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.

How to make the used family sedan cool

Photo by Edmunds.com

They drone silently along, dutifully performing their tasks with little to no fanfare.  Filling our roads, they perform flawlessly with all the romance of a toaster.  They are the family sedan.

Emblazed in colors of grey, white, or beige, these four door sedans are the wallflowers of the car culture.  Steady, secure, reliable, they are always there but stand in the garage when the dance of the road calls.

When it comes time to sell them, they are often the last choice, relegated to the crowds of minivans and grandpa mobiles.

Clearly the family sedan is in desperate need of a cultural makeover, but what to do?  There’s no throaty V-8 or high revving turbo to bring out the gear heads.  The street racer/drifter crowds have already picked out the econohatches as the build material of choice.  Autocrosses often feature two seat sports cars.  What niche can the sturdy family sedan stand out in?

Can anyone say rally?

photo by autoconception.com

Rally racing is that wonderfully hyper sport where drivers hurl their cars along at blinding speeds while the navigator yells out what blind turn is coming up next.

 

photo by hemmings.com

 

Here is a chance for the family sedan to finally shine.  These empty logging and mining roads can provide the stage to flaunt the abilities of both driver and machine.

The buildup can be affordable, too.  Just rip out the rear seat, throw in a roll cage and safety fuel cell, wear the standard racing helmet and suit, and you are ready to go!  The cost of the cars themselves is relatively cheap.  I’ve seen an incredible variety of cars in the $1,000 to $2,000 range.  (To help insure an entry level into this sport once it explodes into the mainstream, a stock class would be institutionalized that would limit the upper purchase price of the car and also limit the modifications to standard oem size shocks, brakes, fog lights, and mud and snow tires.  No engine, transmission, or drive train modifications allowed.  (No turning a front wheel drive car into a four wheeled drive car now.)

 

All cars must be street legal.  You have to be able to show off your race creds on the way to work now.

The classes are simple:

Stock or modified.

Rear – Front – All wheel drive

Four cylinder or six

Station wagons can compete alongside sedans in their perspective class unless there are enough entered to form their own class.  (Roughly five or more)

The cars allowed into this new racing:

Honda Accord

Chevrolet Malibu

Toyota Camry

Ford Contour

Dodge Stratus

Mazda 626

Nissan Altima

Subaru Legacy   (The Outback models should be in their own class or up against anyone who finds a Volvo Crosstrek or Audi in that price range.  [Verifiable proof of price will be needed.])

Hyundai, Kia, Pontiac, Buick, Cadillac, any car within that general size is allowed to race.  (The first person to rally a Jaguar X type will become my personal hero.)

photo from road and track magazine

No longer are these cars chained to the dull daily driving on the timid tarmac.  They are now free to leap in the crisp air as they bound through countryside, singing their engines as loud as their mufflers allow.  (Well, at least until an errant rock or hard landing jettisons it.)

This class of rally car (AS for class A – Sedan) will pull the family sedan off the wall and into the spotlight.

Tell anyone who’s curious that it kicks.

My virtual visit to the North American International Auto Show to visualize the event and live vicariously the moment.

 Ah the Detroit Auto Show.  Now here’s an auto show!  I grew up around this annual homage to the great automobile and have yet to be (completely) disappointed.  I was there as a kid during the bad years of the seventies and eighties when lust for carts was so low that outside vendors where there to show off the latest blender.  (True fact!)  I remember crawling all over the contractor/farm trucks in 79, being floored at the outrageously high sticker price of the 84 Corvette ($14,000), misspelling my own name when getting an autograph from Susan Napoli at the Yugo stand.  (Hey.  I was 15 and she was a Penthouse Pet.), and loving the fact that Detroit Piston star Isaiah Thomas was getting publicly crucified for promoting Toyota cars at the show.  (Bad form, old mate, bad form.)

I would’ve loved to have gone to this year’s show, but life just decided to throw other things my way.  Luckily, I can get all the good dirt and visual scenes right here on my computer by going to the NAIAS website.  No, II don’t get to jump in all the various production models, pop the hoods and crawl all around them; but I also don’t have to worry about crowds of people pushing to see the new Stingray or Silverado either.

And as for food, well I can half boil a hotdog here and eat it if I really want that experience again.

I was going to break down my favorites by type and style, but since not everything has been released or posted, I’ll just hit the highlights.

Let’s start big. No, not the Corvette Stingray.  Everybody and their grandmother has already talked about that.  I’m talking about the family truckster.  The rig that your tribe piles into and beats the crap out of both inside and out.  The one vehicle that get no respect.  The Bentley Continental GT Speed Convertible.

Here is a full sized, two door convertible that will comfortably seat five with all their luggage.  Besides the comfy leather seats and pliant ride, this car will also make sure the kids aren’t late for soccer practice with its 202 miles per hour top speed.

Yeah.  202.

I don’t know about the 0 to 60 times or the quarter mile specs, but there’s gotta be something wonderfully delicious about blowing past a Ferrari on the freeway with your kid sticking his tongue out at them.  (Plus you finally get to find out at what speed that toy pinwheel finally spins off its stick.)

Next are the Ford Transit Connect, Transit Van, and Atlas concept truck.  I found the Transit Connect interesting since I wrote about the earlier edition as a good platform for a new camper van.  The new one should work every bit as well.

The Atlas concept did give a good blend of what the future light duty and heavy duty trucks will look like, but the main thing I found interesting was redesign of the tailgate step.  In its new design, it can act as a rear rack to allow work related items such as ladders to fit in a channel on the roof, a great idea; but what I see is a way to carry that long canoe or kayak so it isn’t sticking out the bed of your truck.  This item needs to be standard on all new trucks.

Finally the Stingray.  (You knew I wasn’t going to let this one go, right?)

This car screams excitement.  It’s destined to be the new obligatory poster on every teenager’s bedroom wall and in every college dorm.  It’s lithe.   It’s lean.  It’s powerful.  It’s a beautiful design in every way… but one.  The taillights suck! Call me a fuddy-duddy purist but Corvettes are supposed to have round taillights not square.  Every Corvette that had square taillights was designed wrong and these escapees from the Camaro definitely do not belong on a car of this caliber.  Everything else works though.

This year’s North American International Auto Show is making out to be a good one.  I wish I was there, but at least I can visit virtually.

Thoughts of: Hurray for the Hobbit car or a bright little Sunbeam

Sometimes you discover lost treasures when you least expect it.  A few hours ago I was going through various posts from fellow bloggers over at the Trifecta Challenge when I was stopped dead in my tracks.  Imogen Shepard, author of Diary of a “Sensitive Soul’ , wrote about her Chrysler Sunbeam and the tragedy of losing that faithful companion.

Her words and the picture of that little Sunbeam made me think of all the small cars that have entered or influenced our lives in one way or another.  I remember my mother’s first and only work car, a Chevrolet Chevette. About the size of the modern day VW Golf, this car was rear wheel drive and had a very nice two tone paint job that made it look more expensive than it really was.  GM soon replaced it with the “J-car” platform known as the Cavlaier, Sunbird, Firenza, Cimmaron, and Skylark.  Chrysler modified the Sunbeam for America and named it the Omni and the Horizon.  Available in four doors only, they reminded me of the VW Rabbit more that the sleeker Sunbeam.  Ford had the mega hit of the 80s with its Escort and Lynx.  Honda had the Civic.  Mazda had the 323. Toyota had the Corrola.  Nissan had the Sentra.  These were not the first small cars in our country but they marked a time when the small car made a large statement to the world.  It was also a way for manufacturers to reach their federally mandated CAFÉ standards.

There is an inherent magic in these little cars that is hard to find in larger automobiles.  Their set weights and dimensions give them a playfulness that reminds you of a puppy more than an inanimate object.  Aimed at a younger market, the designers are free to play around and add personality to these vehicles without harming any set reputation.  Commercials were created showcasing the fun and free lifestyle of owning them.  Given everything, is it any wonder why so many people formed such personal bonds with these light, little cars?

Some of these cars had amazing lives as well.  Dodge used some of their Neons in a celebrity challenge in the Grand Prix circuit.  Used three cylinder GEO Metros and Suzuki Swifts became Group-A style rally cars in the Colorado mountains.  Other small cars skipped the cones fantastic in multiple autocrosses on weekends all over the country.  These little cars did more road dancing than most muscle cars did.  They got fewer tickets doing it, too.

Today the torch has been passed on to cars with names of Fiesta, Dart, Sonic, Accent, 3 series, and Fit.  They are still nimble.  They are still small.  They are still fun.  That’s the best part of all.

So take a moment and revel in the fact that the hobbit of the car world are still around to enchant and enjoy.

And thanks to Imogen and her Sunbeam for inspiring me to write this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts of: A Pickup Truck Podcast

Podcast:  An audio recording that is played, downloaded, or streamed on a computer, smartphone, or other mobile media device.  The recording is loosely based on a talk radio format and is created variously from the hobbyist to fully funded industries.

How many of you listen to them?  I started when I won an i-pod in a contest.  I’d download scads of them and listen through the day as I did my mundane and tedious chores at work.

Podcasts are wonderful things because, like blogs or the internet, they allow you to find a topic you enjoy and bring fellow enablers to strengthen your biases.  I’ve seen podcast sites for gardening, cars, books, sailing, comedy, motorcycles, firearms, Star Trek, farming, bicycling, hiking, horse riding, news, music, business, video games, religion, and even old radio shows from the era before television.  There’s even a small section that focuses on dating and relationships if you’re so inclined.  It doesn’t seem to be that popular though given how hard it is to find anything on that topic.

Like the web, there is a podcast for anything.  Well, almost.

Perusing through various podcast sites and search engines, I have found one glaring omission.  The pickup truck podcast.

That’s right.  In the great streaming digital universe there is no podcast that focuses solely on the pickup truck.

Why is that?

It makes no sense to me.  Given that the pickup is still number one and two selling vehicle in the country and that 60% of GM’s profit comes from the pickup platform, you’d think a market savvy entertainment company would jump on this.

Let’s look at another auto based entertainment sector for a moment.  Printed magazines.  When it comes to motorized vehicle based magazines, every corner of the market is covered.

You like motorcycles?  Take your pick according to style, age, and market.

Cars?  Enthusiast or fact seeker?  Amateur racer or vintage restorer?  Big block engine or four cylinder hybrid?

Pickup Trucks?  You can focus on small trucks or big diesels.  Low ride street machines or off road trail riders.  You can find restoration magazines or wild customizations.  Anything and everything.

Scooters?  Yes there are magazine for scooters of all sorts and character.

But when it comes to podcasts I’d bet money that you will have an easier time finding a ‘cast about scooters than you would about pickups.

So then the obvious question becomes:

“How would you do it?”

That parts easy.

Since the pickup is made by car companies, you go the same route as a car based podcast.

News:  You report about the new vehicle coming out, the new regulations affecting future products, the way the market meets the challenges of the times, economy, safety, recalls, new technologies, and other newsworthy items.

Reviews:  Tests of the various trucks both on and off the road.

Interviews:  One on one with the designers, engineers, marketing, sports people, and spokesperson for the vehicles.  You could even record “live shows” where listeners could call in and ask questions.

Sporting and events:  From the Baja 1000 to auto shows to truck pulls, reports of what’s happening along with interviews of the stars of the event will always be wanted.

The Personal Angle:  A “This old truck” segment where an average person talks about why they chose the truck they did and how they use it; or a general discussion about the truck and how it fits psychologically into society.

Aftermarket products:  The pickup truck is the most personalized and accessorized vehicle on the planet.  There are so many companies out there that would love to come on the air and tell their story about how their product fits into the pickup world.  Plus all the above topics can fit into this section as well.

So, as you can see there are tons of topics to build a podcast around.  The “how to do it” is easy.

I can hear your next question already:  “If it’s so easy, why don’t you do it?”

To be honest, I have thought about it, but I believe that having a voice for sign language is a hindrance in this endeavor.  The time conundrum is another.

So for now I will keep searching for this elusive podcast, but I also would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.  I know I have some pickup fans here.  Tell me what you think and what truck topics you’d like to hear about.

Until then, keep on truckin’.