Ram renaissance

For the first time since the “big rig” style hit the marketplace in 1994, the Dodge Ram has undergone a serious style change for the 2002 model year. However, not wanting to ruin a good thing, DaimlerChrysler decided to stay with the same Dodge Ram look and amplify it in the all-new Dodge Ram 1500.

Unveiled in early February at auto shows, the new Ram will start rolling off production lines this summer. The current 2500 and 3500 models will continue for one more model year. New versions of these models will appear next year.

DaimlerChrysler reports the 2002 Dodge Ram is more fuel efficient and quieter, handles better and delivers even more comfort and convenience than current models. The Ram's new exterior features a grille that is bigger and bolder, and design refinements have cut wind noise and improved cooling and aerodynamics.

Buyers will have two cab choices on the new Ram: regular and quad. Both cabs are larger and more luxurious and offer improved head, shoulder, hip and leg room. An ingenious rear storage and seating system in the quad cab easily handles work and passengers.

The truck is available with two new Magnum engines and an all-new transmission. The 3.7-liter Magnum V6 is smaller than the 3.9-liter V6 it replaces but provides 210 hp compared with 174 hp and delivers better gas mileage. The 4.7-liter Magnum V8 with 235 hp replaces the 5.2-liter V8 engine with 230 hp. Buyers also may opt for the 245-hp, 5.9-liter Magnum V8 engine. The increased power and fuel efficiency improve towing and payload. Maximum towing on the quad cab improves to 8,350 lbs. from 7,650 lbs. Payload increases from 1,567 to 1,750 lbs. In addition, the new Ram is outfitted with a redesigned chassis and suspension to provide a smoother, quieter ride.

Dodge “contractor special”

If you need power to make fast repairs out in the field, check out a future version of the Dodge Ram pickup. DaimlerChrysler has developed a hybrid-electric version of the Ram that can be converted to a stationary electrical generator. The engine is cleaner and boasts 15% better fuel efficiency. Off road, it will deliver up to 20 kW of power. The company calls this the “contractor special” because of its ability to provide portable power, which contractors, as well as farmers, often need.

The package is expected to cost $5,000 and be available on Ram 1500 and 2500 models and both 2-wd and 4-wd versions. Gas-electric and diesel-electric powertrains will be available, depending on the choice of engine. The engines may be operated in gas-, diesel- or electric-only modes. The generator on the Ram is accessed through electrical sockets in a pull-down box behind the rear fender. It adds about 250 to 300 lbs. to the vehicle weight. The company plans to produce the special Ram model in 2004.

Nissan's alpha T

The company that popularized compact trucks with the Datsun pickup intends to enter the full-size pickup market. Nissan Motor Company wowed the auto industry with the aT (alpha T) concept truck at the 2001 North American International Auto Show. The techno-styled vehicle is the company's first stab at a full-size truck. Nissan officials report they plan to sell a V8-powered truck model within the next few years.

“The aT concept pushes the envelope of contemporary pickup truck styling,” reports Carlos Ghosn, president of Nissan. “Our message to the public is that Nissan is serious about entering the full-size truck market in a big way — both in size and impact.”

The aT concept truck designers moved away from carlike styling and instead drew on a mechanical or power-tool design. The result is an aggressive, sharp-edged vehicle with a four-door body and butterfly-open doors. The pickup bed is deep with a low-hinged electronic tailgate and integrated toolbox. The interior is spacious and luxurious with leather seats, a fold-down table in the rear and a large transmission shifter. A 300-hp, 4.5-liter V8 engine with rugged suspension, 4-wd and 4-speed, electronically controlled automatic transmission promise adequate power for most farmers.

Lincoln's Blackwood

Elegant and powerful, the Lincoln-Mercury Blackwood made the leap from concept vehicle at last year's auto shows to reality. Expect the first models in showrooms by spring with a price tag of $52,500. Sound high? Maybe not when you consider that the Blackwood effectively blurs the line between full-size truck and luxury SUV or auto. In fact, the news release about the Blackwood never refers to it as a truck. After reading the description of it, you can tell why. The four-passenger cab is trimmed in black leather and a “three-dimensional composite surface” that resembles the exotic African Wenge wood. Not only are the front seats heated, they are air conditioned. A fan blows cooled air through the perforated leather seats.

Lincoln-Mercury promises a superb driving experience with Blackwood's 5.4-liter, 32-valve, dual overhead cam V8 engine. The engine produces 300 hp at 5,000 rpm and boasts a rating of 100,000 miles before the first tune-up. It is teamed with a 4R100-model, four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive and a locking torque converter. You can tow up to 8,700 lbs. with the Blackwood. It features a short- and long-arm front suspension that uses coil springs and shock absorbers with variable rate damping. The rear suspension uses a hybrid of leaf and air springs. The manufacturer plans to produce only 10,000 Blackwoods a year.

Ford update

Ford Motor Company hasn't announced any major redesign for its popular pickup lines. But it is celebrating the sale of one million Super Duty F-Series pickups in just two years. Ford is commemorating the feat with a 2001 Platinum Edition of the F-250, which is available in limited numbers only in the Southwest.

Otherwise, the company continues to churn out 2001 models, including its most popular truck, the F-150. Word on pickup truck sites on the Internet is that the vehicle will undergo a modest redesign for 2002.

The 2001 F-150 SuperCrew, which Ford introduced last year, continues to appeal to truck enthusiasts. It is the only truck in its segment with four full-size doors and a full rear seat. The vehicle will handle many farm hauling and towing needs with its 1,765-lb. payload capability and 8,000-lb. towing power. The XLT 4 × 2 with a 4.6-liter V8 is $27,220.

Ford also is producing the SuperCrew in a Harley-Davidson edition for $34,495. If sales of Ford's first Harley-Davidson edition is an indicator, this new model should sell quickly. When Ford produced the first edition last year using the F-150 SuperCab, the limited run of 8,200 models sold out in just five days.

GMC Sierra C3

GMC continues to build on its popular line of full-size Sierra trucks with a more powerful C3 version. The C3 indicates the third generation of the truck's major redesign first offered in 1999. Introduced last fall, the extended-cab Sierra C3 provides an exclusive “performance-biased driveline” system, according to GMC. The system includes a Vortec 6000 V8 with 325 hp at 5,000 rpm and 370 lbs. ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. The Sierra C3 boasts a first for full-size pickups with full-time all wheel drive. Operators never need to engage the system. The all wheel drive is provided by a special transfer case mounted directly to a new, heavy-duty, electronically controlled, 4-speed automatic transmission. As a result, the C3 automatically and continuously transfers torque from slipping wheels to provide superior on-road control and performance.

The C3 provides more durable axles. For example, the rear axle uses a synthetic fluid to lower operating temperatures during hauling. In addition, GMC stiffened the axle shafts to reduce bending. Properly equipped, the Sierra C3 handles a 1,787-lb. payload and will pull 8,700 lbs.

Going for an “international class” look, GMC updated the Sierra C3 with design details such as body-colored handles, rearview mirrors and protective moldings. In addition, the interior promises to offer the most comprehensive features in a GMC truck, including leather bucket seats and an enhanced audio system. The Sierra C3 also offers OnStar's new virtual advisor and personal calling system. Truck operators may use voice prompts to access e-mail, stock quotes or driving information without ever looking at a screen or monitor. The personal calling feature allows hands-free dialing and reception of phone calls. Manufacturer suggested retail price is $38,305, with a $720 destination charge.

Chevy's Avalanche

We told you about it last year when it was a concept vehicle; this year, it should be available. The new Avalanche from Chevrolet combines the elements of an SUV with a pickup truck to form its own niche called the ultimate utility vehicle (UUV). We'll see if that term catches on the way the Avalanche is bound to catch on with some pickup lovers. The aggressive-looking vehicle is able to switch from a six-passenger SUV to a three-passenger pickup truck with a full cargo box. The unique covert-a-cab system allows this transformation. The rear passenger seat folds down to increase the cargo bed size from 5 ft. 3 in. to 8 ft. 1 in. A three-piece cargo cover may be used to protect the truck bed from the weather or removed to haul large items. The unusual vehicle is powered with GM's Vortec 5300 V8 engine with 265 peak horsepower and 320 lbs. ft. of torque. Four full doors provide easy access to front and back seats. The Avalanche should be available in late spring at Chevrolet dealers.