Automakers Gear Up to Produce Full-Sized Pickups
By: Paul LienertPosted: 03-08-02 01:30PT
Paul Lienert is Editor and Publisher of Global Auto Insider and
Reprinted with Permission. © 2002, Paul Lienert, Global Auto Insider

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A major battle is brewing in the full-size truck segment, and not just among the Detroit auto manufacturers.

The stakes are significant: Ford and General Motors between them sell more than 1.5 million full-size pickups a year in North America, and the Ford F-series outsells the Honda Accord and the Toyota Camry by more than two to one.

No wonder, then, that cash-strapped Ford is spending $1.5 billion to substantially revamp the F-150 in June 2003, about nine months later than originally planned. And no surprise, either, that Honda is close to giving the green light to a full-size-truck program that would rival Toyota and Nissan in challenging the U.S. automakers in one of their traditional strongholds.

Ford suppliers say the redesigned 2004 F-series (code name P221) will look more tough and rugged than the current PN96 series. "It will out-tough the Dodge Ram," predicts one source.

We also hear that Ford plans to offer the next F-150 in something like five different flavors, each with unique grille, trim, wheels, and tires. There will still be room in the stable for such derivatives as the SVT Lightning and the Harley-Davidson, with the marketing wizards forecasting a big increase in volume for all quad-cab models.

At least some of those new F-series pickups are expected to use the new independent rear suspension developed for the redesigned 2003 Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator utility vehicles, as well as to share many of their interior updates.

Curiously, there doesn't seem to be a direct replacement for the Lincoln Blackwood in the current plan. And the F-350 Super Duty (code name P131) isn't scheduled to be overhauled now until model year 2006, when it is expected to get some of the design cues previewed recently on the Mighty Tonka concept.

GM won't have its new GMT900 family of full-size trucks ready before model year 2006, and that plan could easily slip a year, according to vendors. What they anticipate is an extensive reworking of the current GMT800 platform, rather than a ground-up redesign.

To tide over dealers and customers until then, the corporation later this summer will begin building the restyled 2003 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, which were previewed recently at the Chicago auto show. Both models receive more distinctive exterior designs, with the Silverado adapting the signature face of the Avalanche. Both trucks also get interior makeovers but no major chassis or driveline upgrades.
However, for model year 2004, GM will introduce its updated Gen IV truck engines, which are cleaner, more efficient, and a bit more powerful than the current Gen III powerplants. GM also hopes to begin producing some truck engines with its innovative "displacement on demand" cylinder-cutoff system, which permits big V-8s under part throttle to operate more efficiently with only four cylinders. There is also a gas/electric hybrid powertrain in the works for 2004-05.

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