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.

Recalling the Ram and F-150
A couple of safety issues prompted the NHTSA to recall the 2009 Dodge Ram and the 2009 Ford F-150. More than 37,000 Ram's are being recalled because of an issue in the HVAC control module with manual temperature controls, which could cause the windshield defrosting and defogging functions of the system to be inoperative. Not being able to see is a pretty serious matter so we aren't surprised at the recall. Dodge says to take your truck to your local Dodge dealer to have the control module reprogrammed free of charge.

Ford got off light with the F-150, with just 9,000 trucks needing to see their local dealer. The issue is with an improperly adjusted brake lamp switch. Improper adjustment leads to a delay from when the brake pedal is depressed to when the brake lights actually illuminate. This is a big deal in rush hour traffic when the chick behind you who's talking on her phone, fixing her eyeliner, and driving with one knee on the wheel doesn't get a clear warning that you're stopping. Under mild braking, the lights might not even come on. Dealers will inspect the switch and adjust it if necessary free of charge.

You Can't Park Here!
Driving in Boston is a bit like playing a video game, but with real consequences. The layout of the roads dates back to colonial times and as a result, you have to do a bit of stunt driving to get anywhere. This puts parking at a premium, much like any other overcrowded metropolis. How big a premium is it? Well, somebody just dropped over a quarter-million dollars for a private parking spot in the Back Bay. The $300,000 price tag was the result of a bidding war between several residents at 48 Commonwealth Avenue. That's enough to pay for a couple of houses in rural Texas. The $300,000 space isn't in a parking garage either; it's outdoors and uncovered.

In the last year, parking spaces in the Back Bay and Beacon Hill have fetched an average selling price of $134,000, Listing Information Network said. A year earlier, the average cost of a parking spot in those areas was $127,000. The number of parking space sales has also increased in the last two years, from 18 in 2007 to 26 last year.

The previous record for an open-air parking space was set in 2006, when a buyer paid $250,000 for a space behind 31-33 Commonwealth Ave.

20 Percent of Us Can't Drive: Women and NY Really Suck
A 2009 GMAC Insurance National Drivers Test revealed that 20.1 percent of American drivers wouldn't pass a written driver's test if given one today. That amounts to over 41 million people behind the wheel who don't know which way to turn the front wheels when parking their auto next to a curb on a steep hill. Last year, the failure rate was slightly lower and overall, the licensed driving population averaged at 78.1 percent score-basically a C+ if you want to get all grade school about it.

So which states suck the least? Idaho and Wisconsin driver's averaged over 80 percent on the test. New York drivers are the worst, averaging 70.5 percent or a C-.

The survey points out that the Northeast generated the lowest average test scores, men are more likely to pass the test than women, and that drivers have no clue what a yellow traffic signal means and how far they should follow the car in front of them. Want more? Older drivers are more likely to pass the test. 18- to 24-year-old drivers have the highest failure rate and white males over 45 years-old posted the highest average scores.

10 Mostly Worthless Factors
1.We've found one of two prototype development mules for GMC's fabled Syclone project truck right in our own backyard. It's in amazing shape with just 8,000 miles on the clock and Calin got to go for a ride in it. Look for a story on this machine soon in ST.

2.Ford F-Series trucks began their 29-year streak as the best selling trucks in America in 1976. Ford sold 663,429 units that year.

3.Welding is the process of melting steel to a white-hot liquid form and allowing it to cool in a single piece.

4.The most common alloys used in automobile production are: 1100, almost pure aluminum used in trim pieces / 3003, alloyed with manganese and magnesium used in sheetmetal / 6061-T6, alloyed with silicon magnesium, copper, and chromium used in frame structures.

5.According to the Used Car Reliability and Safety Guide, 1994 Edition, recall campaign number 87V126000, the late '80s was not a good year for tie rod end nuts on Chevy trucks. You should check yours if you own a truck from that era because one or both of the outer tie rod end nuts may be loose and not crimped properly. Loss of these nuts could lead to tie rod disengagement, loss of steering control, and a big crash. Don't say we didn't warn you.

6.An air cleaner was optional on the 1960 Chevrolet 1/2 ton Delray Series 1100 sedan-pickup, aka El Camino.

7.In '74, Chevy trucks equipped with the 454ci V-8 engine had just 235 ponies under the hood. The 8.5:1 compression cast iron engine's power peaked at just 4,000 rpm.

8.In '79 Chevy created the Royal Knight edition El Camino, a step up above the SS, that added a double-dragon hood decal, larger front air dam, rally wheels, and painted sport mirrors.

9.A turbocharger forces air into the intake plenum of an engine via a turbine, which is turned by gases piped in from the engine's exhaust system. Unlike a supercharger, which is belt-driven, the turbocharger adds no parasitic power losses to the engine.

10.If you feel your brake pedal pulse when you push on it, the cause is one of the following: excessive brake rotor run out or warpage, pad material buildup on rotors, loose calipers, cracked rotors, or excessive front bearing clearance.

Say What?
The staff speaks and you listen. It's that simple. This month's question is:

Do you care if a truck has an engine from another brand between its fenders?

Monica: Personally, I don't mind. Depending on budget, personal preference, and availability, sometimes the best feasible option just might be an engine from another brand. I'm a fan of creativity and innovation over brand loyalty.

Calin: Personally I don't care what engine is used to motivate a Sport Truck, unless the truck is something fairly rare. Case in point, I recently met a guy who has a very nice Syclone S-10 truck sitting in his garage. It has 8,000 original miles on the odometer and every part on it is factory fresh. Now I don't think I would have been as impressed with the truck if he popped the hood and there was 302ci Ford V-8. I think as long as you aren't messing up a matching number collectable pick up then I say go for it. I can picture a driveline lifted from a Ford Lightening stuffed into a Chevy LUV being a fun truck to drive.

Mike: I'll take creative and different over stock any day of the week and twice on Sunday, especially when it comes to engines and especially if it pisses off a collector. The more outrageous the swap the better. If you want to swap a Duramax diesel into a Dodge Ram I say go for it and screw the Cummins lovers out there. I've also got no problem with someone stuffing a Chevy into a Ford because that always causes drama at the local cruise.

Andy: I don't really care what's under the hood if your truck needs something to get it moving down the road. Go nuts and put that small-block Chevy inside a Ford F150. As long as it's loud, fast, and burns my nose hairs I'm excited about it. Perhaps the only time keeping the right brand engine in there is if you're going to do a full on restoration. Then I think you'd be silly to put something in there that's not supposed to be. I'm not so much of a purist to care too much.

Shady Bankruptcy?
Chrysler and General Motors bankruptcies may have a consequence that comes out of left field and hits current vehicle owners in the head. If approved, consumers will lose the right to sue the automaker if a factory defect results in death or injury on any vehicle purchased before the bankruptcy goes through.

Consumer advocates say that means if a seatbelt or anything else on the car fails, even though you may be hurt or even dead, you and your family will not be able to hold the car company accountable in a court of law.

Consumers who purchase a new car after the companies emerge from bankruptcy under new ownership would not lose their right to sue.

The Center for Auto Safety, National Association for Consumer Advocates, and Public Citizen, among others, all joined in on an appeal to a New York federal bankruptcy court Wednesday trying to overturn the Court's previous decision in the Chrysler case.

Obscure Vehicle Code Of The Month
Well, we've run out of slang terms so we're moving onto something even better: vehicle codes that hopefully you're not violating. If you are, take this as a warning.

Alaska Statute 28.35.320: A person in possession of a motor vehicle under an agreement in writing that requires the person to return the vehicle to a particular place or at a particular time who refuses or wilfully neglects to return it to the place and at the time specified in the agreement in writing with the intent to deprive the owner of the vehicle or to convert it to the person's own use, or who secretes, converts, sells, or attempts to sell the vehicle or any part of it is, upon conviction, punishable by imprisonment for not more than five years, or by a fine of not more than $1,000, or by both.

Just in case you got your brain scrambled from all the legalese, this code basically says it is illegal to not return a rental car to the rental company after you're done thrashing it in the snow.

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