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2014 GMC Denali Rides Upscale Trend in Truck Market

Rugged utility in a luxury package.

by on Nov.11, 2013

With the 2014 GMC Sierra Denali, the maker set out to prove a rugged, capable truck could also deliver a luxury driving experience.

One trend that’s giving Detroit’s Big Three automakers a real lift is that their most loyal customers are now buying more expensive, luxury oriented pickup trucks.

The trend began in Texas but sales of pickup trucks with price tags beyond $40,000 now account for more than a third of all pickup trucks sold across the United States.

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That’s created a big opportunity for the all-new 2014 GMC Sierra Denali. While it shares its new platform and powertrains with more plebian versions of the ’14 Sierra pickup, the new Denali boasts a decidedly more luxurious interior that is equal to what you might expect to find in a similarly-price luxury sedan – as well as advanced safety equipment, such as lane departure warning, along with new connectivity tools.


First Drive: 2014 Toyota Tundra

If at first you don’t succeed…

by on Jul.30, 2013

The 2014 Toyota Tundra family.

It’s been a big year for Detroit’s Big Three automakers, and while the overall upturn of the U.S. market has helped them score gains in everything from hybrid to compacts to midsize sedans, nothing has buoyed their market share and bottom line more than the revival of pickup truck demand.

No surprise, Toyota is eying that market with envious ambition. The Japanese maker has long dominated the compact truck market with its Tacoma model, but despite repeated attempts, Toyota has failed to crack the code on the bigger – and traditionally more domestic-loyal full-size pickup segment.

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It seemed to have a winner in hand when the Toyota Tundra went through a major redesign six years ago, but after an initial burst of growth sales collapsed.  To be fair, the entire full-size truck market collapsed, declining by roughly half during the depths of the Great Recession, but Toyota is now lagging the pickup rebound and is anxious to regain momentum with the Tundra redesign it’s bringing to market for the 2014 model-year.


First Drive: 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500

More than first meets the eye.

by on May.20, 2013

The exterior changes to the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado have largely been aimed at improving aerodynamics.

According to some prognosticators, millions of Americans were supposed to be trading in on hybrids, plug-ins and battery cars this year.  The V-8 engine and the full-size pickup were both supposed to be relegated to the automotive scrap heap.

It hasn’t worked out quite as expected.  Battery car sales have barely registered, and though demand for V-8s has certainly fallen, pickups have been rapidly regaining momentum. We’re expecting sales will grow even more substantially in the months ahead as buyers get a look at the new 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500.

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While Chevy’s full-size truck is far from perfect, it is arguably the best pickup General Motors has ever built. The 2014 Silverado does everything you’d expect a truck to do such as pull a trailer, carry a load or traverse rugged trails. But it’s more than just a solid work truck.  The new Chevy Silverado’s cabin is both unexpectedly quiet nicely furnished, while the pickup delivers a firm, poised ride more similar to that of a large, expensive sedan than the classic, rough-riding truck.


First Drive: 2013 Ram 1500

Deja vu? Not when you take a closer look.

by on Aug.27, 2012

It may look a lot like the old truck but there've been major changes made to the 2013 Ram 1500.

Looks can be deceptive. The 2013 Ram 1500 pickup truck might appear quite familiar but beneath the sheet metal it’s actually a new truck that delivers a quiet smooth ride as well as full range of truck features – along with markedly better mileage.

The new Dodge Ram has staked out a claim to be the most fuel-efficient full-size pickup truck on the road as well as one featuring a comfortable, car-like interior, which represents another step in the evolution of the pickup truck away from its strictly utilitarian roots.

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The revamped Ram is being offered with two different engines. The relatively new Pentastar V-6 with variable valve timing, which Chrysler says delivers 42% more horsepower, 13% more torque and 20% more fuel economy than the older 3.7-liter V-6 engine.  In addition, the 2013 Ram 1500 also is available with a classic 5.7-Hemi V-8.


First Drive: 2011 Kia Sportage SX

Forget the “cute ute.”

by on Mar.11, 2011

Kia's focus on distinctive styling shows through with the 2011 Sportage SX.

When it first appeared last year, the Kia Sportage crossover got generally good marks – and plenty of attention to its distinctive design.  The Korean maker has made a high priority of styling, as models like the all-new Optima demonstrate, and so, the Sportage took a distinctive route one might call the antithesis of the “cute-ute” styling repeated, as nauseum, by so many competitors.

That doesn’t mean it’s got a face only an owner could love.  This is no Pontiac Aztek.  The 2011 Sportage looks nice, whether parked or driving up in your rearview mirror.

Add to that a comfortable interior, excellent overall packaging and utility and with a substantial amount of standard equipment at a highly competitive price point and what you get is a surprisingly solid offering making its push into one of the most hotly contested segments in the car business.

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There was one frequent complaint raised, or at least whispered, by the car jocks who thought it was a bit under-powered out there on the great American highway.

Not anymore.  The new Kia Sportage SX blows away the perception that the vehicle’s innards are somehow compromised. Indeed, the turbocharged SX blows the doors off most of the cute utes without sacrificing the features that the Korean carmaker first introduced last year.


First Drive: Nissan NV

Nissan jumps off deep end into commercial van segment.

by on Feb.03, 2011

Nissan enters the commercial cargo truck segment with the new NV line.

Nissan, which does 20% of its business worldwide in light, medium and heavy commercial vehicles, trucks and buses, has never offered a commercial van in the North American market.  Until now.  And the one they’ve finally introduced is the biggest one available.

Starting next month, at 250 carefully selected dealerships in the U.S., Nissan will offer a whole family of what it calls its NV vans, in 1500, 2500HD, and 3500HD conventional and 2500 and 3500 high-roof versions, all in a heavy-duty, body-on-frame construction.

Each participating dealership has committed to the installation of higher service-bay doors to accommodate the high-roof versions, plus at least one heavy-duty service lift, along with special training for mechanics and parts department personnel.


Nissan Moving Ahead With Full-Size Pickup Plans

May also combine small truck platforms.

by on Feb.02, 2011

Nissan will develop the Titan replacement in-house.

Key work remains to be completed on Nissan’s new full-size pickup truck, Larry Dominque, head of product planning for Nissan operations in the Americas, said this week, but it is a work in progress with a high priority at Nissan design center in San Diego.  While powertrain and other engineering issues have yet to be resolved, the interior and exterior design work is now locked into place.

The new model will replace the sluggish-selling Titan, which Dominque acknowledged has never quite lived up to Nissan’s expectations.  But it still fills an important role for the Japanese maker, which continues to position itself as a full-range vehicle provider.

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“Our dealers love the truck,” said Dominque, who also confirmed the next generation Titan will be a “body-on-frame” vehicle, even though some had speculated the maker would go to a crossover-style unibody design, similar to Honda’s approach with the smaller Ridgeline.

Much of the basic engineering for the truck will be handled at the Nissan Technical Center, outside Detroit, where the staff has extensive experience working on body-on-frame vehicles – including the NV commercial vehicle Nissan will launch this spring.


Ford Econoline Celebrates 50 Years

The evolution of an American workhorse.

by on Dec.13, 2010

Celebrating 50 years, the Ford Econoline.

You’d never know it today, when more than half the new vehicles sold are classified as trucks, and therefore command proper attention from both the media and the regulators, but half a century ago, the media and the general public paid little attention to the workhorses of the roadways.

In 1955, the big volume year of automotive production in the post-WWII decade, US factories produced 9,190,875 vehicles, of which 1,259,016 or 14 percent were trucks and buses.  (In case you wondered, in that year Japanese factories turned out a total 165,000 vehicles including those classified three-wheeled,” and West Germany, 847,097.)

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The big media attention in 1959 focused on the forthcoming compact cars from the Big Three, 1960-models Ford Falcon, Chevrolet Corvair and Plymouth Valiant.

But in the summer of 1960, on the eve of the 1961 model introduction, there was a sleeper: the introduction of box-like small trucks from both Ford and Chevrolet, based on the powertrains and chassis of their 1960 compact sedans.


First Drive: 2011 GMC Sierra Denali

GMC Sierra Denali Aims to Lux Up HD Pickups

by on Jul.15, 2010

The first GMC truck to bear the top-rated Denali name made its debut this week.

What’s in a name, Shakespeare once asked?  And so did we when we heard GMC would be spreading the “Denali” nameplate around in 2011.

We’ve just had a brief drive in the brawny, sexy new 2011 GMC Sierra Denali HD, which marks the first use of the exclusive Denali name on a heavy-duty GMC pickup, a truck which makes its world debut this week.

We immediately recognized the new model, thanks to the trademark Denali four-bar chrome grille with round air inlets that distinguish the Sierra Denali HD on the outside, along with body-color bumpers, chrome door handles, chrome accents and 18- and 20-inch polished forged aluminum wheels.  The exterior is offered in three colors: Black, Stealth Gray and White.

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Designed to compete against the Ford F-250HD King Ranch and Dodge Power Wagon models at the top of the heavy-duty pickup ladder, the new Denali we drove is powered by the 6.6-liter Duramax turbodiesel V8 delivering 397 horsepower at 3,000 rpm and 765 foot-pounds of torque down at 1,600 rpm, with a heavy-duty Allison 1000 6-speed transmission.


Nissan Eyes Growth in Commercial Sector

New NV to be followed by battery van and other models.

by on Mar.12, 2010

The 2011 Nissan NV commercial van will be offered in standard and tall configurations and, eventually, with battery drive.

Nissan rolled out its new commercial van at the National Truck Equipment Association’s annual Work Truck Show in St. Louis, this week, and is also suggesting the small van will be among the first electric vehicles to follow the Nissan Leaf sedan into the market.

Before the work truck show, Nissan North America Vice President of Commercial Vehicles Joe Castelli said the company is determined to expand its presence in the commercial market. Nissan’s commercial vans already are sold in 75% of the world’s markets, including Japan, China, Mexico, Europe, South America, Australia and the Middle East. Other manufacturers including Daimler AG, Chrysler, General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. have or are promising to step up their activity in the commercial vehicle segment over the next couple of years.

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The new NV, however, is only one of the commercial vehicles Nissan is planning to sell in the US. A small van will also be introduced in the US next year and, after that, an all-electric version of the small van will come to the US market, Nissan officials said.

The new full-size van, which was shown in St. Louis, comes in two versions — standard and tall. It capitalizes on Nissan’s experience around the world. The tall version comes with a cargo box that is 76 inches tall and the standard 4-foot-by-4-foot by 4-foot cube-shaped palate slips easily into either the tall or standard-size cargo box, Nissan officials said.