The 2008 Canadian Truck King Challenge
By Howard J. Elmer
The pickup truck was born down on the farm
The pickup truck was born down on the farm. The exact date is sketchy but it is easy to say that it was somewhere before 1920 when the glut of trucks produced for World War I became surplus. Now these were not pickups, but the way they were snapped up and worked made it obvious to the manufacturers – of which there were more than 100 at the time – that there was a real market for a smaller utility truck. Frankly they were not even called pickups until almost the 1930s, instead they were ‘trunk-off’ cars.
Still, all this happened down on the farm and that genesis led to the most important characteristic of any truck past or present: it has to be useful, a tool, a vehicle with a purpose. That is the legacy that we find in every truck today and it is the reason that the Canadian Truck King Challenge was started: to test trucks the way they are used.
This was how I felt when I started the Challenge and, as it turned out, how the manufacturers felt as well. For them, this event is also about winning sales in one of the largest and most lucrative markets in North America. In this game, the stakes are as high as two and a half million units annually.
Now in its second year, the Canadian Truck King Challenge is a non-partisan pickup truck testing event that is put on and judged by Canadian automotive journalists from across the country. This year, we had judges from as far afield as Alberta and Quebec as well as our first civilian judges. Collectively, they spent more than 200 hours testing these trucks and drove a series of test loops that had us drive more than 4400 kilometres in three days (the same as driving from Toronto to Vancouver).
Every year brings a different field of trucks to our test site in the Kawarthas region of Ontario, but this year saw the drop of the all-new Toyota Tundra, arguably the first full-size pickup Toyota has built, and an across the board revamp of the whole GM pickup fleet. This would be the first time the new GMT900 trucks would be tested head-to-head and with a new Tundra elbowing in for market share. And it would turn out to be a fight. Also in the running would be the Super Duty Fords (including a F450) and Dodge, though getting long in the tooth, still fielded five trucks covering the mid size through the one ton category. Nissan, which probably had the least to offer as far as ‘new’ goes, also competed in the hotly contested half ton segment. Twenty three trucks in all were entered.
Missing from this year’s lineup was Honda. The Ridgeline did compete last year without winning its class, but the company did not respond to this year’s invitation to attend. Also absent for the second year was Mazda. They have been invited and have never responded. We think that is a shame because the B-series trucks, which remain popular as one of the last compact pickups still in this market, would make a good addition to the under V6 mid size category. Mazda apparently does not agree with us.
The first day of the Challenge was taken up with eight judges driving each of the 23 entries empty on the 15 kilometre unburdened loop. This drive consists of gravel road, poorly maintained asphalt county road and finally a two lane secondary highway. Where possible, groups of judges took the corresponding trucks in each category out so as to drive them back-to-back in this first evaluation. Even now, looking at my simple description, it seems unbelievable that it took us close to 10 hours each that first day to get through those loops.
With the rain still pelting us intermittently as Wednesday dawned, it was decided to stay off the 4×4 course until the last possible hour as the mud would cause problems for all the trucks. Instead, we went to work on the payload and towing exercises. This year, we happened to have a new 2008 Jeep Wrangler on-hand which we loaded onto the twin-axle North Trail trailer that served as our tow test for the HD (heavy duty) class of trucks.
The tare weight on this 18 foot trailer is 2000 pounds and the Jeep weighed in at almost 5000 pounds for a total
of 7000 pounds. A decent load for the HD trucks.
The chief rivalry this year turned out to be between GM and Toyota. Both these manufacturers brought six trucks to compete and each had all new iron to offer. And despite the final results, with the Tundra on top, it was interesting to note that when the points were tallied (just those cast by the judges), the Silverado held a slim point and a half lead over the Tundra. Where the Tundra ended up closing the gap was on price. The winning model Toyota entered was priced at around $42,000 vs. $49,000 for the Silverado.
To even out price differences in each class, a sliding scale is used to award or deduct points based on an average price in each segment. This sliding scale is also used to award/deduct points in the Fuel, Acceleration and Braking categories.
In the case of the Silverado, that $7000 price difference is what made the difference and gave the win to Toyota. It is here, in the choice of how to equip or outfit a truck, that manufacturers can act strategically. They alone decide what version of a pickup to enter and no one, including us, knows until just before the event what exactly is coming.
This year, if the Tundra and Silverado were closer in price, say within a thousand dollars, it is likely that the GM would have come out on top.
The Toyota Tundra is the 2008 Canadian Truck King Challenge winner.
For this reason, it is important to look at the scoring spread sheets to see how the scoring was compiled for each entry (see Table 1 visit www.topcropmanager.com). Also, even among trucks which failed to win their category, you may note a very strong point score in one area. This often reflects the judges’ feelings about a particular innovation like the tailgate-mounted step on the Ford Super Duty or the new engine brake on the Dodge Cummins diesel.
In the end, Toyota took the overall winner with the Tundra as well as winning with the Tacoma in the mid size category for under V6 and over V6 entries. Still, Toyota had to share the glory with GM which took the coveted Work Truck category and swept the half ton and one ton fields – neither one of which Toyota had an entry for – but Ford and Dodge are stiff competition in these fast-growing markets.
Looking at the scores, it is easy to see that the judges were impressed with the new styling, excellent interiors and the strong combination of the new Duramax diesel and Allison transmissions. None of these contests could be called close; they pretty much walked away with these titles.
The third morning it finally began to dry up, just in time to start towing. One of the highlights this year was the 28 foot Wildcat fifth wheel recreational trailer that we had on site. While towing this trailer was not going to be part of the competition, it did give judges another experience with three of the trucks outfitted with fifth wheel hitches. In fact, this worked out so well that it may become part of the testing criteria in future years.
Tow the trailered Jeep: putting the GMC through its paces.
The bulk of the off-road and static testing took place on the last day. The first because it had finally stopped raining and the last because, after becoming familiar with the entries the previous two days, it was time to start looking at more than the driving and towing characteristics. Static testing is really a review of how well the engineers have anticipated the needs of truck buyers. Such as: how easily do the back seats fold, is there a flat floor, is it washable, are there any compartments, do they lock, how do the doors open, how wide? Then we move to the back and try the tailgate, the tie-downs, the hitch, the lighting, the liners and coatings. We then load tools, ATVs, ladders and a raft of other items just to see how they fit and how well the manufacturer has designed the box. These are the things I have never seen done in any other truck testing, but frankly they are the most important.
Ford, Dodge and Nissan failed to mount the podium this year, but each brought new and interesting features to the competition and should be recognized for their contributions and also for the fact that unlike Honda and Mazda they dressed for the game and gave it their all.
For all the details on the 2008 and past Canadian Truck King Challenges link to: