Image: GMC All Terrain HD
General Motors
The GMC All Terrain HD concept has a V8 diesel powertrain with 397 horsepower and 765 lb-ft. of torque. It could be GM's answer to Ford's Raptor and Dodge's Power Wagon Rams, which dominate the off-road market.
By
updated 1/13/2011 12:21:07 PM ET 2011-01-13T17:21:07

The Ford F-150 SVT Raptor is one cool customer. The 4x4 pickup has a 6.2-liter V8 engine with 35-inch all-terrain tires and a screaming rear paint job that looks like it's been shredded by talons.

But the Hennessey VelociRaptor 500 is way cooler. Made by Hennessey Performance in Sealy, Texas, the 810-horsepower twin-turbo rig gets double the power output of the standard-issue Raptor. It comes with aluminum pistons, steel conrods, dual intercoolers, an electronic boost controller, a high-end engine management system, stainless-steel exhaust pipes and a transmission rated for speed and off-road fun. (All of which make for a distinctively aggressive, attention-getting engine roar.) The VelociRaptor goes 0 to 60 in 5.6 seconds. Price: $72,000.

Forbes.com slideshow: The hottest trucks of 2011

The Cadillac Escalade EXT and Toyota Tundra Sportsman Edition are two of the few trucks that can claim to be even near the same level as Hennessey's creation. And they're all on our list of the hottest trucks of 2011.

To compile the list, we spoke with analysts like Mike Caudill, president of Driven Media, and Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insights at TrueCar.com, to get insight into what to expect from the truck segment next year. We also spoke with reps from several major automakers about their most exciting trucks.

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On the sales front, trucks were strong last year, and they're going to be stronger this year. Last month every major automaker besides Mazda reported a year-over-year increase in sales of light trucks (pickups, SUVs and minivans). The F-Series LINK alone is up nearly 30 percent for the year to date; Chevrolet's Silverado is up more than 15 percent. Dodge Ram and GMC Sierra are up of 7 percent and 13.3 percent year to date, respectively.

"The truck industry hasn't been in the tank at any point over the last few years," Caudill says. "Trucks are strong. And that's really going to continue."

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All told, trucks comprise 54 percent of the auto market. They are among the highest volume and highest-profit-per vehicle segments of any automotive category — and they are outselling cars by the highest margin in nearly five years, according to J.D. Power and Associates.

One version of the bestselling GMC Sierra (the fourth-highest seller in the nation last month) makes our list this year. The GMC Sierra All Terrain HD, a concept vehicle that will debut at the North American International Auto Show this January in Detroit, has a diesel-powered V8 engine and gets 397 horsepower with 765 lb-ft. of torque. While GM maintains that it's a concept-only vehicle, it's easy to see how the Sierra variant could be an answer to the success of Ford's Raptor and Dodge's "Power Wagon" Rams, which dominate on the off-road market.

Forbes.com: 10 cars that will make it past 200,000 miles

This particular Sierra has a wider, 73-inch track for greater stability, three additional inches of ground clearance, specially constructed Fox off-road shocks with remote fluid reservoirs, and 35-inch-tall BFGoodrich KM2 "mud terrain" tires mounted on 20-inch aluminum wheels. If a production version does come out in 2012, it'll certainly grab some truck-fan buzz.

Another off-road winner is the Jeep Wrangler Black Ops Edition. This Jeep — built on a truck-chassis — is made as a special offering for fans of "Call of Duty: Black Ops," the much-anticipated Activision videogame. (The game has already made more than $1 billion in worldwide sales since its launch Nov. 9, according to estimates released last month by Activision.) The Wrangler features heavily in the video game — the real-life version comes with a Rubicon trim and alloy wheels, 32-inch tires, Black Ops logos and a murdered-out exterior. It costs $30,625 for the two-door Wrangler or $33,500 for the four-door.

Forbes.com: 10 car dealer extras to avoid

The real innovation in trucks these days isn't as obvious as an all-black videogame Jeep. It comes in the form of creature comforts and efficiency. TrueCar's Toprak says the super-efficient V6 engines in some of the Ford F-Series trucks are the prime examples of this — and the changes inside the truck, despite being less flashy than a total redesign, are paying off in sales.

"If you use a gas-efficient engine on a full-size truck, Ford can get those people who might be postponing a decision because the gas prices are too high and they can't justify a purchase," Toprak says. "If you tell them, ‘Hey this truck can actually save you money on gas,' that might get them."

Forbes.com: Wild winter road trips

Ford has also done well to improve the interior fit and finish of its trucks and to make standard many items previously considered luxury upgrades. Bluetooth capability, navigation systems, XM radio, heated seats, and remote-start, among other amenities, are turning vehicles like the Ford F-Series Platinum into luxury vehicles in their own right. They're even being cross-shopped with SUVs.

Those efficiency and interior upgrades will be even more apparent in 2011 and 2012, Caudill says: "Trucks have come a long way. They're only going to continue to get better. "

Lucky for us.

© 2012 Forbes.com

Explainer: Ten electric cars for the coming year

  • Think
    Think plans to sell its City electric car in the U.S. in 2011.

    Not so long ago, electric vehicles were woeful. They were fringe models sometimes with no back seat, a short driving range or no amenities, or they were exorbitantly expensive converted gasoline-powered cars.

    The idea of visiting a nearby car showroom to buy an electric car from a car company that might still be in business a year down the road was unheard of, until now. The first modern, mainstream electric vehicles are coming to market in 2011. Here are some of the options that will really, truly be available to car shoppers in most areas of the country in the next year ahead.

  • Nissan Leaf

    KAZUHIRO NOGI  /  AFP - Getty Images

    The battery-electric Nissan Leaf is hitting dealers in limited regions now, with a nationwide rollout to come in 2011. Nissan has invested in battery manufacturing plants with the expectation of selling a half-million electric cars a year worldwide. That will mean a proliferation of Nissan and Infiniti electrics in varying sizes and shapes to suit customers who might not want a funky-looking subcompact like the Leaf. The Leaf starts at $32,780 before any tax credits.

  • Chevrolet Volt

    Bill Pugliano  /  Getty Images

    “Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly.” It’s a popular safety admonishment, but the electric car equivalent could be “Never drive farther than your extension cord can reach.” The Chevy Volt addresses the fear of running low on battery charge with no power outlet nearby by including a gas-powered generator on board to propel the car to the next charging station. Like the Leaf, the Volt is in mass production and is on sale now, so you can buy one from a nearby dealer. It costs $41,000 before tax credits.

  • Ford Focus Electric

    Ford  /  Wieck

    The Focus has been a popular compact model in recent years. So when an electric version arrives in Ford showrooms toward the end of the year consumers will already be familiar with the Focus name and driving experience, but they will have the option of enjoying that sans gasoline. A 23 kilowatt-hour battery pack should give the Focus about the same driving range as the Nissan Leaf, but in a more spacious, mainstream model.

  • Ford Transit Connect

    Ford  /  Wieck

    For even more space, electric car intenders can opt for the Transit Connect Electric minivan. This vehicle is aimed at commercial customers who make delivery runs over a pre-defined distance before returning to a base to recharge, but with an 80-mile range the Transit Connect could also do soccer mom carpool duty. But you can probably forget using it for the holiday drive to Grandma’s house or a summer vacation trip unless those destinations are nearby. Ford has already started delivering electric Transits to fleet customers, but retail pricing still isn’t available.

  • Mitsubishi I-MiEV

    STAN HONDA  /  AFP/Getty Images

    Mitsubishi “electrified” one of its tiny Japanese domestic market “kei” segment minicars, but found that global customers found it too claustrophobic. So in late 2011 the company will launch a version that is four inches wider, allowing the I-MiEV to feel more like a real car and a bit less like a Smart ForTwo that’s been stretched to seat four people. This car will cost less than $30,000 before any tax incentives, so it could be the least expensive battery electric on the market.

  • Honda Fit EV

    Honda

    The Fit won’t reach showrooms until 2012, but like the preceding models it will come from an established carmaker that can provide sales and service from a nearby dealer for most customers. The Fit will have the same 100-mile range as most cars in the battery EV segment, but it offers three driving modes that can improve acceleration or driving range, depending on the program selected. The electric drive motor is derived from the one in Honda’s FCX Clarity fuel-cell car, and the Fit EV can reach a top speed of 90 mph.

  • Tesla Roadster

    Tesla

    Tesla is not a longstanding traditional car maker, but the company is building credibility by steadily delivering it zippy two-seat sports cars to customers. The Tesla Roadster is tiny and holds only two people, and it has a six-figure price tag, so most buyers are wealthy consumers who are adding an electric plaything to their personal fleet. That means the Tesla Roadster is probably not doing a great deal to solve the world’s energy problems, but it has served a useful role in advancing interest in electric vehicles and it is helping to establish the Tesla brand name as the company plots more mainstream models.

  • Fisker Karma

    Damian Dovarganes  /  AP

    Like the Chevrolet Volt, the Fisker Karma backs up its battery pack with a gas-fueled generator. Like the Tesla Roadster, the Karma has an exclusive price tag that will preclude its widespread use as a commuter car. But the Fisker Karma does help illustrate the point that electric-powered cars need not be tiny, or funny-looking. And while Fisker is a new, unproven brand, founder Henrik Fisker has earned respect in the industry over the course of his career as a designer, and he has inked a deal for the Karma to be assembled by a Finnish contract manufacturer that has also built cars for Porsche, so this company probably isn’t the flash in the pan it might appear to be.

  • Think

    Think

    Speaking of Nordic companies, Think is a longtime electric carmaker from Norway that Ford briefly owned during its acquisitive days. The company has since regained its independence and is selling the latest version of its tiny four-seat City electric car in Austria, Norway and the Netherlands. Think plans to sell the City in the U.S. in 2011, so keep an eye out for availability, but don’t expect to find a dealer in every town as with the established carmakers.

  • GEM

    GEM

    GEM doesn’t stand for Golf carts Everywhere Manufacturing (it is actually Global Electric Motorcars), but its little machines are built on a scale closer to that of golf carts than of real cars (even the Think City and Mitsubishi I-MiEV look menacingly large by comparison, and those cars meet all federal crash safety requirements). GEM’s neighborhood electric vehicles are good for tooling around a corporate campus or running neighborhood errands on streets with low speed limits, and their comparatively low price tag (starting at $7,500) makes them an appealing option if you only expect to use your electric car for these sorts of uses.

Photos: Production models

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  1. Volvo’s C30 electric crash test display is shown during the media preview of the 2011 North American International Auto Show at the Cobo Arena in Detroit. Volvo is hoping to burnish its reputation for car safety at the event, which features over 30 debuts of vehicles made by automakers from around the world. The show is open to the public from January 15 to 23. (Paul Sancya / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A model poses in front of an Audi A7 during the media previewfor the show. (Mark Blinch / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. The 2011 Jeep Compass is unveiled. Chrysler Jeep is celebrating its 70th year in 2011. (Mark Blinch / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A Chevrolet Corvette, right, and a 2011 Corvette ZR1 sit on display. (Kamil Krzaczynski / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The 2011 Ford Explorer, winner of the 2011 North American Truck of the Year award, on display at the 2011 North American International Auto Show. (Rebecca Cook / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Volvo’s Electric C30 car is powered by a lithium-ion battery and can be charged from a household power socket. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Venturi’s high-voltage buggy concept includes a 300-horsepower engine. (Paul Sancya / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. The new Dodge Ram 3500 truck is equipped with a powerful 350-horsepower engine. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The 2011 Camaro RS convertible. (Rebecca Cook / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A model poses next to a Dodge Charger Hemi. (Tannen Maury / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The 2011 Dodge Challenger SRT8 392. (Rebecca Cook / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The new Chevrolet Sonic small car will go into production later this year for the 2012 model year. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Porsche returns to the 2011 North American International Auto Show with the Cayman R sports car. (Paul Sancya / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The new Bentley Continental GT will launch from standstill to 60mph in just 4.6 seconds and has a top speed of 197 mph. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Toyota Executive Bob Carter introduces the Prius V midsize hybrid-electric vehicle, left, and the Prius C concept, right. (Paul Sancya / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Ford's Mark Fields introduces the Ford C-MAX electric vehicle. (Tannen Maury / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Dr. Martin Winterkorn, Chairman of Volkswagen Management Group, introduces the new Volkswagen Passat. (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. The Porsche 918 RSR sports car Has a V8 engine that delivers 563 horsepower and can jump to 767 horsepower with the push of a button. (Friso Gentsch / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Audi introduces the new A6 Hybrid. (Scott Olson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A model poses next to the Ferrari 458 Italia. (Kamil Krzaczynski / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. The BMW 650i convertible is unveiled. (Mark Blinch / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. The Mercedes Benz SLS AMG E-Cell has four electric motors (one for each wheel) and can accelerate to 60 mph in 4 seconds. (Paul Sancya / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Ford’s President and CEO Alan Mulally presents the Ford Focus ST. (Tannen Maury / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Ford’s Executive Chairman Bill Ford introduces Ford’s electric lineup: (Left to right) the C-MAX electric car, the Transit Connect electric truck, the Focus electric car and the C-MAX hybrid. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. The interior of the Buick Verano, GM’s first upscale compact car for a luxury brand, is shown. The Verano is GM’s only new model to debut at the event. (Geoff Robins / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. The Chrysler 300, once a hot-selling sedan, is redesigned with a sleeker look. (Tony Ding / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Tom Stephens, vice chairman of General Motors, holds up the 2011 North American International Auto Show Car of the Year trophy, which this year was awarded to the Chevrolet Volt. (Paul Sancya / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Two of the new Mercedes Benz C Class vehicles are shown at a Mercedes Benz event the night before the official start of the media preview event. (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Michael Price cleans a Cadillac CTS-V coupe race car on the show floor. (Rebecca Cook / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
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    Above: Slideshow (29) On the catwalk in Detroit - Production models
  2. Image: GMC Sierra All Terrain HD Concept
    Paul Sancya / AP
    Slideshow (12) On the catwalk in Detroit - Concept cars

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