You see them every day. They deliver your mail, rescue your car, and move life's essentials across your town and our country. These are America's Hardest Working Trucks. Hundreds of thousands of these trucks do their duty every day, but few motorists know anything about these wheeled pachyderms.
The United States Postal Service operates the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world, with approximately 220,000 units. Over 142,000 of these are the ubiquitous rolling bricks called the Grumman Long-Life Vehicle (LLV). Standard LLVs were built atop a Chevrolet S-10 pickup chassis. The LLVs were produced from 1986-1995, and 99-percent of the originally ordered trucks are still making their appointed rounds.
A one-cent increase in the cost of fuel translates into millions in additional operational costs, according to Wayne Corey, Manager Vehicle Operations. The USPS is always looking for ways to save fuel so it's testing two fourth-generation Chevrolet Equinox hydrogen-powered, emissions-free fuel cell crossovers. Other vehicles in the USPS fleet use battery power, propane and biodiesel.
If you've traveled to Europe, you've seen the ubiquitous Ford Transit Connect trundling down motorways or parked in alleys. The Transit Connect, a proven workhorse is going on sale in the U.S. now. The compact van is much smaller than Ford's full-size E-Series van, but still provides a huge interior (135 cubic feet of cargo space) and a large payload (1,600 pounds).
Aimed at American small businesses, the front-wheel-drive Transit Connect uses a version of Ford's 2.0L four-cylinder found in the popular Focus. With the four-speed automatic, performance is peppy while delivering 22 mpg city, 25 mpg highway. Versions with solid panels or windows are available, and a built-in computer is part of the optional Ford Work Solutions option.
Traditional medium duty trucks come in a staggering array of sizes designed to provide business owners and fleet managers with the perfect platform to build their ideal work truck. For generations, the mighty Ford F-Series line has included vehicles like the F-750. Pick a chassis and engine then take it for fitment as a car hauler, dump truck, or dozens of other applications.
With a 6.7-liter Cummins six-cylinder diesel engine, the F-750 can have as many as 325 horsepower and a staggering 750 lb.ft. torque -- about six times that of a Ford Transit Connect. However, the F-750's gross vehicle weight rating top out at 37,000 lbs., more than seven times that of the Transit Connect. Big jobs require big trucks.
If you must have a bow tie at the front of your truck, act now, because General Motors is getting out of the medium-duty truck business at the close of 2009. The biggest Kodiak is the C8500, and after a major redesign in 2008, is a fully modern and capable vehicle. Its 7.8-liter diesel can produce as much as 860 lb.ft. torque.
Some driving environments favor the more compact dimensions made possible by a tilt-cab design. You've likely seen T-Series Chevrolets and the similar GMC Top Kick trucks in metro areas across the country. These trucks are actually Isuzu models that are branded by Chevrolet and GMC, but they have proven themselves tough and ready to work, offering capacities up to 56,000 pounds.
Delivery giant FedEx transports packages to and from airport hubs using a variety of vans that are sourced from many different manufacturers. Freightliner is one of their major suppliers, and models are equipped with gasoline and diesel engines from big names in big engines. Many current trucks use a 175 horsepower 5.9-liter six-cylinder diesel from Cummins.
FedEx recently added 92 converted hybrid delivery vans to its existing fleet of 172 hybrids already on the road. The greener vans—essentially giant Toyota Priuses—improve fuel economy by 44 percent using the 200-horsepower 6.7-liter Cummins diesel and an Eaton hybrid-electric system. The system uses a motor/generator and lithium-ion batteries. FedEx now operates the largest hybrid fleet in the country.
UPS maintains an enormous fleet of vehicles. While all UPS trucks may appear similar, there are dozens of configurations based on size and body style. The most common versions use chassis from Freightliner, Dodge and Workhorse. Bodies come from Dodge, Morgan Olson and Utilimaster. Diesel engines are supplied by Cummins and International. Cargo capacity is often around 1,000 cubic feet.
Fuel is a major cost for delivery companies. To lower fuel costs and the company's sizable carbon footprint, UPS is testing a fleet of seven vans that use a hydraulic hybrid system. The van's diesel engine charges a hydraulic accumulator instead of turning a drive shaft. This accumulator also captures energy as the van slows. Stored hydraulic fluid is used to turn the rear wheels. Energy savings are nearly 50-percent over a conventional diesel van.
Just as with passenger cars and light-duty trucks, there are many medium-duty truck manufacturers. Hino trucks (pictured) are produced by a division of Toyota in West Virginia. Navistar not only builds semi tractor big rigs that compete with Mack and Kenworth, but smaller medium duty trucks as well. The Navistar Citystar is a tilt-cab, while the Durastar is a traditional front-engine cab design.