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5 Game Changers for Work Trucks

May 2014, by - Also by this author

Following the announcement of GM and Telogis’ partnership to provide a fleet telematics solution on GM products (l-r) Paul Loewer, commercial product manager for GM; David Lohmeier, manager of new business for OnStar; Amy Hart Phillips, VP, OEM business for Telogis; Ed Peper, U.S. VP, Fleet & Commercial for GM; and Mark Wallin, VP product management for Telogis pose for posterity.
Following the announcement of GM and Telogis’ partnership to provide a fleet telematics solution on GM products (l-r) Paul Loewer, commercial product manager for GM; David Lohmeier, manager of new business for OnStar; Amy Hart Phillips, VP, OEM business for Telogis; Ed Peper, U.S. VP, Fleet & Commercial for GM; and Mark Wallin, VP product management for Telogis pose for posterity.

The accelerated pace of change in the automotive industry is breathtaking, and the once staid arena of work trucks is not immune.

Driven by technological advances, new manufacturing materials, manufacturing flexibility and alternative powertrain options, product cycles are shortening while truck buyers have more choice than ever before.

Held in Indianapolis every March by the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA), the Work Truck Show is ground zero to assess these changes. Here are some of the major trend lines collected from walking the show floor, going to seminars and talking to exhibitors and attendees.

The 4-Cylinder (Diesel) Truck Arrives

And you thought that engine downsizing stopped with the migration from eight cylinders to six? Think again. With advances in engine and frame design, work truck users now have options to get the job done with a 4-cylinder powerplant.

General Motors’ redesigned 2015 Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize pickups will offer the segment’s only diesel engine — a 2.8L I-4 Duramax turbodiesel — for the 2016 model year. This diesel, already offered in global markets, generates 193 horsepower and 183 lbs.-ft. of torque, tows up to 3,500 lbs. and carries up to 1,450 lbs. in payload.

GM expects 40% of Colorado/Canyon sales to be 4-cylinder engines, according to Anita Burke, chief engineer for midsize trucks at GM. Compact pickups such as the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier have traditionally offered 4-cylinder engines. Yet with a box-delete and crew cab options, GM expects plenty of work use out of its new trucks.

In van land, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter gets a 2.2L 4-cylinder turbo diesel engine that churns out 161 hp and 267 lbs.-ft. of torque. Helped by a new 7-speed transmission, the four-cylinder diesel improves fuel economy by 18% over the V6 diesel.

Claus Tritt, Mercedes’ general manager of commercial vans, says that more than half of Sprinter sales will be for the 4-cylinder. “Our planning assumptions were wrong,” said Tritt in regards to underestimating 4-cylinder demand.

Of course, many work truck users have already migrated to the plethora of small vans such as Ford Transit Connect, Nissan NV200 and new Chevrolet City Express that only run on four-cylinder gasoline engines.

The Alt-Fuel Upfit Process Evolves

In a quest to deliver a converted vehicle to the customer more quickly, CNG (compressed natural gas) and propane conversion companies are collocating with traditional truck body upfitters. The conversion company ships parts to the upfit companies’ installation centers, where a team employed by the upfitter does the conversions.  

In a Ford scenario, alt-fuel converter Landi Renzo will send its CNG conversion kit to a Knapheide service body installation facility, and a Knapheide technician trained by Landi Renzo will perform the conversion. “It saves tremendously in order-to-delivery time,” said Richard Cupka, commercial vehicles sustainability lead for Ford.

The conversion process itself is becoming more streamlined. Traditionally, trucks are factory prebuilt with standard parts (such as fuel tanks) that are removed during the conversion. Freightliner Custom Chassis has developed two purpose-built chasses for propane autogas — with a dedicated propane injection system, 48-gallon propane tank and other systems integrations. This shortens order-to-delivery times and alleviates having to create an unnecessary fuel tank.

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