For as long as landscaping and irrigation have been an industry, trucks of all sorts have been that industry’s preferred mode of transportation. After all, how else are you to get those skid steers and mowers around from site to site?

Pickup trucks offer contractors a comfortable and practical way to haul equipment or carry crewmembers, and can serve as pretty practical personal vehicles during off hours. And chassis cabs can support hundreds of pounds of debris, wrapped in a steel metal enclosure to keep those loose bits of green waste from flying out of the vehicle. They can also be customized in a variety of styles.

Whether you want to install shelves to hold smaller tools, or attach a trailer to the back of the vehicle to haul equipment separately, you can literally transform your truck into a veritable “warehouse on wheels.” And the attachments trucks are able to fit are manifold. Just think of how easy it is to attach a lift bucket to the truck to reach those tall trees, or to attach a plow during the winter when snow removal could mean good profits during an otherwise slow season.

Simply put, it would be impossible to service customers efficiently without trucks. They are to the contractors what tool boxes are to the handy man. But deciding on what kind of truck you will need, what sort of body is best suited for the kinds of jobs your company is doing—that takes forethought, research and a whole lot of shopping around.

This coming year, contractors will be offered a whole new way to look at managing their fleets. As mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency, all new vehicle engines must meet certain environmental standards for 2010. More specifically, all nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx) must be reduced by a minimum of 85 percent.

That’s right. Truck engines are going green.

For the industry as a whole, this means a tremendous overhaul in engine technology. All gas, diesel and biofuel engines made after January 1, 2010 will have to adhere to these standards. Many automobile companies plan to use Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) technology to reduce emissions to near-zero levels. SCR works by injecting precise amounts of a urea/water solution (also known as diesel exhaust fluid) into the vehicle’s exhaust stream, thereby transforming NOx into harmless water vapor and nitrogen gas. Given the level of sophistication that engines will have to undergo to meet these new EPA rules, expect a higher upfront cost for new vehicles.

“For the average truck buyer in 2010, there will be increases on average of $6,000 to $8,000,” says Brian Tabel, retail marketing manager for Isuzu Commercial Truck of America, Cerritos, California. “One of the bottom lines behind the 2010 new emissions standards is this increase in cost, and the buyer will want to recognize this increase and know what to expect.”

Yes, the term “increase in cost” sounds bad, but you will be able to recoup much of these costs over time through fuel efficiency alone. It also helps to put things into perspective if you take a look at the whole picture. This is not a spontaneous, radical change that was suddenly dumped on the industry. In actuality, there has been a gradual shift happening in the automotive industry for the past two decades to get our engines to where they will very soon be.

One of the main reasons for this shift is diesel engines. Diesel engines are notoriously known for burning an unseemly amount of NOx. Oxides of nitrogen are known to cause smog formation and damage to the ozone layer. They have also been linked to respiratory diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis.

But we also know that diesel engines are a great resource for lowering your fuel consumption.

This is a very practical benefit—especially when you consider today’s gas prices.

“Diesel has always been well regarded for its fuel economy,” says Todd Bloom, vice president of marketing for Isuzu. “But finding a way to cut back on emissions was absolutely crucial.”

“There’s been a continuous shift in reduction of NOx emissions since 1988,” says Rob Cadle, manager of product planning at Isuzu.

From 2004 to 2007, NOx emissions were cut by one-half.

In 2007, the level of particulate matter from engine emissions was drastically reduced. According to legislation, any particulate matter that was allowed to emit from the engine could be only 1/10 of what was allowed prior to 2007. “Basically, this allowed for no visible smoke to come out of the engine,” says Cadle.

The 2010 models feature the final step in the EPA’s effort to minimize our exposure to NOx emissions. If the environment is a concern to you or your customers, the 2010 new emissions standards will help put those concerns to rest. Any new trucks you buy will make for a cleaner and overall more efficient fleet. “From a marketing perspective, you’re working in an industry that I think has a certain responsibility to the environment,” says Bloom. “People used to look at the exhaust that comes out of truck engines and say, ‘Oh, look at all those dirty trucks everywhere!’ But starting next year, the exhaust will be no dirtier than the air it goes into.”

But the buck doesn’t stop there. In addition to upgrading their engines to make them more environmentally friendly, companies are also tacking on a number of upgrades and improvements to their vehicles.

Owners can also retrofit a DPS/catalytic converter to their older trucks to bring them up to 2010 emissions standards. In areas such as California, where local governments have mandated that all older diesel trucks must convert to new emissions technology within several years, such a device is quite handy. The downside is it’s also quite costly.

“Retrofitting a DPS onto your vehicle will cost about $10,000,” says Tabel. “That will buy you about four to six years of service for that vehicle before you’ll then have to retrofit it with a NOx aftertreatment device, which is an additional cost.” Given how pricey retrofitting is, you might be best off simply buying a new truck—at least for the time being.

But emissions aren’t the only aspect of the truck industry that’s getting an upgrade. Truck companies are pulling their weight to offer the safest, most durable and most efficient product they can.

Dodge-Chrysler’s 2010 line of Dodge Ram chassis cabs will feature the largest industry standard fuel tank, able to hold 52 gallons. These trucks will also feature an all-new optional integrated trailerbrake controller, variable-valve timing for an improved fuel economy of up to four percent and much more. “Dodge’s ‘new crew’ of trucks is built on a road-tested, proven suspension system,” says Roger J. Benvenuti, newsroom spokesman for Dodge-Chrysler, Auburn Hills, Michigan. “Our heavy-duty trucks will be available for the first time in crew-size cab models.”

Ford, based out of Dearborn, Michigan, is also adjusting to the demands of today’s modern day consumers. Its newest addition to its F-Series Super Duty trucks will feature a 6.7-liter Power Stroke V-8 turbodiesel-charged engine. This will enable it to deliver more torque, horsepower and fuel economy. It will also allow drivers to haul more equipment while burning less fuel.

“Our all-new diesel engine has been so extensively tested both in the lab and in the real world that we’re confident we’re giving our customers the most reliable and productive powertrain available today,” says Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of Ford’s Global Product Development.

The 6.7-liter Power Stroke uses “inboard exhaust” architecture. “This is an automotive first,” says Kuzak. It will combine the best of proven technology with new labtested technology. The engine will be stronger than many others in its class, made of compacted graphite iron. Its reduced weight will help increase the torque and horsepower of the vehicle. And because of the engine’s turbocharger capabilities, drivers will no longer have to physically remove the frame of the vehicle to gain access to the turbo.

Isuzu, meanwhile, is making similar strides to increase the overall performance of its trucks. They will be built with stronger connecting rods and pistons than ever before. The trucks will also feature an improved combustion performance, making for a more reliable, longer-lasting and more fuel-efficient vehicle.

Isuzu’s new 4HK1 engine is designed to last for 310,000 miles, says Bloom. “In this case, it will last for 10 years if you’re putting 30,000 miles a year on it. Chances are, if you’re buying a truck, you want it to last. We’ve built an engine to accommodate this sentiment.”

The last several years have ushered in a number of improvements for vehicles made by all companies. Electronic Stability Systems (ESS) is among the foremost of improvements. If your truck should happen to veer away from the direction you’re steering, ESS will apply anti-lock brakes and throttle until the vehicle corrects itself.

Trailer Sway Control (TSC) is another popular (and safety-conscious) feature. TSC will kick in and apply anti-lock brakes should it happen to detect a shift in vehicle balance. This is very handy for when you’re driving along curves in the road, where you run the risk of the truck and the trailer drifting away from one another in different directions.

Already, companies such as Isuzu have made ESS and TSC standard features for their vehicles. It’s only a matter of time before such safety features become a standard for the entire industry.

Variable displacement technology is another popular feature being used today. This will allow the truck to operate on half of its cylinders when it’s carrying a relatively light load, thereby cutting back on fuel consumption.

When making the decision on which truck is best for your company, always be cautious. In trying to save a few bucks, you wouldn’t want to make the mistake of purchasing a truck that isn’t built to handle all of your equipment. Furthermore, driving an overloaded vehicle can cause massive damage, and you could end up scrambling in order to make the necessary repairs.

It also pays to establish a close relationship with a dealership that you can trust. The more often you buy from one dealership, the closer that relationship will become, and the more likely you are to be offered great deals. Not only that, but your dealer will have a better understanding of your company’s needs if you come to him every time you’re looking for a new truck or are having maintenance issues.

In light of all the changes made in modern truck technology, particularly as far as the 2010 new emissions standards are concerned, it would be a good idea to contact your local dealerships and ask for brochures. Even if you don’t need to add another truck to your fleet just yet, there’s tons of useful information out there to be had.

Better to know now than to face a whirlwind of confusion later.

The year 2010 will be an exciting one for the truck industry. Not only will the trucks sport a wide variety of new features to benefit both horsepower and safety, but they’ll leave practically zero nitrogen oxide emissions in their wake.

With cleaner engines the wave of the present, now is the perfect time to take advantage of fuel-efficient diesel engines. And don’t let the initial costs scare you. As Tabel explains, “They might be more expensive to buy outright, but these engines will have a better fuel economy than ever before, and at a much lower operating cost. We think it’s the way to go.”

With cleaner engines the wave of the present, now is the perfect time to take advantage of fuel-efficient diesel engines.