For business customers whose current pickup truck is worn out and needs replacing or for those recreational users looking for the next best thing, the 2009 model year promises a whole raft of new and improved pickup trucks.

Industry figures show that, while the pickup truck segment slipped from its peak in 2004 (at more than 2.5 million units annually) to almost 2.2 million sales in 2007, it is still a huge part of the business. At approximately 11 percent of the total automotive market it is the third-largest segment in the business. While 10 percent of buyers have left the segment for smaller vehicles, there are still a lot of buyers that need the ability to haul and tow items, something only a proper pickup can accomplish.

The buyer's market in large SUVs and pickup trucks is only going to get better in 2009 with the introduction of Ford's all-new F-series full-size pickup, the all-new Dodge Ram full-size pickup, and a host of new offerings from General Motors' Chevrolet and GMC divisions. These should take some of the sting out of big-truck ownership.

Chevrolet and GMC

The big news for 2009 from Chevrolet and its near-twin GMC pickup-truck siblings is the addition of a true two-mode hybrid model to each lineup, and the addition of an XFE (Xtra Fuel Economy) model to each family of pickups. In the case of the former, GM says the hybrid power train can increase city fuel economy by a whopping 40 percent, and overall fuel economy by a healthy 25 percent. Estimated fuel economy for the hybrid pickups is 21 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. GM says that, with the standard 26-gallon fuel tank, one of these hybrids can travel more than 500 miles on a fill-up, or more than 470 miles in four-wheel-drive form. For the time being, both divisions will sell the hybrid versions only as crew-cab models with special badging and decals to let your neighbors know you're doing the right thing for the planet.

The two-mode hybrid technology is exactly the same as the system used in the GMC Yukon and GMC Denali hybrid SUVs as well as the Cadillac Escalade hybrid. It consists of a starter-generator unit placed in front of the special electrically variable automatic transmission, an electric drive motor and a 300-volt nickel metal hydride battery system. It also includes control electronics and special instrument panel displays that allow the driver to monitor whether the truck is running on engine power or battery power, whether the system is charging the battery, and how much battery charge is present in the system. It uses regenerative braking to charge the battery whenever the brakes are applied, quickly turning the starter into a generator to add charge to the battery. The ABS brakes are all discs, 13 inches in diameter front and 13.5 inches at the rear. When the truck comes to a stop, the engine turns off automatically, and when the truck starts up again, it uses only electrical power to move until a predetermined throttle opening or road speed is achieved, when the engine starts up again to aid in acceleration or load-pulling. Standard features include ABS, traction control and stability control.

The engine used in the Chevrolet and GMC hybrid pickup is the same one used in the SUVs, a potent 332-horsepower, 367 foot-pound 6.0-liter V-8 with two additional features not available on the regular 6.0-liter V-8. It features late intake-valve closing, and it operates on only four of its eight cylinders when it's cruising down the highway at light loads.

The hybrid package includes a great deal more equipment, including a quieter exhaust system, a quieter intake system, electric air-conditioning that works even when the engine is off, a 42-volt power steering system, and special low rolling resistance tires in a P265/65R-18 size that offer better fuel economy and quieter operation than conventional tires.

Both the GMC and Chevrolet versions of the hybrid pickup are rated to tow 6,100 pounds for two-wheel-drive models, and 5,900 pounds for four-wheel-drive models.

GM will warrant their hybrid pickup drive systems for eight years or 100,000 miles. No pricing information on the hybrid pickup trucks was available at the time of this writing, but the hybrid versions of the Yukon and Tahoe SUVs, with exactly the same equipment and some additional cosmetics, can cost up to $8,000 more than competing hybrid SUVs.

The XFE extra fuel economy versions will be available in four of the 2009 Chevy and GMC models, the Silverado and Sierra pickups as well as the Tahoe and Yukon SUVs. Each of them will carry improvements in down-the-road weight, aerodynamic efficiency, and mechanical elements. GM says that the XFE should get about a five percent improvement in highway fuel economy and about a seven percent improvement in city fuel economy, moving up in mileage ratings from 14 city and 20 highway to 15 city and 21 highway.

XFE models will all come with a lightweight, all-aluminum 5.3-liter V-8 engine that will burn both gasoline and ethanol/gasoline blends (the so-called flexible fuels) with an efficient 6-speed automatic transmission. The engine is rated at 320 horsepower and 340 foot-pounds of torque, and the final drive ratio is a fuel-saving 3.08:1. Oddly enough, the XFE towing ratings go up, not down, from 6,600 pounds up to 7,000 pounds, due to the pulling capacity of the 6-speed transmission and a heavy-duty cooling package. High-pressure, low-rolling-resistance tires are standard on the package.

Aerodynamics plays a major role in the XFE's improved mileage. The XFE pickup trucks all come with a soft tonneau cover for the cargo bed, lowered suspension to keep air form going under the truck, and an extended front lower air dam. The new drag coefficient for the pickups is 0.412, which GM says is the best in class.

Weight reduction actions include lightweight 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels, and aluminum spare wheel replacing the usual steel wheel, plus aluminum lower suspension arms. They all come with the trailer package and an automatic locking rear differential. The XFE package for the Tahoe and Yukon is very similar, except that the SUVs use larger 18-inch aluminum wheels. Chevy Silverado's come in LT trim and the GMC Sierra comes in SLE trim only. Like the hybrids, the XFE versions come in two-wheel-drive crew cab body styles only, with special XFE badging.

On its top-line LTZ and SLT conventional pickups, GM will offers a bigger engine, the 6.2-liter V-8 with variable valve timing and flex-fuel (E85 ethanol) capability for the first time in 2009. Standard equipment has been expanded to include StabiliTrak stability control on all 1500 series trucks, a rear-view camera in the mirror, and OnStar version 8.0 with a stolen-vehicle slow-down feature.

Dodge Ram

The Dodge Ram is all new from the ground up for 2009. A new, stronger frame, new body design (featuring a new forward-leaning grille like the Dodge Charger), new, much improved interiors, and a three-engine power train lineup are featured.

Up until now, the Ram was available only in regular cab and extended cab versions with two small rear doors for access. But for 2009 the Ram will add a true four-door crew-cab, which is important since crew-cab models now represent 50 percent of the American pickup truck market. So, the Ram will be offered in regular, extended and crew cab versions, in ST, SLT, TRX off-road, Sport, Bighorn, Lone Star and Laramie trim levels, in either short bed (5'7") long bed (6'4") or very long bed (8') versions, depending on cab style, in both 2- and 4-wheel drive. A Ram R/T performance pickup, a regular-cab model with a short bed and rear-wheel drive, comes with a Hemi engine, and Dodge says it can go 0-60 mph in less than six seconds flat. Towing capacity tops out at 9100 pounds, and payload maxes out at 1850 pounds.

Ram will offer three engines: a 3.7-liter V-6 rated at 215 horsepower and 235 foot-pounds of torque; a 4.7-liter V-8 rated at 310 horsepower and 330 foot-pounds of torque; and the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, rated at 390 horsepower and 407 foot-pounds of torque. All of the models will be offered with only a 5-speed overdrive transmission. Four-wheel-drive models will be offered with a choice of either a part-time system or an on-demand system, both operated by a switch on the dashboard for selecting high or low range and locking the differentials for rugged off-roading.

An unusual rear suspension layout for the Ram provides a solid axle with coil spring, multi-link suspension replacing the more common leaf-spring suspension, a move that Dodge says will make driving an unladed truck much more pleasant.

An exclusive optional feature on the new Ram is called the RamBox, a pair of weatherproof, lockable, drainable and lighted storage bins built into the side walls of the bed for secure storage. Dodge says the total capacity of both bins is 7.4 cubic feet or 120 12-ounce beverage cans, about the same capacity as a 55-gallon drum. A flexible, storable cargo storage and management system in the bed is a new standard item.

The list of options for the 2009 Ram includes Sirius backseat TV for the kids, surround-sound audio system with AUX plug, floor storage bins with removable liners, a MyGIG 30-gigabyte music storage drive and navigation system, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system for crew cab and quad cab versions. Standard features on the new truck include luxury-car items like heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, one-touch express up/down windows, automatic headlamps and automatic dual-zone temperature control.

Unlike some of its arch-competitors, Dodge has already announced pricing for its 2009 Ram series, starting out at $22,170 for ST regular cab, $26,225 for extended ST Quad Cab models, and $32,530 for Ram Crew SLT 1500 models, on up to a Laramie crew cab 4X4 luxury truck for $44,140. All prices include a $900 transportation charge.

Ford F-150

The all-new 2009 Ford F-150 has a new three-bar grille, a more spacious interior and a wider choice of cab styles and trim levels, including a new Platinum series that brings Lincoln-level luxury to the Ford truck brand. With three cab styles, four cargo bed options, and seven different trim levels, the F-150 comes in 35 different versions. Buyers can choose from the basic XL work truck, the sport STX, the off-road specialist FX4, the middle-market XLT, and two high-end models, the loaded Lariat and King Ranch models. New for the 2009 is the Platinum series, which features a satin chrome grille with fine mesh inserts, 10-way captain's chairs in leather, tuxedo stitching and embroidered logos on the seatbacks, ash wood grain accents and brushed aluminum panels, with 20-inch, 16-spoke polished alloy wheels.

A new, lightweight heavy-duty hydroformed steel chassis allows greater towing and payload capacity for work and play. The lightweight frame delivers 10 percent more torsional rigidity. The 2009 F-150 offers a few firsts in this segment such as, standard AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control and Trailer Sway Control, with an optional rearview camera Assist, and optional integrated trailer brake controller.

Ford says the interior of the new 2009 F-150 4-door SuperCrew model offers more usable space for moving more people and gear because it has a six-inch stretch in the cab that adds rear seat legroom and cargo capacity. A mechanically actuated second-row seat flips up and out of the way for additional secure cargo hauling. Ford says the new SuperCrew has 57.6 cubic feet of space behind the front seats, more than any other crew-cab, and can accommodate items up to 47.9 inches tall.

The new F-150 features a new, two-inch-longer locking center console large enough to stow two or more laptop computers, with ridges molded in to store file folders, for those who use their trucks as offices. Ford says there are more than 30 storage areas built into the interior, including a number of smaller places for cell phones, MP3 players, or PDAs. A USB port and auxiliary MP3 player input are mounted on the dash, along with two 12-volt outlets on the dash and console. Ford will offer the Sync music and communications system, Sirius satellite radio, a voice-activated navigation system, and the new Sirius Travel Link service, and a Sony 700-watt, 10-speaker audio system with 5.1 surround sound.

The new F-150 will be powered by three modern V-8 engines, mated to either a 4-speed automatic or a new fuel-efficient 6-speed automatic transmission. In an unusual move, especially considering the economic situation, Ford will no longer offer the F-150 with either a V-6 engine or a manual transmission. The engine lineup includes a 5.4-liter, 3-valve V-8, with improved horsepower and torque, and capable of running on E85 Ethanol or regular unleaded gasoline. A 4.6-liter, 3-valve V-8 is a new engine for F-150. Both the 5.4-liter and 4.6-liter 3-valve V-8s use open valve fuel injection that improves the flow of fuel into the combustion chamber. The base engine will be the 4.6-liter, 2-valve V-8, that Ford says delivers more horsepower with the same fuel economy performance as the old V-6. Both diesel and EcoBoost gasoline turbocharged direct injection engines are planned for F-150 in 2010.

The pickup box on the new F-150 has a cargo capacity of 65.5 cubic feet, and comes with new features like tailgate and box side steps to make it easier to climb up into the bed, a storable bed extender and a cargo management system.

Suzuki Equator

The Equator is Suzuki's first-ever attempt to put a midsize pickup truck on the American market, and they have gone about it in a very different way. They paid Nissan to build the Equator for them, and to build it by adapting its own Frontier pickup truck to Suzuki's particular needs and desires. It will compete against the Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, Dodge Dakota, GMC Canyon, the donor Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma, already a very crowded field.

Built at Nissan's factory in Smyrna, Tenn., the Equator uses a Nissan 2.5-liter DOHC inline four with 152 horsepower and 171 foot-pounds of torque, or an optional 4.0-liter, V6 DOHC engine producing 261 horsepower with 281 foot-pounds of torque. Both engines are mated to either a five-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission or a five-speed manual transmission with the four. Equator will offer an optional shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system with an electronically controlled part-time two-speed transfer case. Equator will offer a complete off-road traction system, including four-wheel limited-slip, electronic locking rear differential, Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC), hill descent control and hill start assist.

The Equator's fully boxed frame features a 125.9-inch wheelbase, with an overall length of 205.5 inches. It uses an all-steel double-wishbone front suspension and solid axle rear suspension with leaf springs. Maximum towing capacity is rated at 6,500 pounds. EPA fuel economy estimates are still being worked out.

Equator offers a variety of available wheel and tire packages, including 16-inch off-road style wheels with 265/75R16 tires and 17-inch wheels with 265/65R17 tires.

Equator will be sold in Extended Cab and Crew Cab models with a bedliner and a cargo tie-down system with adjustable tracks, and five "C" section rails mounted in the bed. Removable cleats slide into the channels, providing a range of attachment points for securing cargo. Suzuki also will offer specialized bed accessories for loading, securing and transporting a motorcycle or ATV, as well as bed dividers, sliding cargo trays and modular storage units. Crew Cab models will offer an optional roof rack.

Both Extended Cab and Crew Cab body styles feature flip-up rear seats, a fold-flat front passenger seat and removable storage boxes under the rear seats. Additional available interior amenities include a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, Rockford Fosgate-powered audio system with six-disc in-dash CD audio system, optional satellite radio and MP3 capability and MP3 player aux-in jack.

As you can see, there will be plenty of pickup truck news in 2009, with the additional of hybrids, high-mileage models, and more electronic and entertainment options than ever before.

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