The Great American Challenge: The 40 MPGe pickup truck
That at least 3 percent of pickup truck drivers would buy
40 mpg. That’s become one of the biggest lies in the auto industry these days, but there are many cars that actually achieve 40 mpg in the real world, such as the Toyota Prius or the Honda Insight.
But what about trucks? What would it take to achieve a 40 MPGe pickup truck? A lot. In fact it would take a huge truckload of changes.
Take a top selling US truck, such as the Chevy Silverado, which also includes a hybrid version, and the depth of this fuel efficiency problem becomes quickly apparent. For example, the most fuel efficient Silverado available — not including the hybrid — is the Chevrolet Silverado C15 XFE 2WD at 15/22 mpg; city/hwy for an average of 18 mpg. Upgrade to the Silverado hybrid and the numbers increase to 20/23 mpg and an average of 21 mpg.
Of course, go with the top 8 cylinder 2WD and the fuel economy numbers drop to just 13/18 mpg and an average of 14 mpg.
So, how can you double the fuel efficiency of today’s pickup trucks?
Certainly, plug-in technology could be added, which might be an interesting option for many pickup truck drivers, since so many of these trucks are used for work, such as in the construction industry. Essentially, the pickup truck could become a generator that can be taken to job sites easier than any other generator. Of course, if the Chevy Volt costs $40,000, imagine how much a Volt-powered pickup truck would cost.
At some point in time, it seems the pickup truck needs to be redesigned, significantly, in order to achieve 40 MPGe in the real world. Nevertheless, with pickup trucks and SUVs accounting for almost half of all sales, a 40 MPGe pickup that could sell as well as a Toyota Prius would offer a far greater overall fuel reduction.
Ultimately, pickup trucks are the segment that matters most in America — in terms of profits and fuel economy — but if this segment can be mastered, any segment can. Still, the only way to achieve a cost-effective 40 MPGe pickup truck might be through a combination of a lighter design, batteries and alternative fuels, but at least some kind of out-of-the-box thinking is needed.
The closest approach towards such a pickup seems to be coming out of Toyota which has suggested a Prius-based pickup that might follow the unibody design of the A-BAT pickup truck concept. Of course, such a truck would lose significant payload and towing capabilities, but how much payload is really needed by average truck drivers? Is there a sweet spot that such a Prius-based truck might achieve?
Then their are costs. On the upside, a 40 MPGe pickup would save at least $1500 per year in fuel costs. That’s $7500 after 5 years and $15,000 after 10 years. Those are pretty serious numbers.
Still, such fuel economy savings probably won’t be enough because these trucks wouldn’t offer as much truck as others in the segment without the upfront costs. Thus, some kind of tax credit would be needed. Add a $7500 plug-in-like tax credit, and that’s $15,000 after 5 years including gasoline costs, and $22,500 after 10 years. Those numbers might start to resonate, at least as well as hybrids and plug-ins to date.
Is $15,000 after 5 years enough?
Probably not without a significant pickup truck redesign with a focus on lightening the load, but I’d bet such a configuration is possible, with the help of tax incentives. Unfortunately, I doubt there is much taste for such a credit in today’s political world.
Perhaps the small business tax credit could be rewritten to support such vehicles? How many vehicles are sold per year that utilize the small business tax credit? How many are trucks? That will be Part II of this story.
Inevitably, if the discussion is US energy consumption in transportation, it’s all about trucks today. Yet, that can — which is a tricky can of worms — is simply being kicked down the road. That approach might work if battery technologies achieve a serious, mainstream-able and cost-effective breakthrough soon, but it seems a pretty risky wager.