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Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne talks truck wars, Chinese vehicles, and electric and autonomous vehicles at the 2018 Detroit auto show with Detroit News autos team writers Ian Thibodeau and Nora Naughton. Tom Gromak, The Detroit News

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Trucks are Detroit’s secret weapon. With low gas prices and big spaces, Americans bought nearly 3 million large and mid-size trucks last year. King F-series, with upper trims pushing $80,000, led the way with nearly 900,000 in sales. Cover the rear box and call ’em Ford Expeditions and Lincoln Navigators, and the pickup foundations pull in even more money as mega-utes. Toyota’s Tacoma had the midsize market all to itself until Honda (Ridgeline), Chevy (Colorado) and GMC (Canyon) rediscovered it. Now here comes Ford with a reinvented, mid-size Ranger. Keep on truckin’, America.

Chevy Silverado

What it is: Chevy’s long-awaited response to rival Ford’s turbo-V-6, all-aluminum F-150 is bigger, V-8-driven ... and made of steel. Well, the bed and chassis, anyway. Doors, hood and tailgate are aluminum — part of mixed-metals approach that puts the Chevy on a 450-pound diet, tipping the scales as lightest in class. The Silverado gets a more-sculpted exterior, bigger interior, three more trims (eight total) and a 3.0-liter, diesel V-6 for its six-engine lineup.

Payne’s take: Expect more anti-aluminum bed TV commercials! Speculation ran rampant after F-150’s revolutionary conversion to aluminum skin that others would follow suit to meet federal mpg standards. Nope. Silverado doubles down on roll-formed, high-strength steel for its biggest-in-class bed. Silverado also out-geeks the F-150 with a segment-first remote-controlled, auto-drop tailgate. One thing the two titans do share — a co-developed, 10-speed transmission.

Ram 1500

What it is: The last visage of Dodge is scrubbed away as the Ram’s grille ditches the signature cross-hair grille. In its place is a more SUV-like grille that integrates the air intake and headlights. Remade from the ground up, the 1500 light-duty retains Ram’s smooth-riding coil-spring rear suspension and side-bed storage bins — but adds a mild-hybrid, 48-volt battery-system to assist its V-6 and V-8 engine options for better torque (read towing) and fuel efficiency. Inside, RAM augments its best-in-class Uconnect infotainment system with a Tesla-like 12-inch touchscreen.

Payne’s take: Ram has been a style leader in pickups, and the new 1500 forgoes the giant grilles of its competitors for a sleeker look aimed at more efficient aerodynamics. That efficiency runs throughout the truck as the Ram loses 225 pounds (like Silverado, it keeps its steel bed) and adds battery-assist for its engines — a development also seen on Ram’s corporate cousin, the Jeep Wrangler. Love the big touchscreen — alas, it’s only an option on the upscale trims.

Ford F-150 diesel

What it is: An oil-burner will be under the F-150’s hood for the first time (Power Stroke diesels have long been a staple of the heavy-duty F-series trucks). The 3.0-liter V-6 comes out of the box with a bigger torque number than the rival Ram diesel (440 pound-feet vs. 420) and will also try and best its rival’s 27-mpg fuel-economy number. Available only in top trims — Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum — the diesel will come with at least a $3,000 upcharge.

Payne’s take: The diesel’s grunt and fuel efficiency are worth the engine’s price premium if towing is your thing — and Ford has long boasted best-in-class towing stats. With Chevy also introducing a diesel into its 2019 Silverado, the Big Three pickups will go head-to-head for stump-pulling supremacy. Ford’s engine is shared with Land Rover and made in England.

Ford Ranger

What it is: The Ranger will return to the market as a 2019 model after an eight-year hiatus. The pickup continued to be a top-seller internationally, but the Ranger platform had to be significantly upgraded to meet U.S. crash standards and customer expectations. Such as? A class-exclusive, frame-mounted bumper and 10-speed transmission (mated to same 2.3-liter turbo-4 found in the Mustang). More toughness is available in the FX-4 trim with steel bash-plates and electronic locking differential for serious off-roading.

Payne’s take: Ford comes late to the mid-size market after it bet big on the all-aluminum F-150 to satisfy U.S. fuel economy rules. Ford must play catch-up in the red hot mid-size pickup segment to rivals Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon and will bring tech touches like blind-spot alert system with trailer coverage. Ford’s betting plenty of urban dwellers want a smaller pickup for weekend getaways and the F-150 Jr. should get their attention.

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