested across the globe. Lean-burn and intake valve port deactivation will improve low-power air/fuel mixing (and save 4 to 8% in fuel); redesigned gasoline and diesel direct-injection methods will improve fuel economy another 10%; and a variable exhaust valve-timing system to control emissions will further improve fuel economy and performance. Also, one of the more fascinating technologies under test by GM is a cylinder deactivation technology. Using engine oil pressure controlled by a solenoid valve, the engine employs only the proper number of cylinders needed, resting the other cylinders to economize fuel an estimated 6 to 8%.

Tranny research Looking at drivetrain improvements, continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) are fast becoming an industry trend because of their efficiency and fuel economy gains of 7 to 10%, plus better acceleration. Rumors are that Ford, Volkswagon, Mitsubishi, DaimlerChrysler, Peugeot and Hyundai will introduce vehicles with CVT in the near future. At a recent Chevy/GMC heavy-duty truck launch, company engineers stated that CVT will be available on certain models in 2002. CVTs, more prevalent in Europe because of their fuel savings, do not use a fixed "set" of gearsets. Instead they employ a pair of pulleys, one on the engine side of the CVT and the other on the drive-axle side, that can vary the effective drive ratio over a wide range, unconstrained by fixed points. CVT eliminates the feeling of distinct gearshifts, and it allows the engine to operate more often in its most effective power range.

Communication Look for big technology advances in communication coming soon to vehicle interiors. Companies are planning easier and safer voice-activated systems to reduce driver distractions, since cell-phone operators are four-and-one-half times more accident prone than non-users. In the future you'll see everything from hands-free cell phones and satellite television to Internet access, GPS-based map systems and advanced safety systems. Already available is GM's On-Star system, which includes "automatic collision notification" that transmits the car's location to a telephone operator when air bags are deployed.

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