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Special Report: Light- and Medium-Duty Equipment Roundup

Successful Dealer Staff June 11, 2012

NG offerings dominate latest products

While Class 8 trucks and tractors remain the bread and butter for most North American fleet operations, a growing number of equipment options exist for fleets spec’ing light- and medium-duty vehicles, spanning everything from small urban delivery vans like the Chevy HHR and the Ford Transit Connect up to larger cab-forward trucks like the Isuzu NPR and Mitsubishi Canter.

Major OEMs continue to embrace alternative-fuel options as they look at new ways to power these vehicles. Several years ago, medium-duty hybrids dominated because they were well-suited to municipal and telecommunications fleets. After that, all-electric delivery vans appeared on the grid.

Now the buzz is all about natural gas-powered trucks, and virtually every press conference held during this year’s NTEA Work Truck Show addressed natural gas, be it compressed or liquefied natural gas, infrastructure issues or new products. All the major OEMs were anxious to highlight the investments they are making to provide fleets with integrated factory-assembled natural gas trucks that will provide economical, reliable power and help offset rising diesel and gasoline prices.

Here’s a roundup of some of the latest vehicles and product offerings in the light- and medium-duty equipment marketplace.

Ram, GMC, Chevy spotlight alt-fuel options

The Ram brand – since separating from the Dodge car line two years ago – has pushed forward consistently with a series of innovative products designed for the North American commercial truck market. To that end, Ram has introduced four new models designed specifically for fleet and commercial truck customers.

Ram says the 2500 HD CNG pickup truck is the only factory-built CNG pickup truck offered in North America today.

Highlighting the new vehicles is the Ram 2500 HD CNG pickup truck, which is fully covered by Ram’s five-year 100,000-mile warranty. Fred Diaz, Ram Truck president, says Ram is able to deliver a factory-built CNG truck thanks to parent company Fiat’s experience with the technology, which Ram was able to leverage in the 5.7-Hemi dual-fuel engine’s design. The Ram 2500 HD features a full crew cab and 8-foot box, a 14.2-cubic-foot CNG tank and an 8-gallon gasoline tank for a combined range of more than 600 miles.

Ram also announced two new fleet-focused Tradesman pickups, the Tradesman Crew and Quad Cab models. The full-size four-door trucks offer seating for six adults, V8 power and a standard towing package. The Ram 4.7-liter V8 is rated at 310 horsepower and 330 lb.-ft. of torque and delivers 20 mpg in highway driving; a more powerful 4.7-liter engine also is available with towing capability up to 7,700 pounds. A third power option, a 5.7-liter Hemi engine, churns out 390 horsepower and 407 lb.-ft. of torque.

Another new model is the upfitter-friendly Ram chassis cutaway van, which maintains the truck’s structural integrity in cases where modifiers need to remove up to 80 percent of the truck body – as in ambulance body installations, for example. All regular cab Ram 3500, 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cab trucks now can be modified.

Meanwhile, Chevrolet and GMC announced details of General Motors’ bi-fuel 2013 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 HD extended cab pickup trucks. The vehicles include a CNG-capable Vortec 6.0-liter V8 engine that transitions between CNG and gasoline fuel systems.

The truck always starts using gasoline and switches over to CNG once the proper operating temperature is reached. However, the driver can switch between fuels at any time – even when driving at highway speeds – simply by pressing a button mounted on the dashboard.

The trucks offer a range of more than 650 miles and will be available in standard and long box with either two- or four-wheel drive. The bi-fuel system is installed by GM’s Tier One supplier, and the completed vehicle is delivered directly to the customer.

“The bi-fuel truck provides businesses with added refueling flexibility and eases consumer range concerns that typically come with CNG, all while reducing emissions and controlling costs,” says Joyce Mattman, director of GM’s commercial product and specialty vehicles. “This turnkey ordering process makes our bi-fuel truck an attractive option, especially for commercial customers.”

The bi-fuel commercial trucks will be covered by GM’s three-year 36,000-mile new vehicle limited warranty and five-year 100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty and vehicle emissions warranty, meeting all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board emissions certification requirements.

MitFuso rolls out 2013 Canters

Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America announced that its 2013 model-year medium-duty Fuso Canter cabover trucks are in production now and feature the same specifications as its 2012 models, with some additional refinements and options.

MitFuso’s 2013 Canters can be ordered in solid black, which helps give the rugged work trucks a more striking appearance.

In addition to the five cab colors MFTA traditionally has offered, the 2013 Canters can be ordered in solid black, which helps give the rugged work trucks a more striking appearance and can save some customers from having to paint the cabs to match their company colors.

All 2013 Canters come standard with dual batteries and also include a factory-installed power take-off wiring harness designed to receive an optional matched control switch and to make connection to optional PTOs easier.

A 33-gallon side-mounted fuel tank remains a factory-installed option, and mirrors have new wider mounting arms that facilitate the installation of bodies with outside widths up to 102 inches on all Canter FE models, including the Canter FE160 Crew Cab.

MitFuso also has replaced block heaters that were available on earlier Fuso FE and FG models with an oil pan heater to aid in cold-weather starts.

The heater generates 420 watts of heat and comes with an integral AC power cord for use with standard 115V-120V outlets and extension cords.

Westport Light Duty begins factory-installed Super Duty CNG platform

Westport Light Duty last month began producing bi-fuel Ford F-250 and F-350 Super Duty pickup trucks in a facility adjacent to Ford’s truck plant in Louisville, Ky. John Howell, senior marketing director, says the trucks never leave Ford’s inventory control system and are not subject to re-entry fees or other charges typically associated with upfitting procedures for commercial vehicles.

Westport Light Duty, which is producing bi-fuel Ford F-250 and F-350 Super Duty pickup trucks, touts a key-ready experience.

Howell says Westport Light Duty’s goal is to provide users with a key-ready experience. “When they take delivery of these vehicles and turn the key, we don’t what them to feel any difference than if they were sitting in a conventional Ford Super Duty truck,” he says. “That holds true for the whole ownership experience in terms of maintenance and warranty. It will be transparent compared to a gasoline-powered Ford Super Duty.”

Westport Light Duty’s Super Duty models have a range from 200 to 350 miles when operating on CNG, depending on tank size. Overall vehicle range extends to more than 600 miles when the 32-gallon gasoline tank is factored into the equation.

“There is no button allowing drivers to select between CNG and gasoline,” Howell says. “Our research told us fleets prefer to have these trucks running on CNG as much as possible. These Super Duty trucks will run on natural gas as long as it is present in the tank.” When the CNG tank runs out, the engine immediately and seamlessly switches to gasoline; once the CNG is refilled, the truck reverts to natural gas the next time the truck is started.

“Our research told us fleets prefer to have these trucks running on CNG as much as possible.”

– John Howell,

senior marketing director, Westport Light Duty

The bi-fuel Super Duty trucks are designed to meet both EPA and CARB standards and feature a 6.2-liter V8 engine with hardened valves and seats.

Westport Light Duty says virtually every Super Duty pickup configuration can be upfitted to a bi-fuel version, including 6.75- and 8-foot box lengths and 4×2 and 4×4 powertrain configurations.

Isuzu offers biodiesel, launches Reach production

Isuzu Commercial Truck of America announced that all of its 2011 and forward model-year diesel engines – including its four N-Series truck models as well as the Reach commercial van – are compatible with use of up to 20 percent biodiesel blends (B20).

Production of Isuzu Commercial Truck of America’s Reach commercial van was launched last October with a plant dedication at Utilimaster’s headquarters in Wakarusa, Ind.

Isuzu’s B20 support is the result of growing consumer demand for the fuel, an extensive and cooperative research project on B20 biodiesel blends by Isuzu engineers in the United States and Japan, and improved U.S. biodiesel fuel quality and industry support.

“Our customers have been asking for approval to use B20 in our products in the U.S. for many years,” says Brian Tabel, Isuzu Commercial Truck of America’s retail marketing manager. “We are happy to now turn that request into a reality and bring B20 biodiesel capability to the U.S. market.”

Meanwhile, Isuzu and Utilimaster – a manufacturer of walk-in vans and commercial truck bodies for the delivery and service market – celebrated the Reach’s production launch last October with a plant dedication at Utilimaster’s headquarters in Wakarusa, Ind.

“Our customers have been asking for approval to use B20 … for many years.”

– Brian Tabel,

retail marketing manager, Isuzu Commercial Truck of America

Introduced in March 2011, the Reach – with a body designed by Utilimaster atop an Isuzu NPR Eco-Max chassis powered by Isuzu’s 3.0-liter diesel engine – offers the functionality of a custom-built work truck along with the styling and ergonomics of a standard walk-through cargo van while achieving 35 percent better fuel economy.

FCCC touts factory-installed LpG platform

Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. introduced its S2G chassis, a factory-installed liquid propane gas engine for the medium-duty truck market. Built on FCCC’s S2 chassis, the S2G’s 8-liter 325-horsepower LPG engine supplied by Powertrain Integration uses GM’s long block and other components as its core.

The s2G chassis is suitable for pickup-and-delivery, student transportation and municipal operations.

FCCC says the benefits of an LPG chassis include lower operational costs and reduced emissions without sacrificing payload capability or performance. The S2G chassis is suitable for pickup-and-delivery, student transportation and municipal applications. A limited preproduction run of S2G chassis is expected in the fourth quarter of 2012, with full production slated for the first quarter of 2013.

“The S2G was developed in response to significant industry interest for an LPG solution without retrofitting or aftermarket additions,” says Bob Harbin, FCCC president. “The S2G also perfectly fits into FCCC’s heritage as a custom chassis manufacturer with a successful history in alternative fuel powertrains.”

Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.’s S2G chassis is a factory-installed liquid propane gas engine for the medium-duty truck market.

The S2G was developed in part through direct customer input, says Jonathan Randall, director of sales and marketing for FCCC. “From the start, we invited our end-users, fleet managers and body manufacturers to tell us about their specific needs, from gross vehicle weight rating and chassis component placement to in-cab layout and electrical interfaces,” Randall says. “We didn’t want to just add an LPG engine to our S2 chassis – we wanted to make the best chassis our customers could envision while making the most body builder-friendly truck in the market.”

“The S2G was developed in response to significant industry interest for an LPG solution without retrofitting or aftermarket additions.”

– Bob Harbin, Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp. president

The front-engine S2G uses the Freightliner M2 cab that features a sloped forward-tilting hood for added visibility and engine access. It has a gross vehicle weight rating of 33,000 pounds and comes equipped with an Allison 2300 automatic transmission with power take-off provision.

With the Propane Education & Research Council’s support, FCCC partnered with Powertrain Integration and CleanFuel USA in the S2G’s development. Powertrain Integration provides custom solutions for OEM engines and drivetrains from the GM product lineup. CleanFuel USA developed liquid propane fuel injection systems and also manufactures propane autogas dispensers and fueling infrastructure.

Ford to launch full-size Transit van next year

Eric Guenther, general marketing manager for Ford, says the Detroit automaker remains deeply committed to the North American commercial truck market. “Commercial trucks are not an add-on piece of business for us,” Guenther says. “It is at the core of what we do, and the commitment is reflected in over three decades of class-leading products such as our F-Series trucks and E-Series commercial vans.”

“Commercial trucks are not an add-on piece of business for us.”

– Eric Guenther,

Ford general

marketing manager

Ford’s full-size Transit van will be available with the same 3.5-liter Ecoboost rear-wheel-drive powertrain found in the F-150 pickup truck line.

A key component to Ford’s continued success will be the introduction of new products. Rob Stevens, chief engineer for Ford, says 2012 will see the North American launch of the full-size Transit commercial van, which was developed in Europe and has been sold globally for more than 30 years. “Ford has sold 6 million Transit vans worldwide since 1961,” Stevens says. “We think this lighter but stronger product is exactly the right van for where the North American market is heading today.”

The full-size Transit van, which is sold in Europe with either front-wheel or rear-wheel drive, will be available in North America with the same 3.5-liter Ecoboost rear-wheel-drive powertrain found in the F-150 pickup truck line. “This compact, efficient but powerful powertrain weighs 300 pounds less than our E-Series van line, but still delivers 11,300 foot-pounds of towing power while delivering 25 percent better fuel economy,” Stevens says.

Ford’s Full-Size Transit Van is undergoing North American validation testing now, with U.S. Assembly and sales slated for early next year.

The full-size Transit van is undergoing North American validation testing now, with U.S. assembly and sales slated for early next year. To minimize customer disruption and allow commercial customers time to get to know the new van, full production of E-Series commercial vans will continue to ensure a seamless transition as the full-size Transit comes on line. Ford will continue production of E-Series cutaway and stripped chassis platforms for the foreseeable future.

Ford also will begin production of a new gasoline-powered F-650 commercial truck. The new powertrain will be based on Ford’s 6.8-liter V10 engine, cranking out 357 horsepower and 457 lb.-ft. of torque. CNG and LNG versions also will be offered, with availability scheduled to begin this summer.

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