FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and towing capacity.
Nineteenth-Century British politician Benjamin Disraeli may have said the last type of lie was statistics, but he never went shopping for a pickup truck.
Automakers can virtually make up the towing capacity they claim for their trucks and cars, rendering a key performance statistic all but meaningless.
That may be about to change.
DaimlerChrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda and Toyota are working to create a standard test for the towing capacity they advertise to attract buyers.
Ironclad standards already control the claims automakers can make about fuel economy, horsepower and torque, but each company currently sets its own rules to evaluate towing capacity. Several automakers were publicly humiliated when they got caught using inflated horsepower numbers a few years ago, but there's no universally accepted objective measure of towing capacity.
This is no small deal. Towing capacity means as much to truck buyers as horsepower and torque do to speed freaks.
Towing capacity currently works on the honor system, but there's not much honor in the cutthroat pickup market. Virtually every time a new truck hits the market with class-leading towing capacity, its rivals magically rise to match it.
"Towing capacity is an incredibly powerful marketing tool," said GM trailering engineer Rob Krouse, who chairs the Society of Automotive Engineers committee that's developing a standard towing test.
The committee, which also includes representatives of trailer manufacturers, could have the new rule in place by the end of this year, Krouse said.
"A common standard means the customer will be able to compare apples to apples. People will know what they're getting," said Peter Frantzeskakis, vehicle engineering manager for Ford's Super Duty pickups.
The standard will define the minimum acceptable performance in a number of areas that affect safety and driving comfort, including:
• Acceleration to freeway speed.
• The ability to drive at a set speed for several miles up a defined slope.
• Braking capability from a set speed.
• Handling and stability in lane changes.
The standard will also specify what kind of trailer automakers must test with and will require automakers to test with vehicles that match the models they sell, rather than testing with lightweight stripped trucks that lack common features like power seats and windows. The new standards will also apply to SUVs and cars.
"If we all test the same way, the customer can use the knowledge to make informed decisions," Krouse said. "In the end, he will get a better product."
Contact MARK PHELAN at 313-222-6731 or email@example.com.
Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.