Say Goodbye To Factory-Backed Monsters
If you're in the market for a big freakin' truck, you'd better open up your wallet and sign on the dotted line ASAP because General Motors is about to dump its medium-duty truck business for good. For the past four years, GM has been trying to sell the business, which builds the GMC Topkick and Chevrolet Kodiak commercial trucks. You remember the Topkick, right? It's the truck that we did donuts in back in our February '07 issue. It's the biggest, baddest truck that'll still fit in a standard parking spot. It's an expensive, outrageous, and dead nuts perfect example of American excess. Of course, we love it.

Sales of the medium-duty truck segment dropped 30 to 40 percent from 2007 to 2008 and have dropped by a similar percentage so far this year. The Flint, Michigan, assembly plant will stop producing both big rigs by July 31st, 2009. The plant employs 2,100 people but also makes Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups. Last year, the factory built 22,000 medium-duty trucks and 73,000 light-duty pickups. Medium-duty trucks normally are built for commercial use such as dump trucks and tow trucks. GM's main U.S. competitors in the segment are Navistar International Corp., Isuzu, Freightliner, Volvo Truck, Peterbilt, Kenworth and Mack. Company spokesman Jim Hopson said 398 people work on the medium-duty assembly line, and GM is working with the United Auto Workers union to determine what happens to them.

"We'll continue to try our best to keep the employment levels as high as possible," he said.

GM also has another plant near Dayton, Ohio, which is a joint venture with Isuzu, and which makes engines for the Topkick and Kodiak, as well as for pickups and heavy-duty trucks. GM says the staffing of that plant, which employs 544, is under review.

Diesel's Out, Hybrid is in
Like GM, Dodge has put the diesel-powered version of the half-ton Ram truck on the backburner. But, the hybrid version of the Ram will be debuting in dealer showrooms in 2010. The Ram will feature the same two-mode hybrid drivetrain found in the Silverado, which was co-developed by GM, Mercedes and BMW.

GM is supplying Chrysler with the advanced two-mode transmissions, an electronically variable gearbox housing two 60kW electric motors that can power the truck on their own up to about 25 mph, depending on driving conditions. As the multi-displacement 5.7L pushrod Hemi V-8 gas engine kicks in, the electric motors will seamlessly support it, individually or in tandem, at low and high speeds, helping the engine enter fuel-saving four-cylinder mode sooner and stay in it longer to achieve maximum gas mileage. Regenerative braking is used to capture energy that would normally be lost during braking or deceleration. The energy is stored in the batteries for later use.

The GM full-size hybrids can tow up to 6,100 pounds. The Ram should be able to tug the same payload.