If you’re in the market for a new truck for your lawn care and landscaping business, there are many new options coming onto the market that were just rumor months ago. These new trucks have powertrain and construction options that any truck buyer needs to consider carefully before signing on the bottom line.
In case you haven’t noticed, truckmakers are doing their best to one-up each other on fuel economy. Part of this is market demand, but a big part of it is the federal government has set tougher fuel economy targets for future automobiles.
The good news is these changes are likely to save you money on fuel. This column will be a summary of the new options that will be available to you in the near future (and some that are still rumors) with some information you should know about each one before visiting a dealership.
FORD MOTOR CO.
Let’s start with what is possibly one of the most daring automotive decisions in some time: The 2015 Ford F-150 will have an all-aluminum body.
This is a big risk Ford is taking with its big moneymaker. It sold 763,402 F-150s in 2013, an 18.3% increase over 2012, and is widely reported to make a solid profit on each one.
If you think aluminum has no place in truck body panels, there are a few things to consider. First, the F-150 has had an aluminum hood since 2004, so Ford already has some experience in using this metal on its trucks (not to mention all the alloy wheels out there). Chevrolet, GMC and Ram pickups have also had aluminum hoods for a good while. If you want to see how aluminum does in work vehicles, check out this piece about the U.S. Postal Service, which has used the aluminum-bodied Grumman LLV as its primary mail truck since 1987.
The F-150’s aluminum won’t be the same composition as a soda can. Its aluminum body panels are made from the same military-grade alloys used in Humvees.
All this aluminum will cut a good chunk of weight from each pickup. SuperCrew models (the biggest ones, with the most sheet metal) will lose about 700 pounds each. Regular-cab trucks, which have less sheet metal, will make smaller gains — I’ve heard 400 to 500 pounds.
This means less fuel every time you get the truck going, and less work to bring it to a stop. It is expected to mean better performance out of the engines that are currently available and will be staying (the 5.0L V8 and 3.5L V6 EcoBoost, for example).
It also figures into Ford’s plan to offer a smaller turbocharged V6: the 2.7L EcoBoost. This new engine will also have some special, high-performance materials to help it offer as much power as it can get from a tiny package.
Turbocharging is a big part of Ford’s plan to improve fuel economy across the board. Here’s an interesting piece comparing Ford’s systems with what General Motors is using, if you’re interested.
The idea of a rust-proof body sounds great, but there are some challenges already coming to light with this aluminum switchover. A big part of the matter is repairing body damage and insurance. The truck is likely to cost more to insure, which could wipe out any fuel savings from the lightweight body.
Also, for a repair shop to handle aluminum bodywork, it has to have separate tools, workspaces and other gear — plus special training and certification for all staff. Aluminum also connects in different ways. Instead of welding for most joints, like steel, aluminum is put together with rivets and industrial-strength adhesives. Ford is already working on this, and it’s going as far as to subsidizing the cost of acquiring the gear and training for dealership body shops.
On the bright side, Ford had a big show-and-tell recently with dealers where it showed some changes to the truck’s construction that should actually save time and money when it comes to repairs. The design is supposed to make it easier to replace components without having to tear apart a bunch of other stuff to get to them.
Ford clearly sees that many truck buyers are concerned that the aluminum-bodied truck won’t be as tough as other vehicles, so it’s been looking for all sorts of ways to prove the truck’s mettle.
Here’s one way it put its work to the test. First, it took a 2015 F-150 chassis with that new 2.7L EcoBoost, then Ford stamped an aluminum body for the truck that was shaped like the old steel body. Then it ran that truck in the 2013 Baja 1000. It finished the race just fine, then drove to Michigan, unchanged.
Ford’s still looking for more ways to prove its new truck’s toughness. If you’ve got an idea, let Ford know.
If you’re not willing to try aluminum yet but are dead-set on a Ford, the Super Duty Trucks will keep the steel bodies in 2015. And if you’re looking to tow some massive loads, the new 6.7L Powerstroke turbodiesel’s power figures are out: 440 horsepower and 860 pound-feet of torque.
GM is also taking an interesting leap for the 2015 model year, but not with its half-ton pickups. Instead, GM is diving head-first into the mid-size pickup market.
The Chevrolet Colorado was unveiled at the L.A. Auto show late last year. Here it is:
So far, the Colorado has been marketed as a family fun vehicle — something for urban folks who need utility and a way to escape the city.
Its brother, the GMC Canyon, was revealed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January — the same day as the F-150 mentioned above.
The Canyon has a different look and GMC has been promoting it in a more serious, little-work-truck tone.
If you’re looking for a smaller work rig, these trucks could be the ticket.
Beneath the sheet metal, these trucks have a lot in common. Both had been produced from 2004 to 2012 before being pulled from the market in the US after sales lagged. They kept going in overseas markets, and will return to U.S. showrooms this year in their new forms.
Both trucks will be offered in extended- and crew-cab variants. Engine choices will be a 2.5L inline-4 and 3.6L V6 for the first year, but things change for the 2016 model year. That’s when the pickups will be available with an optional 2.8L I4 Duramax turbodiesel engine.
GM’s strategy in all this is reportedly to take back the mid-size truck market from Toyota and Nissan, and it’s going to bring its best fight to California, which is the largest market for mid-size pickups.
I was in San Francisco in late December, between the Colorado and Canyon reveals. During my trip, I noticed that full-sized pickups were rare while smaller pickups were more common, and for good reason: Driving — and parking — a full-size truck around this town would be a headache. A smaller truck, however, would be much easier to get through traffic or fit in the tiny parking garages there.
And if GM can deliver better fuel mileage with these new mid-size pickups, these new trucks could really be a hit for urban commuters who pay even more per gallon than the folks in my part of the country (North Dakota).
One extra engine note: Motor Trend reports that Mark Reuss, GM’s executive vice president of global product development, was asked about the possibility of an SS version of the Colorado with the Corvette’s 6.2L LT1 V8. He smiled as he answered “It’ll fit.” And while that might not be too practical for a lawn business, it would certainly be awesome.
As for full-size trucks, GM has advertisements espousing the light weight of the high-strength rolled steel in its half-ton and larger pickups. It’s also looking at expanding its use of aluminum in truck bodies, but it seems Ford has eaten up all the available supply for the near term. A recent report indicates GM could go all-aluminum on its pickup bodies as soon as 2018.
As I said above, GM’s trucks use a different strategy for saving fuel compared to Ford. It offers cylinder deactivation on its EcoTec3 V6 and V8 engines, so a big engine can act like a little engine when it doesn’t need so much power.
GM’s also getting into dual-fuel game by offering its HD trucks with an optional package to let the trucks run on compressed natural gas. (The Ford F-150 has already been available with a CNG-ready system). The system lets you use considerably cheaper natural gas.
Right now there isn’t much infrastructure for folks who want to travel long distances on CNG, but if your customers are all in a pretty small area close to a source of CNG, this could work for you.
The biggest development from Ram is easily the EcoDiesel engine option.
The turbocharged 3.0L V6 diesel is made by VM Motori, an Italian engine maker that is now fully owned by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (GM used to own half of it). It’s rated to produce 240 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, and many expect this truck to be a top performer at towing among half-ton pickups.
The Ram equipped with this engine has been getting all sorts of rave reviews from the automotive press, such as Motor Trend’s 2014 Truck of the Year. The EPA recently gave it a fuel economy rating of 28 mpg on the highway (the Pentastar 3.5L V6 gas model is rated at 25 mpg) and that rating was similar to what several journalists reported during test drives.
Keep in mind those ratings are for the 4×2 trucks only. If you want 4-wheel drive, you’ll lose a mile per gallon.
The first batch of 8,000 EcoDiesel Rams were snapped up by dealers the first weekend they became available, and more than 400 of those trucks had already been sold to customers without a single test drive.
You can also see the EcoDiesel in another Fiat Chrysler Automobiles product: The Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Ram has another interesting option in its gas and diesel trucks if you need to move big trailers or haul heavy loads in the bed: an adjustable airbag setup that offers load leveling and alters ride height for towing, highway driving and other situations.
Ram isn’t the only company turning to diesel for its half-ton trucks. Nissan announced in August that the next generation of its Titan pickup will have a 5.0L Cummins V8 turbodiesel engine.
A trio of test mules (camouflaged vehicles used to test new features or components in public) were spotted in Wisconsin last month, and the new 2016 Titan is expected to be revealed at the NAIAS in January 2015.
But that’s not all.
Nissan had a little surprise at the Chicago Auto Show this month: A concept Frontier pickup with a 2.8L I4 Cummins turbodiesel.
Now, this is just a concept, but it could become a reality. When asked if Nissan will be including this diesel engine with the next Frontier redesign, Vice President Fred Diaz said “We want to see what the public says.”
Toyota refreshed its Tundra for the 2014 model year. When it comes to powertrains, they took an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach and kept the same engine lineup.
But that might change soon.
Remember that 5.0L Cummins V8 that the Nissan Titan will be getting? It looks like Toyota is interested in running the same engine.
Also, the Tacoma is due for an update, so expect news on that truck sometime this year.
Now, if you’re interested in a truck that is made for playtime just as much as work, Toyota did recently announce its new TRD Pro Series vehicles at the Chicago Auto Show. Take a look.
The TRD Pro Series offers special versions of Toyota’s Tundra, Tacoma and 4 Runner with upgraded suspension and wheels plus special trim. Will it help your landscaping business? Only if you have a bunch of open desert between you and your clients.
The Future of towing
It used to be that truckmakers used their own systems to determine what their trucks could tow. This meant there was no objective comparison of each truck’s tow rating.
That’s changing with the adoption of the SAE J2807 towing standard, which you can read more about here.
Toyota was first to adopt this standard, and now Ford promises the new F-150 will use it too. Ram and General Motors had said they would adopt the standard once a competitor had, so they are now expected to follow suit.
So which truck is best for my business?
I don’t see a “best truck for landscapers.” I see many trucks that could be the best option for different businesses.
A good way to answer this question for you, individually, as a business owner, is to start gathering statistics on your current vehicles.
You need information like:
- How many people do I need to drive to each job?
- How many tools do I need to take to each job?
- How many miles do I drive to each job?
- How often do I tow trailers for jobs, and what do those trailers weigh?
- How much bed capacity do I need?
You should also look up an independent review of each brand’s record when it comes to repairs and reliability. Consumer Reports is a good example. Edmunds.com also has good information about cost of ownership.
You should also look at each vehicle’s design and answer for yourself, subjectively, whether that truck would make your business look good. Remember that your truck doesn’t just get your from A to B. It’s also your mobile billboard.
Some trucks lend themselves well to adding logos and phone numbers, and others don’t. Generally speaking, the more smooth spaces without creases or folds, the better a truck is for advertising. Look closely at the tailgate, doors and the outside-facing sides of the bed, and judge for yourself how much of that area will look best with your name and contact information on display.
Once you have the facts, look at how each truck would serve you best.
If you drive a bunch of big guys to each job, you need a crew-cab truck. If you do a lot of towing, these diesel options are very promising because of all that wonderful torque. If you like to get all your tools in one truck bed, look for a long-bed truck.
And whatever truck you get, be sure to give it regular maintenance.
(Logan Adams spent most of his early years fixing tires and changing oil at his dad’s service station while mowing lawns on a regular basis. He is the social media/community specialist at Agri-Cover, Inc., a manufacturer of tonneau covers, snow plows, mud flaps and other accessories for pickups and SUVs.)