Ramblings for Nov. 8, 1999

November 8, 1999

Army trucks get light

While the HUMMER may be the vehicle in all the newsreels and Arnold Schwarzenegger films, military trucks do most of the work.

Now, Ford and the Department of Defense are working together to develop a lightweight, fuel-efficient tactical truck that will

have benefit for all truck buyers. Ford signed a two-year $11.2 million nonprocurement contract last month at the U.S. Army Tank Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) National Automotive Center aimed at developing lightweight, corrosion-resistant trucks for commercial and military use.

The lightweight trucks should yield significant fuel economy and cost benefits compared with current military tactical trucks as well as civilian vehicles. This has great implications since weight is the biggest drawback to improving gas mileage and it has become politically desirable to make trucks more efficient. A move to reduce the average fuel economy levels for trucks was defeated recently, but each time the vote gets closer. The Improved Materials and Powertrain Architectures for 21st Century Trucks (IMPACT) program will focus on the use of high-strength steel, laser-welded blanks and improved bonding to significantly reduce the weight of a Ford F-150 pickup.

"Lightweight vehicles have significant consumer advantages in terms of fuel economy and dynamic performance," said Ford Motor's Neil Ressler, vice president, Research Vehicle Technology. Lighter trucks will reduce fuel requirements on the road and during air shipment. Improved corrosion resistance will result in a longer service life with less maintenance. Basing tactical trucks on commercial vehicles significantly reduces cost compared to purpose-built vehicles.

Ford plans to extend the lightweight and mobility technologies to the F250/F350 platforms. In Ford's P2000 lightweight vehicle platform, aluminum is used extensively for major components such as the body and frame. Additionally, carbon fiber, magnesium and titanium are used for further weight savings. For the truck application, Ford is primarily studying the potential of steel, a more affordable material. Recently, major steel associations commissioned Porsche to lay out steel-based designs that rivaled exotic materials in weight, stiffness and crash protection. Major program participants include Ford Motor Co., the American Iron and Steel Institute, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Mississippi State University and the University of Louisville.

License-plate bingo

One of the favorite games we used to play when traveling was license-plate bingo, but the revenue-sensitive states have made this harder for today's kids. First was the variety of vanity plates, then commemorative designs, and finally, images for alumni of prominent colleges. Remarkably, more Maryland residents buy plates advertising Penn State and Duke than in-state schools.

Now, some states are including professional sports teams, and the New York State Division of Motor Vehicles is extending its offerings to NASCAR. The first features Jeff Burton, driver of the Winston Cup #99 Exide Batteries Ford Taurus. It's the first of eight custom NASCAR plates New York has planned in the near future, with seven other drivers from three different teams. Burton's plate will include his name/signature, his car's #99 surrounded by its familiar black-and-pink paint scheme, as well as the NASCAR logo. While several New York drivers compete in Winston Cup, none has been selected for this license plate series. Burton, who hails from South Boston, Virginia, is a leader in the 1999 Winston Cup points standings and a contender for the most wins this season.

Drivers can also get special-edition Goodyear Eagle #1 tires that are sanctioned by NASCAR, with brilliant gold letters on the side. Ironically, while the tires display the NASCAR logo, it is subtly hidden in black on black rubber, not the flamboyant displays that we are used to in this highly visual sport.


Bob welcomes comments or questions at bstorck@sprynet.com.

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