Here come the heavies
Detroit 3 all bring out heavy-duty pickups this year
As fuel-economy standards rise, there's one important corner of the industry where bigger is still better.
Redesigned and re-engineered heavy-duty pickups from the Detroit 3 will hit the market this year with more power, increased towing capacity and improved fuel economy.
Timing of the launches could be better, since commercial real estate continues to suffer from the recession. Orders from building contractors continue to lag during the housing slump.
But the Detroit 3 say personal-use buyers, such as boat owners, are accounting for a larger share of heavy-duty pickup sales. To cater to these buyers, the redesigned pickups have more amenities.
The heavy-duty segment is an important one. The players are the Ford Super Duty 250, 350 and 450; Ram 2500 and 3500; and Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 and 3500 models. Combined, they make up an estimated 300,000 annual sales, about 29 percent of the Detroit 3's total full-sized pickup sales. Toyota and Nissan do not offer heavy-duty pickups.
Heavy-duty pickups "are among the crown jewels" in the domestic auto industry, says John Wolkonowicz, an analyst at IHS Global Insight. He estimates heavy-duty pickup sales generate 20 to 25 percent of annual profits at Chrysler, Ford and General Motors Co.
Ready for launch
What's unusual this year is that the Detroit 3 are marching in unison with their product launches.
Each automaker's extensively re-engineered heavy-duty pickups will appear in showrooms this year. The Ram is already on the market. Ford will introduce its heavy-duty pickup this month, and GM vehicles will launch this fall. In the past, one or more years would separate new models from competitors in the same segment.
The cadence is pushed by diesel emissions regulations that took effect Jan. 1. The new regulations require an 80 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide from the tailpipe emissions, which will lead to lower emissions, said Doug Scott, Ford Motor Co. group marketing manager for trucks and utilities.
"That was the major driver of the powertrain changes," Scott said in an e-mail to Automotive News.
At Ford, diesels are selected by 65 percent of heavy-duty pickup buyers.
Depending on the model, the 2011 Ford, Chevrolet and GMC heavy-duty pickups received new or re-engineered frames, re-engineered suspensions and bigger brakes. Ram got similar changes for the 2010 model year.
Towing capacity also has increased this year and Ford and GM boosted horsepower, torque and fuel economy on their diesel engines. Ford touts an 18 percent fuel improvement; GM, 11 percent. Additionally, the Super Duty offers a new Ford-developed turbocharged diesel V-8. GM re-engineered its 6.6-liter turbocharged diesel V-8.
|Maximum towing capacity, in pounds|
|2011 model||2010 model|
|Chevy Silverado 3500||16,000||13,000|
|Dodge Ram 3500||12,000||12,000|
|Ford 350 Super Duty||16,000||15,000|
|GMC Sierra 3500||16,000||13,000|
But there are two distinctions that separate the diesel-equipped Ram heavy-duty pickup from the others.
The Ram offers a 6.7-liter, inline 6 Cummins turbodiesel. The other brands list a V-8 diesel.
The other distinction comes down to one word: urea. The diesel-equipped 2011 Silverado, Sierra and Super Duty require the liquid to meet emissions regulations. The liquid is sprayed into the exhaust after it leaves the catalytic converter. The Ram does not need the urea treatment.
The fluid must be refilled at about 5,000-mile intervals on the GM heavy-duty pickups. At Ford, the interval is about 7,500 miles. However, a pickup pulling a heavy load in the mountains will use the urea faster. A pickup driven on a flat surface without a load can travel farther on a tank of urea.
In the Chevrolet and GMC pickups, a refill reminder will flash when 1,000 or fewer miles of urea remains in the tank. If ignored, the engine will limit speed to 4 mph when the tank is empty. Ford starts giving a warning at 800 miles. If ignored, the pickup's engine speed will be limited to idle when the urea tank is empty.
|Horsepower and torque changes for the most popular heavy-duty pickups|
|**6.4-liter offered for 2010 model year|