The Dodge Ram pickup truck has up to 38 storage compartments.
The Dodge Ram pickup truck has up to 38 storage compartments.

To this writer's eyes, the biggest news to come out of this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit was that two major light-duty truck manufacturers introduced new models.

Last year, Chevrolet's new 2008 Silverado was selected North American Truck of the Year by the show's panel of independent journalists, and Motor Trend Magazine selected the Toyota Tundra as its Truck of the Year. This year was Dodge's and Ford's turns in the spotlight.

Despite high fuel prices and dire predictions that full-size pickup trucks are going the way of the dinosaurs, there will always be a place for a capable, competitive truck. Both new trucks, the Dodge Ram 1500 and Ford F-150, run the gamut from stark, stripped out work trucks to luxurious, full-featured full-time personal transportation. We'll skip the back-seat video players and luxury leathers and take a sneak peak at what will make these 2009 model year pickups (sales will start later this year) good for concrete producers.

The Ram 1500 starts with an aggressive look. It's based on the traditional crosshair Dodge grill, the “power dome” hood styling reminiscent of a big rig, and the forward-thrust front taken from last year's Challenger concept car. The net effect is both stylish and aerodynamic, helping fuel mileage.

Three engines will be available to match capability with needs. A 3.7-liter V-6 sends 210 hp and 235 lb-ft of torque through a 4-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual. It offers EPA ratings of up to 20 mpg highway. Most applications will use the 4.7-liter V-8. It produces 310- hp and 330 lb-ft, more than the most powerful pickups did a few years ago. It gets 18 mpg highway in four-wheel drive or 19 mpg with two-wheel drive.

Dodge also offers the big, bad Hemi for those who need extra capability. Cranking out a massive 380 hp and 404 lb-ft., it will yield the same mileage as the 4.7 or take you 0 to 60 mph in less than seven seconds.

Ride and storage round out the Ram story. Rear coil springs, a first for pickups, work with a multi-link rear suspension to improve ride regardless of load.

There are up to 38 storage compartments, from in-floor bins with liners that hold 10 12-ounce cans each, to the Rambox storage system in each bed side. The Ramboxes hold a total of 8.6 cu-ft. They have lockable lids, interior lighting, and drains.

From work truck to luxury

The new Ford F-150 comes in seven different trim levels, from the luxury Platinum Series to the XL, a down-to-earth work truck. Ford hasn't yet released power or fuel economy ratings, but all engines will be V-8s. The biggest is the 5.4-liter, 3-valve Triton, capable of running on E-85 (85% ethanol, 15% unleaded gasoline). Two 4.6-liter models are available, one with the 3-valve head, the other a traditional 2-valve. The latter has the fuel economy of a V-6 with more power. The two 3-valve motors pull through a new 6-speed automatic transmission.

In another magazine, I started a review of the Ford Super Duty, saying if I would ever buy a truck for a single feature, it would be Ford's Tailgate Step. Its pull-out, swing down step and swing up handle make it easy for anyone to climb into the bed. Now it's on the F-150, along with a new Box Side Step. It swings out or stows with a push from your foot. Each 11-inch wide step holds 500 lbs. The steps are positioned to help you lift cargo over the side of the box.

The four-door Super Crew has additional secure storage. A mechanically actuated seat flips up, allowing more than 57 cubic feet of cargo to be stowed behind the front seats. Regular Cab and Super Cab models can be had with the Midbox, 26.3 cubic feet of lockable storage that looks integrated into the bed.

Both Dodge and Ford have improved noise levels and have improved stability systems that make trailer towing safer and easier.

These are just the highlights of two of the most functional, practical and luxurious trucks that will be available soon. Optional luxury features abound, even on the basic and mid-level models. Check online or at your dealer for when deliveries will start. For me, these two were the shining stars of the show.

— Paul Abelson is a former director of the Technology and Maintenance Council of the American Trucking Association.