Tailor-made Trucks

Look out of your office window right
now and there’s probably one sitting in your parking lot. Maybe it’s a
half-ton pickup truck loaded with ladders, paint and tools.

might be a beefy, medium-duty chassis cab shuttling a crew of
landscapers, the back bed outfitted with a stake body, shovels, leaf
blowers and plants. In fact, one of those trucks in that lot is
probably yours. Long ago, pickup trucks moved into the consumer market,
along with nearly every commercial industry imaginable.

Professionals just have a natural need to transport extra people,
materials and equipment. With the help of a well-built, do-it-all
truck, contractors can carry almost any cargo in their 6- or 8-ft bed,
as well as transport a crew of co-workers. Utility trucks make up the
backbone of almost every construction and landscape fleet today. Some
use them to tow equipment such as skid steers. Some simply haul dirt
and mulch. Some tow equipment, haul dirt and transport a crew. Every
professional has a unique need.

“This is not by any stretch of the imagination a cookie-cutter
business,” explains Phil O’Connor, Super Duty marketing manager with
Ford Motor Co. “The number of truck combinations we build is in the
billions. We do that specifically because we know there is such a
variety of customer usage. If [customers] spend some time thinking
about how they’re going to outfit their truck, they can order a truck
that’s built specifically for their needs.”

And that’s great news because it means your perfect truck is out there.
Right? Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Dodge, GMC, Isuzu, Nissan, Mazda —
somebody can make that chore truck you’ve been dreaming about. But
which one? Brands are as numerous as model choices and options. In
2004, in just the pickup segment (what’s considered Classes 1-3), about
2.3 million trucks were sold.

“It’s been growing every year since 1999, and it’s grown fairly
substantially,” says Joe Veltri, director of Dodge Truck marketing and
product planning. And that’s just the three smallest truck segments in
the industry — out of the eight in the total truck market. Today,
trucks are categorized by a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating or what’s more
commonly called GVWR. The GVWR is the maximum total vehicle weight of
the truck and what it can safely carry. There are eight categories of
GVWR, ranging from compact pickups (Class 1, which is 0 to 6,000 lbs of
GVWR) all the way up to mammoth semis (Class 8, which is 33,001 lbs and
up GVWR).

Truck Terms:

Understanding the nomenclature surrounding truck specifications will
help you greatly as you shop around to buy a new vehicle. When visiting
your truck specialist, drop some of the terms below and look like a
pro. Note: These definitions were taken directly from the National
Truck Equipment Association’s Web site. Visit them at www.ntea.com.

1. Cargo Weight Rating

The value specified by the manufacturer as the cargo-carrying capacity,
in pounds, of a vehicle, exclusive of the weight of the occupants, computed at 150 lbs times the number of designated seating positions.


Abbreviation for Gross Axle Weight Rating. The value specified by the
vehicle manufacturer as the load-carrying capacity of a single axle
system, as measured at the tire-ground interfaces.


Abbreviation for Gross Vehicle Weight Rating. The maximum total vehicle
weight, measured at the tire-ground interfaces, for which the vehicle
possesses components adequately rated to safely carry. It cannot exceed
the sum of all GAWRs.


Abbreviation for National Truck Equipment Association Inc., the trade
organization representing the truck body and equipment industry. Established in 1964.

5. Payload

The weight of the commodity being hauled. Payload capacity is computed
by subtracting the completed weight of the

vehicle (including driver and passengers) from the GVWR.

6. Platform/Flatbed

Load-carrying bed with or without removable sides. May be equipped with
hydraulic cylinders to tilt and slide platform.

7. Vehicle Maximum Load on the Tire

The load on an individual tire that is determined by distribution to
each axle its share of the maximum loaded vehicle weight and dividing
by two.

8. Wheelbase (WB)

Horizontal dimension from the centerline of the front axle to the
centerline of the rear axle on a single-rear-axle truck chassis;
measured from the centerline of the front axle to the centerline
mid-way between the axles on a tandem-rear-axle truck chassis.

But even more important than GVWR to commercial customers are the
payload and towing capacities of a truck. How much can this puppy carry
in its bed and how much can it tow? Luckily, when it comes to hauling
compact equipment (a machine that’s typically 10,000 lbs and below), a
pickup truck will suffice. You can strap a Gehl 6640 Skid Steer Loader
(7,900 lbs operating weight) on a trailer and haul it with a 2006 Chevy
Silverado 1500 (up to 10,400 lbs of towing capacity). That same truck
still has a payload of 1,632 lbs and room for a few friends to ride

And if a pickup can’t do the trick, then you can always move up to the
medium-duty, commercial truck segment. You could get a hefty chassis
cab truck like a GMC TopKick C4500 and outfit it with a dump body to
haul yards of gravel and a few skid steers. Of course, the buying
formula becomes a little more complex when you move up to those big
commercial trucks.

“When you get away from your typical pickup truck, it gets very
complex,” says Paul Loewer, GM manager of medium-duty marketing. “You
really need a salesperson who knows the commercial industry and the
medium-duty industry to spec those things out for you.”

So before you even think about jumping up to the medium-duty segment,
compact equipment owners should first consider the immense market of
pickup trucks. From compacts to full-size, pickups offer commercial
users a wide range of great designs, celebrated brands, extra options
and competitive prices.

The Pickup Party

Pickup trucks have a long and rich history in the U.S. automobile
market and the American culture in general. It started about 100 years
ago when all three big U.S. automakers (Chevy, Dodge and Ford) began
making pickup trucks for the U.S. market in the first quarter of the
century — from 1905 to 1925.

Ford just celebrated 100 years of service of commercial trucks. Ford’s
commercial vehicle heritage began in 1905 with a converted 1905 Model
C, powered by a 10-hp, two-cylinder engine. The first Chevrolet trucks
went on sale in 1918, the same year that the Chevrolet Motor Co. became
part of General Motors. The first Chevrolet truck was the Model 490
Light Delivery — a half-ton rated 490 pickup based on the 490
automobiles. From 1924-27, the original Dodge Brothers Co. built a
3/4-pickup offering.

Fast-forward 80 years and the pickup truck segment is enormous. Beyond
the big three mentioned above, Toyota, Nissan, Isuzu, Mazda and brands
like GMC are all also making pickups for the U.S. consumer and
commercial markets. These small pickups are categorized into separate
sizes — compact, mid-size and full-size pickups. When considering GVWR,
all three sizes fall into the first three class categories:

Class 1 0-6,000 lbs

Class 2 6,001-10,000 lbs

Class 3 10,001-14,000 lbs

The compact and mid-size pickups generally fall into the Class 1
category above. In fact, the terms compact and mid-size are being used
almost interchangeable these days.

“What happened was that the nomenclature several years ago was compact
pickup truck. You had things like a Ford Ranger and Chevy S10, which
were fairly small trucks,” explains Veltri. “But if you look at that
segment today with the Chevrolet Colorado, Dodge Dakota, Toyota Tacoma
and Nissan Frontier — they’ve all gotten bigger. So today the new
nomenclature is mid-size truck.”

Compacts and mid-size trucks tend to sport a towing capacity of 6,000
lbs and below and a payload capacity of 1,700 lbs or below. GMC
Canyons, Dodge Dakotas, Nissan Frontiers, Ford Rangers, Chevy Colorados
and SSRs and Mazda B2300s through B4000s are all considered compact or
mid-size pickups. These trucks range in base price from around $12,000
to $18,000, stripped-down. Add creature comforts and amenities and they
can easily jump up to $25,000 to $30,000. Compacts and mid-size trucks
offer more maneuverability and better gas mileage than their full-size
counterparts. The trade-off, of course, comes in towing and carrying

So for many professionals in the pickup industry, full-size trucks are
the most economical and efficient option. Full-size pickups can carry
both crews and equipment in comfort, whereas compact or mid-size trucks
might have size and power limitations. Full-size pickups are divided
into three distinct sizes — half-ton, 3/4 ton and 1 ton.

“When you get into full-sized trucks like [Dodge] Rams, [Ford] F-Series
and [Chevrolet] Silverados, there’s what they call a half-ton, which is
a Chevy 1500, a 3/4 ton with our 2500, and a 1 ton, which is the 3500
designation. So we use 1500, 2500 and 3500 for Chevy. Ford uses the
150, 250 and 350 as their designators,” explains Loewer.

Most full-size trucks fall into the Class 2 GVWR category — 6,001 to
10,000 lbs of gross vehicle weight. Payloads tend to range from 1,800
to 4,300 lbs and towing capacity typically ranges from 7,000 to 19,200
lbs. Base models for full-size, half-ton trucks start around $16,000 to
$23,000. Of course, a 1-ton pickup with a quad cab and dual rear wheels
will start pricing around $35,000.

Dodge Rams, Chevy Silverados, GMC Sierras and Ford’s F-Series are the
major full-size pickup lines on the market. Nissan came out with its
first full-size, half-ton pickup called the Titan in the 2004 model
year, and Toyota introduced its half-ton Tundra in 2000. All of these
full-size pickups come with a growing array of options and choices —
from transmissions and engines to cabs and towing packages. But before
you can build your perfect pickup, you will need to take your truck

Building the Perfect Pickup

Trucks are complex machines. If you were to tear your pickup apart, you
would find a core collection of parts and systems spread out over your
shop floor — the chassis, bed, axles, engine, cab, brakes, tires,
transmission, radio, seats and emission systems. As a buyer, you will
be challenged with a similar task when purchasing a truck. Not only do
you have to choose a certain truck size and model, but you will also
have to pull together many of its parts and systems — like choosing the
right engine for your towing application or selecting a bigger cab size
for your crew.

Obviously, you will need to do a little reflecting. You will need to
ask yourself a few questions about your truck’s intended applications.
Where are you going to drive this truck? How many people will you
transport each day? What are you going to be towing and hauling? How
much will it all weigh? How are you going to load it? Where is the load
typically placed? How far do you normally drive? Are you going uphill
or downhill? Are you hitting headwinds or tailwinds? Is the truck for
work, personal use or both? There are wide range of questions that
should help you focus the applications and requirements for the pickup
you want to buy.

“[Customers] need to be considering their application and their
duty-cycle. Where they’re going to run with their truck and what
they’re going to be doing with it,” says Todd Kaufman, assistant
F-Series marketing manager for Ford Motor Co. “Transmission, axles,
wheels, tires, axle ratios — those are all just one piece of the puzzle
when choosing a truck. What you have to do is put together the entire
package with your application.”

A dealer is a great person to bounce questions and ideas off of. Once
you both begin to nail down some concrete applications and spec
requirements for your pickup, you can begin to tinker with some of the

A good place to start is the engine — the heart of your pickup. Compact
and mid-size pickups typically come with four- and six-cylinder gas
engines, while full-size pickups tout bigger six-cylinders, V8s, V10s
and even diesels. Take the Dodge Ram 1500 for instance. It comes with
three engines choices — a 3.7-L V6, 4.7-L V8 or a 5.7 HEMI V8. The
Dodge Ram 2500s and 3500s come with either a 5.9-L Cummins turbo diesel
or the 5.7-L HEMI V8. When deciding, ask your dealer about key engine
characteristics like horsepower, torque and pulling power. Also, be
sure to research fuel economy. A good engine should give you the
horsepower and torque to pull your load, yet still provide a good value
on miles per gallon. If you’re like most folks these days, you will be
looking at the diesel engines.

“The diesel comprises three quarters — 75 percent — of our Super Duty
sales today,” says O’Connor. “The diesel is very popular with the
personal use market, although we’re seeing a higher number of
commercial users buy diesels every year. We’re definitely seeing diesel
popularity increase.”

Traveling along the drivetrain of the pickup, buyers should also be
inspecting their transmission choices. Do you want a manual or
automatic transmission? Do you need 2-wheel or 4-wheel drive? Many
pickups also offer options like limited slip, locking differentials and
electronic traction control.

“The primary transmissions that go on these trucks industry-wide are
automatics. However, there are applications where manual transmission
may be more applicable,” explains Loewer. “There will be situations
where you’re doing some real heavy hauling, where it’s a lot of
start/stop or when you’re in hilly terrain. By definition a manual
transmission is much more durable than an automatic in these

Both engine and transmission are key components when considering your
truck’s towing and hauling needs — and so are axles and axle ratios.
Check your specs and you will notice your pickup has front and rear
axle ratings, called gross axle weight ratings. The GAWR is the value
specified by the vehicle manufacturer as the load-carrying capacity of
a single axle system, as measured at the tire-ground interfaces. A
Nissan Titan has a front gross axle weight rating of 3,300 lbs and a
rear gross axle weight rating of 3,800 lbs. Having a good balance of
axle weight on your pickup is important, as is picking the right axle

But what’s an axle ratio?

Well, it’s a specification that tracks the turning of the drive shaft,
rear axle and wheels on your pickup. There are three main axle ratios
on most pickups today — 3:42, 3:73 and 4:10. So, if your truck has a
4:10 axle ratio, that means your drive shaft will turn 4.1 times in
order to turn the rear wheels once. Why does axle ratio make a

“You have to think about it from the engine’s perspective,” notes Tim
Cavanaugh, GM marketing product manager. “The engine is having to run a
higher RPM in order to make the rear axle turn at the same speed for a
4:10 compared to a 3:42. The simplified version of what happens is that
you undoubtedly eat more gas with a 4:10 than you would with a 3:42.”

Of course, a 4:10 axle ratio will give your truck more speed and better
pulling power from a dead stop with a heavy load. But if you’re more
concerned about fuel economy, you might want to consider moving to a
3:73 or a 3:42. “The average axle is going to be a 3:73,” says
Cavanaugh. “It’s between the high torque and the high fuel economy.
It’s the most common out there for a pickup.”

Beds, Cabs & Comfort

Once you’ve debated the essential internal systems of your pickup, you
will need to move on to more external features. Going from the inside
out, your pickup truck will offer a sundry of outfitter options —
things like cabs, creature comforts, bed sizes, tires and various
paints and color schemes.

For a professional, cab size and bed size are of vital importance in
the commercial pickup’s blueprint. Most manufacturers have two bed size
options: 6- and 8-ft boxes.

“Traditionally, [manufacturers] offer somewhere in the neighborhood of
a 6-foot box — some are 6 feet, 3 inches some are 5 feet, 8 inches.
Then there is a long box, which is an 8-foot box because some people
need it for trailering and hauling extra building materials,” explains

In front of that bed sits the cab. The cab is where the driver and
workers will hopefully be traveling in comfort from jobsite to jobsite.
Most pickups today have the option of three different cab stylings —
regular, extended and crew cabs.

  1. Regular Cab — A truck that has one bench seat or two bucket seats with no second row seating or storage area.
  2. Extended Cab — A pickup that provides bench seating in the front, as
    well as in the back. But the back seating is small and geared toward
    short rides or extra storage space.
  3. Crew Cab — A truck that sports a full second row of

    seating with four doors that swing open.

it comes to traveling comfortably with a group of workers day in and
day out, crew cabs are the growing choice for contractors.

“We’re seeing a migration up in cab size,” says O’Conner. “Our crew
cabs make up half of our total sales now. Many of these commercial
customers, who are buying this as a commercial truck, are using it as
their family vehicle, as well as their work vehicle.”

To truly get an accurate assessment of the cab, buyers really need to
jump inside the truck to test ergonomics, leg space, headroom and seat
styling. Once inside the cab, a buyer can also inspect the pickup’s
bells and whistles.

Air conditioning, leather seats, CD players, OnStar systems, speaker
configurations, amplifiers, cruise control, auto locking, keypad and
keyless entry — there are a wealth of creature comfort features

Companies such as Ford are even seeing a lot of success marketing
premium-grade pickups like its Ford Lariat and King Ranch models. These
trucks are the ultimate in the heavy-duty luxury pickup experience. The
King Ranch is outfitted with Castaño leather seating, two-tone paint,
16-in. aluminum wheels, automatic temperature control, moon roof, six
disk CD changers and a myriad of other high-end items.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if you want it stripped down or opulent;
buyers have the choice of designing a pickup truck that fits their
exact needs as a professional. And once you’ve figured out all of your
important application requirements, you can finish your search with
cosmetic details like color and styling.

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating

Gross Vehicle Weight Rating is the maximum total vehicle weight,
measured at the tire-ground interfaces, for which the vehicle possesses
components adequately rated to safely carry. Trucks are classified by
eight different GVWR categories, listed below.

Truck Classification by GVWR

Class 1

Class 2

Class 3

Class 4

Class 5

Class 6

Class 7

Class 8

0-6,000 lbs

6,001-10,000 lbs

10,001-14,000 lbs

14,001-16,000 lbs

16,001-19,500 lbs

19,501-26,000 lbs

26,001-33,000 lbs

33,001 lbs +

Medium-Duty Trucks

For most compact equipment owners, a pickup is just the right tool for
their transportation needs. When it comes to hauling small machinery,
like a mini excavator or a tractor loader backhoe, a pickup truck has
adequate towing capacity. But pickup trucks are definitely limited in
size and strength. If your crew needs a larger and more powerful set of
wheels, a medium-duty size truck is the next step up.

Medium-duty trucks fall into the Class 4 through 7 categories — 14,001-
to 33,000-lbs GVWR. Heavy gooseneck transports, big livestock trailers,
flatbeds and dump bodies, medium-duty trucks are the versatile
workhorse of the truck family tree. These are large commercial trucks
built with only a cab and chassis, ready to be outfitted with whatever
body you need — stake beds, aluminum boxes, dump bodies, flatbeds,
vacuum units, water tankers, man lifts and anything else you can dream

But why would a small contractor move up to such a big truck? For
starters, more power, more versatility, more options and more

“There’s an argument that there’s much more durability in vehicles when
you start getting into the Class 5 trucks — a [Chevy] C4500 or 5500 or
in Ford’s case an F450 or F550,” explains Loewer. “If you’re going to
be hauling heavy equipment occasionally, something from 10,000 to
12,000 lbs on a drag-behind trailer, you’re probably fine with a 1-ton
pickup. If you’re hauling this everyday and it’s going to be 10,000 to
12,000 lbs worth of equipment, from a longevity standpoint, you’re
probably better off with a Class 5 truck — a C4500-type vehicle. The
medium-duty is designed around the fact that this truck is going to be
hauling or pushing all the time. From a longevity standpoint, you’re
better off sizing up.”

Popular commercial, medium-duty truck brands include GMC’s TopKick,
Chevy’s Kodiak, Ford’s F-450 through F-750 Series and a whole host of
International and Kenworth commercial vehicles. According to reports,
Dodge will also be entering the medium-duty segment again soon. These
trucks are distinguished by their bigger sizes, larger brakes, more
durable transmissions, heavier frames and engine choices with names
like Cummins, Caterpillar and Duramax diesels (GMC and Chevy still
provide a big block gas engine).

Transmissions range from 5- to 13-speed manuals to automatic 4-, 5- or
6-speed units (mostly Allisons). Front suspensions start at around
6,000 lbs and go up to 16,000 lbs; rear suspensions start at around
12,200 lbs and go up to 45,000 lbs. The choices in medium-duty trucks
are varied and many — weight classes, frames, suspensions, axles,
tires, transmissions, cabs, body design and so much more.

The best advice CE
can give you is to go talk to a medium-duty truck dealership and ask
for the commercial truck specialist. They can get you started on
discovering all the options in the vast medium-duty realm, so you can
begin to create a medium-duty truck that’s tailor-made for your exact

“Every single customer has a
unique need,” says Larry Savage, F-Series chassis cab marketing manager
for Ford Motor Co. “And we try to fill that need with as wide of a
product range as we can offer.”

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