Dec. 15 2014 11:52 AM
a_1418669572548f2e047c182

BY JUSTIN ENGELBART

It's that time of year again...the time of year where we take a moment and reflect on every contractor’s best friend: their truck. Across the country, landscape contractors invest a lot of time, money and energy into their tools and equipment, and that includes vehicles. Let’s face it, without a truck you couldn’t get anything done. In order to keep up with changes from year to year, a truck roll call is a must. The following is a breakdown of this year’s models.

Pickup or cab-over-engine?

To start, there are two types of trucks to choose from. Pickup trucks have always been a mainstay of the green industry. But in recent years, cab-over-engine (COE) trucks have been seeing a steady rise in popularity. COE trucks offer a lot of versatility for modern contractors, with longer trailers and bigger load areas.

The days when the Big Three of Detroit, GM, Ford and Dodge, dominated the truck market are in the rearview mirror. Major importers, such as Isuzu, Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi, have become fixtures of the market, offering both pickups and COEs.

Pickup trucks are available in a wide variety of configurations: short and long box, extended, king and crew cab, and so on. Each company has its own version. Many trucks have two- or four-wheel drive, sixspeed transmission, etc. A few things should be considered when looking for a pickup.

Choosing a truck really comes down to how much weight you’re planning to tow. This will determine if you’re better off with a light- or heavy-duty pickup. Light-duty trucks are better for transporting smaller tools, such as shovels and leaf blowers. Heavyduty trucks are better suited to hauling machinery, like trenchers or skid steers.

For the really heavy-duty work, it makes sense to look into a chassis cab. Chassis cab pickups can support platform beds up to 20’ long and work great for jobs such as tree maintenance, since they make it easier to attach a lift bucket for tree trimming. Snow removal services also benefit, since you can attach a salt spreader in the rear.

Getting greener

Gas mileage is the most important aspect of any truck model in 2015 for every truck manufacturer, both foreign and domestic. More than ever, companies are working hard to improve fuel economy without sacrificing too much power.

As in previous years, this means

that more companies are offering options for more fuel-efficient diesel engines on more trucks.

Reducing fuel costs can mean more than just changing what kind of fuel you can put in your vehicle. Some truck companies are experimenting with new frames and alloys.

Ford’s F-150, for example, has reduced its weight, compared to last year’s model. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the industry responds to this bold move.

Many truck companies are embracing

the digital revolution, offering more new features than ever before. These features have a lot of potential for saving you money, headaches, and most importantly, time. You’ll see more trucks that can act as their own WiFi hotspot, allowing you to turn your truck into a mobile office. Trucks are also available with GPS, hands-free Bluetooth phone capability and voice-command navigation systems.

However, as the computer systems installed in trucks get more complex, it becomes even more important to have a uniform fleet. Changing technology makes it difficult to do all of the repairs in-house. Every year, added electronics in new models will make upkeep a more specialized job.

Engines

As fuel costs continue to rise, alternative fuels are becoming more popular. This is especially true for diesel engines. The majority of trucks in this article can be outfitted with diesel engines.

Diesels are more economical and fuel-efficient than their gas-based counterparts. They generate more power per engine rotation. Some contractors swear by them and their fuel savings; it’s easy to look at them as a long-term investment. Lower maintenance costs add to the appeal. “That’s why you spend $30,000 more for a diesel truck than a gas truck,” said R ay R oberts, owner of Pinecrest, Florida-based Native Concepts.

Besides diesel, there are other alternative fuel options for contractors looking to buy trucks. Many gas engines can be modified to use compressed natural gas (CNG). However, CNG fueling stations aren’t available in a lot of places yet. Biodiesel and propane are starting to pop up more, too.

This year’s class

Ford has made the most changes to their truck lines for the upcoming year. For their newest iteration of the F-150, Ford has combined an aluminum cab with a high-strength steel body, resulting in a truck 730 pounds lighter than last year’s model. The lighter frame means that Ford can install smaller, more fuelefficient engines. The F-150 can be outfitted with a 2.7-liter Ecoboost V6, a 3.5L Variable Camshaft Timing (TI-VCT) engine available as a V6 or a V8, or a 5.0L FFV V8 engine that can be fed flex fuels, such as biodiesel.

Payload and towing capacities have improved for the F-250, F-350 and F-450 Super Duty trucks. The F- 250 can haul 3,580 pounds in its bed and tow up to 12,500 pounds. The F- 450 can tow as much as 31,200 pounds with a fifth wheel or gooseneck.

Engine options include a 6.7L Powerstroke V8 Turbodiesel and a 6.2L V8 that can use E85 diesel or be converted to use CNG or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) through a special engine prep kit. This is just the beginning for alternative fuels.

The Chassis Cab 450, 550, 650 and 750 can be outfitted with a Cummins 6.7L diesel engine or a Ford 6.8L, or a 6.8L V10. This gives those trucks up to 370 hp with a torque of 800 lb-ft.

The Ram line, by contrast, comes in just three variants: the 1500, 2500 and 3500. The 3500, in particular, can be outfitted to be a chassis cab truck.

The 2015 Ram 1500 strives to be more fuel efficient, although it sacrifices some power. Ram boasts that its 3.0L EcoDiesel engine can get up to 28 mpg and is compatible with B20 biodiesel fuel. It supports a Chrysler Pentastar 3.6L V6 or a 5.7L HEMI V8 as well. The 1500s also sport Sprint 3G WiFi hotspots, allowing contractors to get online from their work sites.

Suspension

The Ram 2500 can now be outfitted with a Cummins 6.7L diesel, a feature common to other Ram models up until this point. This gives the truck 370 hp with 800 lb-ft. of torque. It has the same size engine as the 4500 and 4500 chassis cab models, which can also take 6.4L HEMI V8 gas engines.

Chevrolet has had its 2015 Silverado truck on the market since the beginning of this year. Nevertheless, this past fall has given them new options, particularly the 6.2L V8, in addition to the existing 4.3L

EcoTec3 and its larger 5.3L EcoTec3 V8 options. The new 6.2L gives it 420 hp with a torque of 460 lb-ft. This enables the truck to carry up to 1,870 pounds and tow up to 12,000 pounds.

The engines on the Silverado 2500 and 3500s remain identical to the previous year’s model. You can outfit them with a 6.0L Vortec V8 or a Duramax V8 diesel engine. Perhaps the newest feature is in connectivity, as the 1500 features not only its MyLink electronics system but a 4G LTE hotspot, the fastest recorded at the time of this article.

GM’s other truck line, the GMC Sierra, is pretty similar to the Silverado. One of the biggest differences this year is a greater payload capability. This ranges from the Sierra 1500’s payload of up to 1,980 pounds to the 3500’s capacity, 7,374 pounds.

Toyota offers two pickup trucks:

the Tacoma and the full-sized Tundra. Available configurations include 4x2 and 4x4 in short or long-bed styles. Body styles consist of regular, double-cab and Crew-Max. Either a 4.0L V6 or a 2.7L four-cylinder engine are available for the Tacoma. The Tundra can be outfitted with a 4.6L or 5.7L V8, giving it a maximum of 381 hp with 401 lb-ft. of torque.

Nissan also offers two pickups, the mid-sized Frontier and the fullsized Titan. Both of the trucks have limited engine options: the Frontier sports either a 4.0L V6 or a 2.5L four-cylinder while the Titan comes with a 5.6L V8. Towing capacities range from the Frontier’s max of 6,500 pounds to the Titan’s max of 9,500 pounds.

Cab-over engine trucks (COEs)

For 2015, Mitsubishi FUSO has retired the FE125 and introduced the FE130 to take its place. In many ways it’s similar to its forbearer, a Class 3 COE with a 169.3- inch wheelbase and body acceptance of up to 20 feet. One major improvement to the new model is its gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR); it’s able to handle up to 13,200 pounds. Its body payload has also increased to 7,975 pounds.

The FE series features six-speed Duonic automatic manual transmissions, which contain dual clutch actuation and no torque interruption between shifts. It can also creep forward in traffic, like a normal car, and has an ECO mode that lets it shift up earlier in acceleration, consuming less fuel.

Overall, the line’s GVWR ranges from 13,200 to 17,995, depending on type and wheelbase. The FE160 has a Crew Cab variant with a GVWR of 15,995 pounds. There’s also a fourwheel drive version, the FG4X4, with a GVWR of 14,050 pounds. They accept body lengths between 12 to 22 feet, depending on wheelbase.

Isuzu also has a line of COEs in the form of its N-Series. Isuzu is sticking to its guns, with this year’s model pretty similar to last year’s. One of the few differences is an added Denso air conditioning compressor. Isuzu still offers the only COE with diesel, as well as two gas options.

Getting more out of your trucks

Contractors are starting to include their trucks as part of a marketing strategy, incorporating emblems, logos, color schemes, and more. A uniform paint scheme with the company logo and contact information can boost public awareness of your services and attract more customers.

Some contractors keep their brands looking uniform with the whole fleet from the same manufacturer.

This can also make it easier to find parts and mechanics. “More and more, we’re trying to look like a signature group,” said Steve Ambrose, president and owner of Ambrose Landscaping in Asheville, North Carolina.

Like professional sports teams, however, there are only so many possible color combinations. “We tried to go with a color nobody in our area was using,” said Paul Sannar, president and owner of Terraworks in Salt Lake City, Utah. He decked his trucks in Kawasaki green. “We did something that was unique to us.”