Truck makers continue to cater to the contractor’s needs, making it easier to work in the field and use the truck as another tool of their business. That’s because truck makers know their small-business customers have a mixed use for their products. Without extra cash to spend on several vehicles, more and more contractors use their vehicle as a combination of a family weekend vehicle as well as a week-day work vehicle.

“As our personal-use truck market has dropped off, we now see people are wanting a really nice truck for themselves they can also use for work,” says Nataé Rayner, Toyota Tundra product marketing manager. “So we are actually getting a lot of commercial business from small-business owners who are ordering our double-cab and crew max configurations, still making them look very nice for personal use, but using them to tow equipment and materials from place to place. It’s a combination of work and personal use coming together as one.”

Solutions and Packages

Since the mobile office has been around for a while now, last year Ford introduced its Ford Work Solutions on the Ford F-150 and the Super Duty. This product has been enhanced for the 2011 model year that launches next month with four different elements to the package. The first element is an automotive grade, in-dash computer. Designed to function in different types of environments a work truck might go into, the computer also contains Bluetooth connectivity, both a touchscreen and wireless keyboard, a navigation system, and the ability to access a desktop back at the office to make changes to an invoice and print it right in the truck.

The second of four features is Tool Link. This uses RFD technology to bar code each tool. If the tool is not within the box of the truck, the receiver will not pick it up. Once a driver hops into the cab and punches up the inventory list, it will immediately tell the driver if all the tools are in the truck and, if not, which ones are missing.

“It’s all about maximizing their time on the job, and the truck is obviously as big part of that as a tool in the remodeling toolbox,” says Brian Rathsburg, F-Series Super Duty marketing manager for Ford. “A lot of these guys are in their trucks all day long. It’s their mobile office, so it’s got to be comfortable and accessible. That’s where the Ford Work Solutions becomes a terrific feature for the contractor.”

The third feature of the Ford Work Solutions is called Crew Chief, which is more for a larger remodeler that has several people out in the field. It’s basically an onboard device that allows one truck to keep track of where all the other vehicles are. It tracks vehicle location and other key data such as excessive speed, fuel consumption, idle time, driver performance and more. This information is accessible through any computer because the program is Web based.

The final element is called Cable Lock which is attached to the side of the box. It allows a remodeler to run a cable through all of their tools and it’s basically like a very robust, fancy bike lock. This solution is designed to keep things safe when leaving the jobsite or securing them overnight.

Enhancements to Nissan’s Titan for the 2010 model year include revised equipment packages and content — including a new SE Value Truck Package with cloth captain’s chairs, tow hitch, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, fog lights and more. Other key 2010 enhancements include the addition of standard side and curtain supplemental air bags, Vehicle Dynamic Control and standard Active Brake Limited Slip (ABLS) on all models and two new exterior colors — Blue Steel and Navy Blue. 

Toyota has separated its truck solutions into four different packages. The higher level packages are the Platinum and Limited Grades. The Limited includes leather seats, upgraded audio systems and 18-in. fully chromed alloy wheels, while Platinum adds a memory seat functions, DVD navigation system, backup camera, perforated leather and wood style interior trim.

“Work Truck is our least expensive truck and we offer it in the regular and double cab,” says Rayner. “What it consists of is a no frills, very simple truck for the person who wants the vehicle truly for a work truck. It has manual windows and door locks. You can get washable vinyl bench seat and rubber floors so it’s easy to clean. There is a basic black bumper on the outside and the interior is a plain black.”

With the Work Truck package, there is still the option of either the 4.6-liter or 5.7-liter engine, in both 4×2 or 4×4 versions, and it comes standard with six-speed automatic. The truck will tow 10,800 lbs., so if there is a lot of equipment that needs to be hauled, this truck can do it.

“When we were first researching Work Truck, people wanted a no-frills, powerful, capable-to-tow truck,” adds Rayner. “But then we found that in some cases for the work environment, some of the frills needed to be added back in, like keyless entry, power windows and what not. So we’ve tried to tailor what we’ve done to the truck the last few years. But we’re also trying to fill that niche of the basic work truck that not everyone offers.”

The last package Toyota offers is the Tundra Grade, which is one step up from the Work Truck package. This comes with a utility center counsel that becomes a mobile workstation with places to hang files, slide in a laptop, places for business cards, pens and pencils, plus clips to hold in papers. This package comes with a chrome bumper and chrome grille, for an enhanced exterior look and also has a choice of both engines and different towing capability.

Some of the accessories Toyota offers include bedliners, a cargo divider that can moved anywhere in the bed to hold cargo up against the cab or tailgate, a bed extender that pulls out over the tailgate, and a deck rail system that has cleats on the edge of the bed that can move back and forth to be used with tie-downs to secure big equipment. There is also under-seat storage. By flipping up the back seat there is a container that will hold things to avoid leaving them out in the open in the truck. This storage area runs the length of the backseat.

GM has a new accessory available this year called Autonet Mobile that makes a vehicle into a Wi-Fi hotspot. It will handle up to 10 separate computers or cell phones, and it allows a remodeler to go to a work site or on a sales call and access the Internet through a laptop. Because it creates a hotspot, there is a distance range so that a contractor isn’t tied to the cab of their vehicle.

What is Available

Ford currently carries two versions of the F-Series truck. There is the light-duty version, which is the F-150, 1/2-ton truck. That comes in a variety of different wheelbases and cab configurations and engines. Its bigger brother is the Super Duty, which are the Ford 3/4-ton and 1-ton trucks. The heavier duty truck options contain three different cab styles and multiple engines. Next month Ford will be launching a new version of the Super Duty that will include the new 6.7-liter diesel power stroke along with the 6.2-liter V-8 gas engine. Both of these engines will have not only best-in-class capability in terms of horsepower and torque, but best-in-class fuel economy as well.

Ford also offers two different van options for the commercial market. The first is the full-size E-Series with a flexible door system that permits doors to be held open at 105 degrees and opened to 178 degrees with a simple push. Among available options for this van is the Ford Work Solutions, SIRIUS Travel Link, rear backup camera and a flex-fuel capable V-8 engine in either 4.6 liter or 5.4 liter.

The second van is the Ford Transit Connect. Brought over from Ford’s European operations, this van has low operating and ownership costs, a fuel-efficient 2.0-liter engine, 135 cu. ft. of cargo space, a 1,600-lb. payload capacity and is also Ford Work Solutions capable.

Nissan Titan full-size pickup is once again offered in King Cab and Crew Cab body styles with a choice of 4×4 and 4×2 drive configurations and in four well-equipped models — XE, SE, PRO-4X and LE. All 2010 Nissan Titans come equipped with a standard 317-hp., 5.6-liter V-8 engine and five-speed automatic transmission. Titan is also available as a Flexible Fuel Vehicle designed to run on E85 Ethanol.

GM’s work vehicles really begin with the light trucks, Colorado and Canyon from Chevy and GMC, which are available in regular, extended and crew cabs as well as different chassis cab models. Moving up to the full-size pickups are the Silverado and Sierra, available in half-ton, three-quarter-ton and 1-ton in all three cabs, as well as chassis cabs.

“We’re overhauling our heavy-duty lineup, which are our three-quarter- and 1-ton models, to give them more capability, more power and more fuel efficiency,” explains Dan Tigges, product manager for full-size trucks at GM. “To make them a more user-friendly vehicle there are a lot of improvements to the frames, suspension and chassis. They’re going to allow you to carry the heavy loads, but still have a very comfortable ride.”

The other major players in GM’s offerings are the full-size vans, the Savana and the Express, which are available as passenger vans, cargo vans and cutaways. The Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana both have remote vehicle start, are E85 capable on 4.8-liter, 5.3-liter and 6.0-liter engines. The 2500 and 3500 models receive the Hydra-Matic 6L90 six-speed automatic transmission and revised rear axles.

The Chrysler Group is offering five vehicle lines that fit the varying needs of the residential remodeling industry: Dodge Grand Caravan Cargo Van, Dodge Dakota, Ram 1500, Ram 2500/3500 Heavy Duty and Ram 3500/4500/5500 Chassis Cab.

The Dodge Grand Caravan offers commercial-tuned ride, heavy-duty load leveling suspension and Flex-fuel (E85) capable V-6 engine to offer maximum hauling capability, while technologies including Electronic Stability Control (ESC) and Tire-pressure Monitoring (TPM) for added safety and peace of mind. Available technology features include SIRIUS satellite radio, hands-free Uconnect Phone and Uconnect Navigation with voice commands and real-time traffic monitoring.

The 2010 Ram Heavy Duty is available for the first time in a crew-size cab model — providing Ram with a formidable entry in the highest volume part of the heavy-duty pickup segment. These trucks are available with 6.7-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel which produces 350 hp at 3,000 rpm and 650 lb.-ft. of torque at only 1,500 rpm. The 6.7-liter meets the most stringent of 50-state emission requirements and includes a segment-exclusive standard exhaust brake. The standard 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 delivers 383 hp at 5,600 rpm and 400 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm and features variable-valve timing for greater efficiency and performance. The ride of these vehicles has been greatly improved over previous generations with retuned suspension components.

What to Look for

Certainly value and more importantly fuel economy is at the top of the list of things that remodelers should be considering when looking for a vehicle. Commercial users also want a vehicle that has been proven reliable, with capable towing and payload capabilities, but it’s also going to be a vehicle that can be operated every single day. Riding and handling fit right into that, as do the little things like step-in height and the height to load things into the back of the pickup. Sometimes people don’t think of those things when they first buy a vehicle, but they have an impact when used every day.

“Remodelers should really be looking for good value,” says Tigges. “The vehicle is a tool, and it’s important to look at the life-cycle cost. What is it going to cost to buy? What is it going to cost to operate? What is the resale value? Overall it’s important to look at the big picture and find a good value for a good tool.”

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