Dec. 13 2012 07:37 PM
Trucks aren’t just a means of transportation. They are a contractor’s personal ware- house on wheels. Whether you’re running heavy or light-duty vehicles in your company’s fleet, commercial trucks have the same function for the contractor that toolboxes have for the handyman—except they’re much bigger.

Most likely, the largest expenditure your company will make is for its vehicles. Purchasing these trucks takes a whole lot of research, evaluation and careful consideration.

Your rolling stock requires a major investment, so you want to make sure that the vehicles you’re buying, renting, or leasing fit your company’s needs.

“You have to ask yourself, what’s the best truck for my needs? What am I going to use it for? What kind of environment is it going to operate in?” explains Todd Bloom, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America. “How many miles a year am I going to put on it? What will it cost me to operate and maintain the truck? All of these are considerations that should be made when you’re ready to buy a truck.”

There are a variety of types of trucks, and a number of manufacturers to choose from. You need to determine whether you want a pickup or a cab-over-engine (COE). If you choose a COE, do you want a basic body or one that’s tailored to the landscape market?

Your trucks can be major branding tools as well. Not only are your vehicles more than just portable ware houses, they’re also rolling billboards.

According to Craig Prunty, owner and CEO of All Oregon Landscaping, Inc., “First impressions are critical in our marketplace and throughout all businesses. How is anyone going to recognize and remember your company’s name, if you do not properly endorse your company, your crews’ clothing, vehicles and equipment?” Your vehicles are your most visible advertising asset. Think about it— when they’re on the street, your truck probably gets seen more times in an hour than your website might in a day. With the right logo, your vehicles are working every minute that they’re in the field.

Another factor to consider is fuel economy. With the fluctuations in gas prices, have you thought about the possibility of using alternative fuels like diesel, compressed natural gas (CNG), liquid natural gas (LNG) or propane? More and more landscape contractors are purchasing or outfitting their fleet vehicles to handle alternative fuel sources.

“Over the winter, we’re probably going to convert two of our four irrigation trucks to propane,” says Bill McWilliams, chief operating officer of Columbia Landscape, LLC in Columbia, Missouri. “Our director of irrigation puts a lot of miles on his truck, so we’re definitely going to do his. We’ll gradually convert pickup trucks over to propane as the payback dictates.” These alternative fuel options not only make your company ecologically compliant, they can save you some fuel dollars as well.

Saving consumers money has been a main focus for automobile manufacturers, and they are continuing to make changes to their vehicles to ensure better fuel economy. Especially notable for 2013 is the abundance of bi-fuel engines that run on compressed natural gas (CNG), as well as more propane engines and hybrid-electric drive powertrains.

Pickup trucks 

Several modifications have been made to the 2013 models. For example, the popular Ford F-150, the same venerable model that’s been around for a while, will now sport a new front-end design, along with a new grille, high-intensity discharge headlamps, power-telescoping and power-folding trailer-tow, and side-view mirrors.

While the Ford F-150 has been on the market for decades, it now comes in 10 models; you can choose from single cabs or double cabs, and the choice of engines ranges from a 3.7L V6 engine with 302hp, to a V8 engine with 411hp.

The F-650 (a medium-duty vehicle) will feature a powertrain specifically for the gasoline engine, although the F-650 is also available with a diesel engine. The 6.8L, 375hp V10 Triton engine has a 6-speed automatic transmission with double overdrive gears, and can run on gasoline, CNG, or propane.

Chrysler’s Ram trucks division’s big news for 2013 is the overhauled Ram 1500 pickup. It features the Torque- Flite 8, an 8-speed automatic transmission that replaces the 4-speed model. The replacement is said to significantly improve fuel economy without sacrificing any of the truck’s power. The new 3.6L Pentastar V6 offers 42 percent more horsepower, and allows for at least 20 percent better fuel economy than the 3.7L powertrain.

The Chevrolet Avalanche will see its last year of production with a special edition dubbed the Black Diamond Avalanche. This commemorative model is equipped with a Vortec 5.3L V8 engine, capable of 320hp. It comes with a fuel-efficient Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic transmission, and an active fuel management system.

During mandatory testing required by the federal government, the Hydra-Matic appeared to show approximately six percent better fuel economy. All Chevrolet vehicles that have 6-speed automatic transmissions will be equipped with powertrain grade braking.

GMC’s 2013 Sierra can be purchased with a 4.3L V6 with 195hp, or a Vortec 302 hp 4.8L V8 FlexFuel, or a Vortex 5.3L V8 FlexFuel with 315hp. It will also be equipped with powertrain braking.

The Sierra Hybrid model will be available in new colors. It will continue to be equipped with a 6.0L V8 LZ1, with 332hp.

Cab-Over Engines (COE)

But maybe you aren’t looking for a pickup. Maybe you, like many other landscape contracting companies, have decided to focus your spending on a COE rather than a conventional pickup for your crew.

“They have a longer life cycle because they’re heavy-duty trucks, in terms of how they’re built,” says Bloom. “They have better maneuverability, and a smaller turning radius than a normal car. When you’re sitting in the cab, your line of sight comes into focus much closer to the vehicle, which is important for safety purposes.” If you’re one of the many who are choosing a COE, you’re in for a treat, Bloom says, especially with the greater visibility.

Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America (MFTA) has revamped its Canter COE lineup. All new Canters will come standard with dual batteries, as well as a factory-installed PTO wiring harness. The harness is designed to receive an optional, matched control switch that makes a connection to optional PTOs easy.

The Canter is equipped with a 4P10 Diesel Compact 3L design, a 2- stage turbocharger and piezo injectors for high torque and fuel economy. The engine can produce 161hp, and 295 lb.-ft. of torque.

Also featured is a DUONIC 6- speed automated manual transmission. Although this is the first automated transmission to be featured in a commercial vehicle, the technology has already proven itself time and time again in race cars.

The DUONIC combines the economy of a manual transmission with the convenience of an automatic, and eliminates any torque interruption between shifts. The automated transmission also offers the advantage of ECO mode, which upshifts ahead of time in heavy traffic, in order to consume less fuel. According to the manufacturer, the Canter series can attain 12.331 mpg.

Certain commercial Isuzu trucks will undergo changes. The NPR gas model, powered by a 6.0L Vortex V8 gasoline engine, delivers 297hp. The engine comes mated to a 6-speed automatic, with double overdrive. The NPR will also be available with a 5.2L Isuzu 4HK1-TC turbocharged intercooled diesel engine that produces 215hp. This model is mated to an Aisin A465 6-speed double overdrive automatic transmission system with lockup torque converter.

Their NQR series and NPR-HD series will be equipped with a 5.2L Isuzu 4HK1-TC turbocharged and intercooled diesel engine, offering 215hp. This model as well is mated to the Aisin A465 6-speed double overdrive automatic transmission system with lockup torque converter.

Also available is the NPR ECO-MAX, which has a turbocharged, intercooled diesel engine, and is mated to an Aisin A460 double overdrive automatic transmission system with lockup torque converter. The new ECO-MAX achieves up to 20 percent better fuel economy than the previous generation.

An alternative fuel model, the NPR-HD N-Series, comes equipped with the GMPT L96 V8 Vortec 6000, capable of 297hp. This model also features a 6L90 6-speed automatic transmission with a double overdrive converter.

A new model has been introduced by Hino Trucks USA. The Class 5 COE model 195 is equipped with a 5L J05E series diesel engine that has a selective catalytic reduction emission control system and generates 210hp with 440 lb.-ft. of torque.

A hybrid mode, the Class 5 COE 195H, is built with a parallel hybrid propulsion system that uses regenerative braking to charge a bank of nickel metal hydride batteries. Coupled with what Hino calls its “hybrid adaptive control system,” it allows for improved fuel efficiency by as much as 30 percent. The 195H comes equipped with a J05E- TP diesel-electric hybrid engine, with 210 hp and 440 lb.-ft. of torque.

Fuel Economy Whether it’s rolling out a brand new model, or updating the traditional models, there are all sorts of enhancements that have been made with every manufacturer. The focus is on fuel efficiency, and lower maintenance costs, while being more productive for drivers to operate.

As gas prices slowly approach the terrifying price of $5 per gallon throughout the country, and options like hydrogen fuel and electric engines still in their embryonic stage, automobile manufacturers are focusing their efforts on fuel efficiency.

One of the ‘trends’ in truck manufacturing right now is equipping commercial trucks with engines that can run on compressed natural gas (CNG).

This bi-fuel strategy will comfortably extend the range between fillups by—in some cases—hundreds of miles. As the term bi-fuel implies, the system provides two sources of energy to rely on: the fuel system will always start and run on CNG as long as it is in the tank, but will transparently switch to gasoline when the CNG tank runs empty.

With the current average price of CNG roughly equivalent to $1.90 per gallon, manufacturers believe that customers could save up to $10,000 over a three-year period. Moreover, according to the EPA, CNG burns much cleaner than gasoline, reducing carbon-monoxide emissions by 90 to 97 percent and nitrogen-oxide emissions by 35 to 60 percent.

However, there are a few things to consider. First, CNG-powered vehicles generally cost more to purchase than vehicles powered by gasoline. Second, filling stations that offer CNG are still not available in some areas around the country. Despite these concerns, the cost of fuel is significantly less, and because manufacturers know that’s what we want, companies are coming out with new models equipped with bi-fuel systems that are compatible with CNG.

Some GM and Ram vehicles offer bi-fuel CNG heavy-duty trucks. Ram is offering a factory-built bi-fuel configuration that is powered by a 5.7L Hemi V8 engine linked to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The CNG tank holds 260 litres of fuel (68.7 gallons); Ram claims it can travel up to 255 miles, and has a combined range for both tanks around 370 miles.

GM has a factory-built bi-fuel system for both Chevrolet and GMC extended cab and heavy-duty pickup trucks. Both the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 will feature a CNG-capable Vortec 6.0L V8 engine. GM says the trucks should attain a range of more than 650 miles.

Ford’s F-250 and F-350 Super Duty models will have a bi-fuel CNG/gasoline option. Tests have demonstrated that Ford’s use of bifuel technology allows trucks to travel more than 650 miles in range. Although Ford is expanding its range of alternative fuel and hybrid powertrain options for the F-250 and F-350 Super Duty models, it is not offered on the F-150.

What’s the best vehicle for your needs? After answering all of the questions in this article, you should be able to come up with the right answer.