Oct. 1 2002 12:00 AM

When Tony Bass started his landscape contracting business, Bass Custom Landscaping, he quickly found that one of his biggest challenges was maximizing his companys productivity. Bass conducted time and motion studies and learned that much of the companys time was spent on loading and unloading trucks, hooking up trailers, etc.

What I learned was that if I improved my productivity by just 10 percent, I would gain an incredible amount of time, Bass said.

Much of the productivity gain is accomplished by using heavier, enclosed trucks, rather than lighter pickups, according to Bass. The h eavier, commercial grade trucks, are built more ruggedly, so they will run longer with fewer breakdowns than the initially less expensive, lighter models.

Consider the gross vehicle weight (GVWR) when looking at trucks. Most trucks that landscape contractors use are in the 12,000-pound GVWR and up range, though some smaller contractors, and those who are newer in the business, will often use lighter vehicles, at least initially. Other landscape contractors and truck manufacturers confirm that contractors are going to heavier, sturdier, trucks and away from the lighter pickups.

Even a two-ton truck may not be enough in some instances. Using a five-ton truck rather than a two-ton truck provides much more hauling capacity, and can reduce repeat trips on large jobs, explained Bill Akehurst, co-owner of Akehurst Landscape Service, a 127-year-old company based in Joppa, Maryland.
Though smaller trucks can be used in combination with trailers to match the hauling capacity of a five-ton truck (without a trailer), the single, heavier vehicle tends to be more durable, with lower overall repair costs, Akehurst said.

With an enclosed truck, the landscape contractor can also lock his equipment inside, meaning no loading at the beginning of the day or unloading at the end of the day, as one would have to do with an open pickup or with a trailer.

Similarly, one of the most important considerations in selecting a pickup or two-ton truck is the vehicle uptime. Thats why Bass recommended commercial-grade vehicles. Though a little more costly, they tend to include sturdier engines and other components, so theyre in service more often and longer than less expensive, non-commercial grade vehicles.

A landscape contractor should look at the largest amount he will be carrying, then size his truck appropriately, Akehurst said. Using undersized vehicles means making additional trips to and from job sites, overloading trucks which tends to shorten their useful lives or both. Akehurst added that truck tires are much more durable and dependable than trailer tires.

Contractors are also opting for cab-over designs, which reduce the length of the trucks, but not the capacity, therefore giving them better turning radiuses and maneuverability.

Landscape contractors are paying more attention to trucks designed for specific applications. Pickups offer versatility, but as a landscape contractors business continues to grow, he will often find that many pickups are too small for his needs. If a landscape contractor finds he spends too much of his time at fueling stops, he may want to add additional fueling tanks, which will reduce the total number of stops and, therefore, enhance productivity.

The warranty is also important, said Bass. I tend to favor the Isuzu, which offers a three-year unlimited warranty on the truck chassis.

Another advantage for the Isuzu and Mitsubishi Fuso brands is a much lower cost, according to Akehurst. A two-ton Isuzu costs about $8,000 less than a similar Ford truck, he says. Akehursts fleet of more than 30 two-ton and smaller trucks (he also has a smaller number of the larger vehicles) is still primarily Fords, but the cost difference has shifted most of the recent purchases to Isuzus and Mitsubishis.

Similarly, Greenscapes in Naples, Florida, replaced its fleet of Ford F-350 trucks with Isuzu NPR trucks over the last eight years. Greenscapes opted for the Isuzu models due to good fuel economy and low maintenance costs, according to the company, which puts about 15,000 miles on each truck annually.
However, even foreign truck manufacturers admit that some people will stay with Fords, GMCs or other brands once they find something they like. Also, not all manufacturers provide all types of vehicles. For example, Mitsubishi Fuso doesnt manufacture pickups.

Isuzu has set up a program with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America that enables a member to purchase a truck at three percent over dealer invoice and have it drop-shipped anywhere in the continental U.S.

Whether youre looking to expand your fleet, or just buying that one truck to run your budding business there are many choices. Having the right trucks for your business can improve productivity, decreasing downtime and repair costs. The choices are yours.

Here is a look at some of the pickups and two-ton trucks being offered by various manufacturers:

General Motors offers trucks through both its Chevrolet and GMC divisions. Chevrolets Silverado full-size pickup adds 40 new features for the 2003 model year, including interior and exterior enhancements and an advanced electrical system. The S-10 pickup features a new fuel-injection system in its Vortec 4300, 4.3L, V6 engine for 2003. A new model, the high-performance Silverado SS will be available the first quarter of 2003.

The wider front tracks of the Chevrolet 2003 Kodiak C4500/C5500 Series models permit a 53-degree wheel cut and greater stability, allowing turning diameters as low as 35.3 feet. On average, that equates to curb-to-curb turns from 17 to 19 feet shorter than in comparable competitive products, according to the company. The completely redesigned steering system and axles provide better on-center feel.

The new medium-duty trucks have been designed to provide even more reliability and durability, and are also easier to service, should repairs become necessary. A new service design integrates components into major modules within the engine compartment, allowing groups of parts to be removed by a technician either independently or in sequence, depending on how much accessibility is required.

The company is introducing a new heavy duty pickup for 2003. The all-new 2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty debuts as the most powerful heavy-duty pickup on the market and includes the companys HEMI V-8, which returns as the most powerful standard engine in the segment.

Partnering with the all-new 5.7-liter HEMI Magnum is the all-new 305 horsepower High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel, which delivers 555 lb.-ft. and class-leading GWR of 23,000 pounds.

With a standard 5.7-liter HEMI Magnum V-8 and an available Cummins Turbo Diesel, Dodge Ram Heavy Duty trucks live up to their reputation as the most powerful, the longest lasting and the most capable line of pickups available, said Darryl Jackson, vice president of Dodge Marketing. The combination of those attributes with very competitive pricing, the big rig styling introduced on Ram 1500 and exceptional interior packaging, make the new Dodge Ram Heavy Duty the benchmark of the heavy-duty segment.

The 2003 Dodge Ram Heavy Duty boasts the 345 horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI Magnum as standard equipment, a full 100 horsepower increase over the previous standard V-8. Ram Heavy Duty also features standard air conditioning, the largest standard wheels and tires in the segment, the largest brakes in the segment equipped with standard four-wheel disc ABS.

Dodge Ram Heavy Duty is the only truck in the heavy-duty segment to offer an industry-leading seven year/70,000-mile limited powertrain warranty. The warranty, which is fully transferable to subsequent owners at no extra cost, is provided free of charge. Components covered by the 7/70 Powertrain Warranty include engines, transmissions/transaxles, transfer cases and axles.

The higher the model number, the higher the GVWR of the Ford trucks. The E-Series trucks are enclosed models, while the F-Series offers a flatbed design for the F150, F250 and F350 models.

Ford recommends the E series and F series, starting with the 250 models, for landscape uses. Ford also offers a lighter pickup, the F150, designed for less rugged use.

The E series trucks are available in 8,600 to 14,050 GVWR classifications. Various powertrains are available. The cutaway (middle doors like a conversion van) design, offered for the E350 and E450 (but not for the 250) gives the user versatility as well as durability, according to the company.

The F250 Super-Duty truck comes in three cabs and is available as a pickup, or pickup box delete configuration. The 8,800-pound GVWR carries as much as a 3725-pound payload on an 8-foot body. The F250 Super Duty comes with a choice of a 5.4 or 6.8-liter engine, or 5.4 liter or 6.8 liter gas engine, and four-speed automatic, or six-speed overdrive manual transmission.

The F-350 truck is available in a variety of wheelbase lengths, cab and GVWR (9,900 to 12,500 pounds) sizes and with 4x4 and 4x2, single rear wheel and double rear wheel options. The four-wheel anti-lock braking system and trailer tow packages are standard on all models. The 7.3-liter engine is designed for improved fuel efficiency compared to earlier models. A gas engine is also available.

Ford also offers high capacity chassis (F450, F550 and F650) for more extensive commercial duty.

GMC launched a large upgrade package for its trucks on July 1. For the Sierra truck, the upgrades include a passenger-sensing air-bag system; dual-level air bags; advanced electrical architecture; a new family of radios and entertainment systems including the first industry application of a Bose audio system in a full-size pickup truck; and the expanded availability of the Quadrasteer four-wheel steering system.
The Vortec V8 engine offers 300 horsepower and 360 pounds of torque to aid economy and drivability. New oxygen sensors reduce emissions during cold starts and draw electrical current only when needed.
GM also is introducing a new line of medium-duty trucks, the Chevrolet Kodiak and GMC TopKick. The new line of Class 4-8 trucks raises the bar on vehicle capability and durability for the commercial customer and features improved maneuverability and visibility, an expanded powertrain lineup, upgraded service, advanced chassis and braking systems, improved ride and handling and increased comfort and safety.

The company, 49 percent owned by General Motors, offers its NPR series of trucks for landscape and other contractor uses. The NPR trucks feature a low cab forward design for maneuverability, as well as a unified structure that eliminates cracks, crevices and other openings that are prone to corrosion. Additionally, anti-corrosion protection promotes a long cab life.

The rear axle distributes weight on axle housing rather than on components, reducing wear and tear. The tapered design promotes longer life for the bearings.

The cab interior itself offers a tilt-wheel with a telescopic column, giving the driver a choice of heights and angles. The cab also includes an insulated headliner and door panels for additional driver comfort.

Gas and diesel engines are available. The gas engine model features sequential port fuel injection, which increases horsepower and fuel economy while lowering emissions. The four-speed automatic transmission with lockup converter and overdrive is designed to aid drivability and fuel economy.

The diesel engine is turbocharged and intercooled to enhance horsepower and fuel economy, while glowplugs help with cold-weather starts. The NPR exhaust brake system is designed to operate automatically to prolong the life of the brakes and to make stopping easier for the driver.

Mitsubishi Fuso
Headquartered in Bridgeport, New Jersey, Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America, Inc. (MFTA) markets 10 medium-duty cabover trucks ranging from 12,000-lb. GVWR to 32,900-lb. GVWR.

The companys trucks offer a separately cooled transmission system, which helps extend the life of this essential (and expensive) system.

Mitsubishi Fuso offers standard 24-month vehicle warranty coverage, plus 36-month warranty coverage on engine components, full parts and labor, and unlimited mileage. Optional service plans are available for up to 60 months.

The optional Allison Transmission is covered by a separate, 2-year, unlimited mileage warranty by the transmission manufacturer. Depending on the model, four-speed automatic and five-speed manual transmissions are available.

The FE and FG classes serve the landscape industry, with body lengths starting at 10 feet. However, some models are not sold in California.

The trucks offer energy-absorbing steering wheels, crush bars in doors, daytime running lights and anti-lock brakes to enhance safety. The brakes also include self-adjusting drums for improved functionality and durability.

October 2002