Courtesy Ford Motor Co.
Ford made headlines this year with the aluminum-bodied 2015 F-150.

Over the course of 2014, Ford Motor Co. methodically teased out details of its revolutionary switch to an aluminum body and bed for the 2015 Ford F-150 pickup while its competitors responded in kind with bold new trucks that will help fleet owners operate with more productivity and efficiency than before.

With the new F-150, Ford gets credit for reinventing the pickup with its switch to an aluminum body and high-strength steel frame. Even though the lightweight half-ton pickup’s fuel economy is not necessarily best-in-class—with an estimated 26 miles per gallon on highway—capability is, with towing maxing out at 12,200 lb. It wasn’t all that long ago that you had to step up to a heavy-duty pickup to pull that much weight.

This summer, ENR also tested Ram’s EcoDiesel pickup—an idea that looks great on paper until gas prices are back at $2 a gallon. Still, fleet buyers report that Ram has been offering deep incentives to grab market share from Ford and General Motors, convincing some to take a run at EcoDiesel. Ram’s diesel also got to hold on to its bragging rights for the title of the most efficient pickup truck, with an estimated highway fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon.

Not to be outdone, Chevrolet and GMC also made news with the reboot of the Colorado and Canyon midsize pickups. These trucks packed with features that make work on the road easier, such as more comfortable interiors and WiFi hotspots. What’s more, they get up to an estimated 27 mpg on the highway, an admirable feat in a category that Detroit had previously abandoned.

Future Developments

Next year, fleets will begin to gain experience with the F-150. Some details are still being sorted out—such as whether body shops will be up to the task of fixing dents and what to do about the fact that you won’t be able to slap your company’s magnetic signs on your shiny new Ford truck. Both of these challenges likely will require help from the aftermarket.

Commercial vans are evolving, too. Fleet buyers can now have Ford’s Transit full-size van and its next-generation Transit Connect compact van. Though similar in name, each is built on all-new platforms that will make servicing the jobsite easy and efficient.

Again, Ram is going after Ford, this time with its new line of full-size and compact work vans. Keeping with the theme of confusing buyers with similar-sounding model names, Ram gives contractors the ProMaster and ProMaster City vans to ponder. The Caravan-based Ram C/V Tradesman—whose rear glass windows are swapped for solid body panels—is still sitting on dealer lots and will be produced sometime into next year.

The new lineups in the van segment wouldn’t be complete without mention of Nissan’s NV200, which competes in the compact work-van category and serves as the little brother to the Titan-based NV series of full-size vans. This leaves General Motors without a modern contractor van, and rather than starting from scratch, it is now selling its City Express, essentially a rebadged Nissan NV200, for the compact category.

Keep your eyes out for even more truck throw-downs during the Detroit Auto Show in January. We are told that Toyota is planning to introduce a next-generation small Tacoma pickup, while Nissan will showcase its full-size Titan. Both models will roll out as 2016 model-year trucks.