Tundra, Titan on Overdrive

Toyota takes a breather for this cycle with just a few tweaks to its recently revamped Tundra, including two new off-road packages and an E85-capable option offered only in Midwest states, where ethanol is readily available. The midsize Tacoma cruises along with little change for 2009.

Engine options on the big Tundra include a base 4.0-liter, 24-valve aluminum V6 (236 hp/266 pound-feet of torque), 4.7-liter, iron-block 32-valve V8 (276 hp/313 pound-feet of torque), and a 5.7-liter, 32-valve aluminum V8 (381 hp/401 pound-feet of torque). Cab options include regular, double, and full four-door CrewMax styles. Maximum tow rating is 10,800 pounds, and maximum payload is 1,080 pounds.

Nissan also rides along with little change to its five-year-old Titan or its recently remodeled midsize Frontier. The full-size Titan offers just one gas or E85-ready drivetrain, a 5.6-liter V8 engine (317 hp/385 pound-feet of torque) matched to a 5-speed automatic transmission. It comes in king and crew cab models with a variety of off-road and towing packages. Towing capacity is up to 9,500 pounds.

Few significant changes are scheduled in 2009 for the remaining pickups sold in the United States. The SUV crossover Honda Ridgeline gets a more powerful 3.5-liter V6 engine (250 hp/247 pound-feet of torque) with towing and payload ratings at 5,000 pounds and 1,100 pounds, respectively. The midsize Dodge Dakota and the Mitsubishi Raider, which is built on the Dakota platform, stay essentially the same, as does Ford's Ranger-based Mazda B-series compacts.

Isuzu, which shared platforms with the Chevy and GMC midsize pickups, announced early in 2008 that it would quit the car and passenger vehicle market completely but continue to provide parts and service through its ongoing commercial truck operations.

Veteran auto industry writer Mike Morris is a contributing editor and truck columnist for Tools of the Trade.

Focusing on Fuel Economy

Pickup makers race to improve mileage as sales falter

With gas and diesel prices all over the place this past decade, truck manufacturers have been racing to improve the fuel efficiency of their vehicles. But those gains couldn't come fast enough for buyers when pump prices reached unprecedented highs in recent months.

Truckers will be relieved to know that 2009 brings significant improvements in fuel economy, and others are in the pipeline for 2010 and beyond. Here's how they stack up:

General Motors has more fuel-efficient technology on the road today, and in development, than any other domestic or import automaker. This includes higher-mileage gas engines, flexible fuel ethanol/gas engines, clean diesels, full hybrid drivetrains, hydrogen/electric engines, and plug-in electric vehicles.

While not all of this engineering is available today, some of it has already reached the market, and for 2009 GM has two key innovations that can ease the pain at the pump.

For starters, Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra buyers can now opt for new XFE (Extra Fuel Efficient) models, which deliver 5% better EPA-rated highway fuel economy, and 7% greater city mileage, thanks to a combination of mechanical, aerodynamic, and weight-reduction improvements. The XFE option is available only on two-wheel-drive models equipped with the 5.3-liter V8 engines and 6-speed automatic transmissions.

Buyers who can wait a few months will have an even better option: the all-new "two-mode" hybrid drivetrain that GM developed with BMW and the former DaimlerChrysler. This full-hybrid system has two battery-powered electric motors built into the drivetrain that can propel independently a fully loaded pickup until the vehicle's V8 gas engine takes over. The engine uses this boost, along with a combination of fuel management software and cylinder deactivation (it can operate normally on four of its eight cylinders), to achieve an estimated 50% better city and highway mileage than similarly equipped nonhybrid models. Two-mode hybrid Sierras and Silverados are scheduled to debut in spring 2009.
Not to be outdone, Ford Motor Co. in 2009 will offer an SFE (Superior Fuel Economy) model as a no-cost option on some F-150 XL SuperCrew pickups. Reduced body weight thanks to more high-strength steel in the frame, better aerodynamics, improved fuel management, and a new 6-speed transmission help to increase mileage to 15 mpg in the city, 21 mpg on the highway. Ford claims that improvements across the entire 2009 F-150 line account for an average 8% increase in fuel economy for its pickups.

Ford is also engineering an approach to fuel economy in large-displacement engines that it hopes will match or surpass the gains available through hybrid technology. Called EcoBoost, it relies on twin turbochargers and an innovative fuel delivery system that Ford claims will enable smaller, more fuel-efficient, environmentally compatible V6 engines to produce horsepower and torque equal to larger V8 engines. The manufacturer expects to roll out this technology in 2010 model-year F-150 pickups, which will debut before the end of 2009.

Other manufacturers looking to introduce more fuel-efficient pickups in 2010 and beyond include Dodge, which shares the patent on two-mode hybrid technology and is scheduled to introduce its version on Hemi-equipped Ram 1500s later next year. A high-efficiency Cummins turbo-diesel will also become available in 2010. According to the manufacturer, this new-generation "clean diesel" will meet emissions standards in all states while delivering a 30% improvement in fuel economy.

Toyota also is reportedly developing a clean diesel for its Tundra pickup. In late 2007 and again in 2008, it introduced a concept Tundra CrewMax powered by an 8.0-liter, inline 6-cylinder, high-torque diesel engine built by Japanese truckmaker Hino, a Toyota affiliate.

Although Toyota has become the sales leader in hybrid passenger vehicles, the company has not revealed any plans to add a hybrid powertrain to its full-size or midsize pickups. For 2009, Toyota announced the addition of E85-capable pickups for the first time, but only for V8-powered Tundra models sold in states where ethanol is widely available.

– Mike Morris