The 2017 Honda Ridgeline – An automotive reboot.

Picture provided by Motortrend.co,

Picture provided by Motortrend.com

When Honda introduced the Ridgeline in 2005, it was the truck equivalent of Zima. Zomething different.  Not quite a truck, not quite a SUV.  It looked kinda like a midsized Chevy Avalanche, but didn’t carry the tough look.  Some would argue that it competed against the Subaru Baja as a modern four door El Camino, but it was chunkier in comparison.  Honda billed it as the truck for “Cool dads”, but the pitch fell too short. Honda’s Ridgeline was just too different.  The sales numbers proved this.

In 2006 The Ridgeline hit its sales peak at 50,193 sold in the U.S. When the original design ended in 2014 the Ridgeline sales struggled at 13,389. To put this in perspective, the Ford Ranger sold 92,420 models in 2006 and in its last year run of 2012, sold 19,366.  (Honda sold 14,068 Ridgelines that year.)*

With such low sales, Honda followed Hollywood’s latest trend and rebooted the Ridgeline.

First they stopped production of the previous design for two years. This let the memory fade a bit and allow a better reaction for the new version.

Second they made it fit the mold better. The original Ridgeline left you wondering what it was. The image of this Ridgeline is better defined.

Alas, as with other reboots, the traditions of the original are easy to spot. The New Ridgeline is of unibody construction just like the old one.  This is proudly acknowledged by the executive vice-president of American Honda, John Mendel.  He touts the rigidity of the unibody, while promising a smoother street ride than the traditional, body on frame trucks of Chevrolet, Toyota, and Nissan.

John is smart to point out that the Ridgeline in no way competes against the big boys of the full size team. No sir!  The Ridgeline is aimed squarely at the Colorado, Tacoma, and Frontier.

But, in a way, it’s not.

Even though Mendel boast that this is a tough truck, and that the payload and towing rates are right in the fight with the other welterweights, (Up to 1,600 pounds payload and an estimated 5,000 pounds towing as of this writing) he openly admits that contractors need not apply.

This truck “Isn’t about the jobsite” he stated during the Ridgeline’s introduction at the NAIAS, it’s “about the lifestyle.”

In short, the Ridgeline is for the hobbyists. People who need a truck for light duty projects and occasional hauling, but not a career building companion.  Campers, beach combers, motorcyclists, and kayakers are who Honda is aiming at; not landscapers, pool supply runners, and handymen.  Sure you can fit a sheet of plywood between its wheel wells in the bed, but you still have to lower the tailgate and have it stick out a little to have it lay flat.

Honda also insisted on keeping the spare tire tucked in a separate compartment under the floor of the bed. Not underneath the bed as other truck do, but in a mini trunk under the floor of the bed.  (The mini trunk also has a spot with drain plugs so you can turn it into a cooler.)  This would be such a hassle if you were carrying a load of gravel and you suddenly blew a tire on your way home.  But Honda thinks this will be a rare occurrence with its buyers.  This is reinforced by the addition of a new sound system for the bed and the vehicles front wheel drive layout.

Honda has found a way to turn its bed into a giant speaker using six of what it has named “Exciters”. The exciters vibrate the bed just like a magnet in a speaker, creating a large sound device.  Evidently Honda wants to be all about that base.

If that doesn’t shake up the market, the Ridgeline’s front wheel drive surely will. Besides being body on frame, all trucks have been designed with rear wheel drive as standard.  This is done so that when you put a load in the bed, it adds weight to the driving wheels and adds to their traction.  It also helps when towing. Truck purists are going to give the Ridgeline a long, sideways look before shaking their heads and moving on.  But, again, these are not the people Honda is aiming at.

The Honda Ridgeline is a recreational tool built for fun times. It comes with a six speed auto as its only transmission choice as well as an all-wheel drive option with a multimode terrain management system so owners don’t have to do any work in switching from front wheel drive to all wheel drive. It’s in bed 400 watt converter can power sawzalls and drills, but will more likely be used for margaritas and x-boxes.

Like every reboot, the Honda Ridgeline is high on gloss and shine. Only time will tell if it makes it into the heart of the buyers.

  • Sales numbers provided by left-lane.com
  • Quotes are from the 2016 NAIAS video on youtube

Your basic truck

Along a twisting ribbon of asphalt, an old Dodge pickup rambles on; its 64 year old engine chugging dutifully.  As mix of patina and rust, the old Dodge isn’t doddering along a dusty country road, no sir.  It’s running hard and heavy against much newer iron on a full-fledged race track!

LeMons_Miller_Leaders-50Dodge

This is the Twenty Four Hours of LeMons; a race where cars of questionable reliability and near the end of perceived life expectancy are given a last chance for fame and glory.  The old Dodge is here running its first race.

Grumpy Cat Racing 1950 Dodge

Four months ago, the Dodge wouldn’t have imagined it.  The truck was lying derelict behind a garage in Denver.  The owner bought the truck through sweat equity in December2013 and started wrenching on it in January.  There he found it had been in an accident and that the springs were literally held on with bailing wire!

The owner, under the handle of wizard0ne0, tuned up the engine, replaced the radiator, replaced both front and rear axles, gutted the interior, replaced the floor pan, installed a roll cage, and put in a proper fuel cell (gas tank).

Return-of-the-LeMonItes-Winners-IOE-3

With six drivers pulling four hour stints behind the wheel, the truck that could did the impossible and became the first new to racing vehicle to not break down and complete the entire race with 149 laps.  (Very slow laps.)  Team Grumpy Cat racing might not have won the race with their old Dodge, but they did win the Index of Effluency award.

What amazes me about this truck wasn’t just the feat it had accomplishes, but that the exact same make and year of truck is the focal point for a man named John Jerome in his autobiographical book, “Truck”.

Truck-book

Through his writings, John describes in vivid detail the trials and tribulations of buying a 1950 Dodge pickup and rebuilding it from the ground up.  Not restoring it, mind you, but rebuilding it in order to make it better than when it left the factory.  “Supertruck” he called it.  From precariously hoisting the engine on a creaking barn beam, to finding out that the wheel bolts on the right side of the truck are reverse threaded for safety, John spends a year on his project before succumbing to reality and slapping the thing back together pretty much the way it was when he bought it.

The book is hilarious and full of zen-like moments.  It’s also his most popular writing.

It’s ironic that over thirty years later someone decides to take the same type of truck he had and make it work in a way he never imagined with less work and angst that he endured.

If John was alive today, I’m sure he’d bristle at this young upstart so quickly building his project and accomplishing his goals.  John would then, just as quickly admire the man’s feat before heading out to the barn to admire the honest beauty of your basic truck.

1950 Dodge

If you know who wizard0ne0 of Grumpy Cat Racing is, please put his name in the responses so I can give him the credit he, his team, and all those that helped him deserve.

From Car and Driver magazine

 

 

 

What makes a truck?

Image from Topspeed.com

 

 

Unless you are an auto enthusiast, you might not know how bizarre and convoluted the classifications of vehicles truly are.

I knew about this weird world of government vehicle classifications from various resources, but quickly set it aside to maintain my sanity.

Take for instance the question posted above:  What makes a truck?

Define it.

I bet you could rattle off the names of trucks without trying.

F-150, Silverado, Ram, Sierra, Tundra, Titan, Ranger, Colorado, Tacoma, B-2000, Frontier, Dakota… It’s as easy as looking down the street or in your parking lot. (For those outside the U.S. let me throw in HiLux, Amarok, and G-Ute trayback.)

image: Fourwheeler.com

But what about vans?  Do they count?  They do if you ask plumbers, florists, electrical workers and water technicians.  These people own vans to help earn their living and usually treat them as such.

image: Ford.com

How about SUVs?  Are they a truck or are they an amped up station wagon? A Cadillac SRX argues the case for station wagon, but what about a Nissan Xterra or Jeep Wrangler? Some would argue that their body on frame construction earns their membership into the truck club.

Image: Cadillac.com

The truth is that the “truck” classification by CAFÉ and the EPA is very broad and diverse group.  Did you know that the Chevrolet HHR and Chrysler PT Cruiser are listed as SUVs and thus in the truck club?

Image: motortrend.com

How about Subaru’s medium sized wagon? In 2006 this vehicle was listed as a wagon and an SUV depending on model.  If you picked the Legacy, it was listed as a station wagon.  If you chose the Outback version (Basically the same thing with an inch or two more ground clearance, different fog lights and plastic cladding on the bottom of the sides) according to the EPA and CAFÉ, you bought an SUV.  The Baja is also classified as a SUV, but I was half expecting it to be classified a small pickup given that Subaru cut the back of the roof off to make an open bed for it.

image: Carbl.com

image: Jasononcars.com

image: Norcalcars.com

See, I told you it was bizarre and convoluted.  (Ok. The Baja is an earlier design, but you get the point.)

One of the reasons it is so are the lobbyists and the EPA itself.  The government mandates that vehicles get a certain amount of gas mileage per class.  The problem is that for some companies their best-selling vehicle in that class is also the one that has the worst fuel mileage.  You might see a lot of SIlverados running around hauling nothing heavier that their owner and maybe their dog, but there are also a lot of them running around packed to the gills with heavy, bulky equipment or pulling trailers around.  These vehicles are designed to carry heavy loads and the strength and power needed to do it safely comes at the cost of mileage.  These trucks also have one of the highest owner loyalty groups ever.  That’s something these companies will almost kill for.  (Not including my wife and I.  Together we have own both the small and large versions of pickups from every member of the big three.)

The problem comes with trying to balance out the poor mileage truck sales with good mileage truck sales.

“Just sell more small trucks like the Tacoma and Colorado.” You say.  It’s not so simple.  See, because of all the safety regulations put into these trucks, their weight has gotten so high they are almost comparable to full sized trucks.

“Make them lighter.”  Easier said than done.  Ford is the first company to risk building a pickup with an all-aluminum body to save weight.  The metal costs more that standard steel, the build process had to be completely rethought.  (Welded aluminum will actually cause electrons from one atom “shift” to another until the entire weld breaks.), and every single Ford dealership that deal with bodywork had to learn how to properly fix damage to these panels when accidents happen and buy special equipment to fix them.  Guess where all that extra expense is going.  Yep.  Right into the sticker price.

“Well, offer engines that run on things other than gas.”  They do now.  It’s just not cheap.  You can get flex-fuel, hybrid, diesel, and even compressed natural gas engine for trucks… at  cost.

Hybrids usual cost about $1,000 to $1,500 more than a standard gas engine.

Diesels used to cost $2,000 more but with the new smog regulations the price has raised upward to $4,000 over the price of a gas engine.  (Plus diesel fuel costs roughly 50 cents more per gallon than 87 octane gasoline and you can’t use veggie oils anymore since it will clog up all the new technology.)

Compressed Natural Gas in the latest offering to help the EPA ratings.  Not being gasoline at all, it really boosts the numbers up and at roughly $1.50 per gallon to fill-up, the compressed natural gas option looks really good.  Until you see the price tag of $9,500 for this choice.  And that’s down a thousand from last year’s price!  CNG also has the wonderful challenge of dealing with safety in crashes.  Remember the press GM got over its Volt electric car?  People were shocked that the batteries ripped open when the vehicles were crashed so hard into walls that the frames ripped apart.  (Something that happens to all the cars tested when doing the offset crash into a giant, sharp block of concrete.)  Imagine the sheer terror when one of these trucks is hit so hard that the compressed gas tank ruptures.  The reports will have you think a nuke went off!

Because people want real good mileage in a class of vehicle that is designed to do heavy work, we have odd things like station wagons and minivans listed as trucks.

So I ask, what is a truck?

Let me know in the response section.