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Good news and bad news about pickup trucks

A standardized way of determining towing capacity as well as higher mileage demands all seemed to descend on pickup trucks last week, leading us to speculate on the future impact to our boating businesses.

First, the apparent good news – The Detroit Free Press reported the Society of Automotive Engineers successfully convinced the major vehicle makers to use a single standard test to determine the towing capacity of its full-size pickup trucks. The standard is expected to be fully adopted by the end of 2013, with some makers likely to apply it sooner. Toyota, for example, says it is already using the new standard for its Tundra.

 Currently, absent an industry standard, each manufacturer uses whatever criteria they want, often embellishing the maximum towing capacity of their pickups (go figure!) For example, one maker might assume only a 150-pound driver is in the truck. But, realistically, the driver is likely heavier and other passengers are probably in the cab, too. Add to that some extra cargo that could be in the bed and it all means the truck’s actual towing capacity is lower. This makes it just about impossible for consumers to compare truck towing performances.

While other performance criteria, like engine horsepower, are standard across the auto industry, the fact that towing capacity has never been comparable has put our boat sales teams in awkward positions particularly when asked by a prospect about suitable tow vehicles or whether their current vehicle could tow the boat they might buy. But soon, for the first time, our sales teams will be able to offer customers comparable answers.

Now the bad news – concerning standards of a different kind, the White House upped the ante on CAFÉ standards to 54.5 mpg for cars and light trucks built between 2017 and 2025. These new requirements will likely force significant design and powertrain changes in future pickups.

More specifically, while exact annual fuel economy targets have not been set, yet, the current light truck CAFÉ standards are 25.4 for 2012, rising to 28.8 mpg by 2016. They’re expected to be over 40 mpg by 2025, up 60 percent over the next 13 years. CAFE numbers are calculated using a different formula than EPA mileage figures found on a truck’s window sticker, but here’s an illustration of the effect of the new rules.

The most popular selling light truck models today are half-ton pickups. For example, a 2011 Ford F-150 with two-wheel drive and 3.7-liter V-6 engine has a combined city/highway rating of 19 mpg today. That same pickup will have to achieve 60 percent better mileage or 30 mpg combined by 2025.

Can truck makers produce a 30 mpg combined half-ton? No doubt they will. But we probably should expect they’ll be significantly different than today. For example, more weight reduction, already important in pickups, could result in a shift of frame and body structure materials from metals to more lightweight materials like composites and plastics. Powertrains could feature extensive electrification and hybridization. Four-cylinder diesels, in research at Cummins now, are a strong possibility. Interestingly, one auto blogger speculates that the half-ton of the future will be much more aerodynamic, the “tough” look will be gone, and it will weigh at least 25 percent less than today’s pickups!

So, while we in boating will soon have long-needed standardized vehicle towing capacity data, the future of that capacity is, to say the least, an open-ended question now.

Comments

7 comments on “Good news and bad news about pickup trucks

  1. Bob

    CAFE standards for fuel efficiency are a TERRIBLE idea. They may (or may not) make us less dependent on foreign oil, but they definitely make cars more expensive. The cars are more expensive to purchase then any money saved buying fuel over the life of the car. It will ultimately make cars unaffordable to the masses. As we are forced to spend more on cars, we have less to spend on boats. That is the really bad news.

  2. Doug Reimel

    Again, Government overreach is the problem. Government not understanding the value of expendable income. There is more tax revenue from expendable income. If the enviromental extremest would just hold their breath, their carbon footprint will not exist.

  3. Enginecom

    The are probably exempting commercial trucks so the 2500 and 3500 series will not change much. I had a 1996 2500 Dodge 2wd Cummins that would get 26mpg highway. The newer electronic engines you would expect to be better but they are not. The push has been for higher horsepower which is not the way to go for efficiency. I could see some type diesel hybrids but with a giant leap in battery technology. Using ultracapacitors for regenerative braking may help but think fueled engines will be with us for a long time.

  4. LARRY

    ON THE OTHER HAND I BELIEVE 40 TO 60 MPG VEHICLES ARE EASILY ACHIEVED NOW, WITH MANY SACRIFICES OF COURSE. I PRESENTLY DRIVE 55, AND GET 40 MPG FROM MY PERSONAL FULLY TUNED OLD HONDA CIVIC, BUT THAT’S ME. WHILE I CONSTANTLY SEE EVERY OTHER VEHICLE ON THE HIGHWAY PASS ME AS IF I WAS STANDING STILL. I GOT 19 TO 20 MPG FROM MY F350 DIESEL AS LONG AS I DID NOT PUSH THE TURBO,(without the turbo I imagine would have gotten another 3+ miles) BUT SUFFERED (with a F450 heavy duty rear end) WHEN HEAVY TOWING DOWN TO ABOUT HALF, BUT THAT’S EXPECTED FOR IN ESSENCE IT IS MOVING TWO VEHICLES! WHEN I SPENT A LITTLE AND ADDED A HYDROGEN BOOSTER KIT, I GOT WAY OVER 24 MPG, AND AT TIMES HIGHER….. JUST LIKE THE 4 STROKE O/B GET BETTER MILEAGE THAN THE 2 STROKE….. WE JUST NEED A RADICAL NEW THINKING PROCESS, TO CREATE A RADICAL NEW PROPULSION, HOWEVER DON’T THINK WE CAN DEAL WITH OUR PRESENT DEMAND FOR SPEED. BOTTOM LINE, PRETTY HARD TO GET BACK TO NORMAL ONCE A CRACK ADDICT, OH ….THE WIND ON YOUR FACE … SLOW DOWN

  5. C. Moore

    Larry todays 2 stroke DFI motors achieve higher fuel efficencies than todays 4 stroke DFI’s.
    How about powering outboards with propane?? Say it’s not practical or safe? The Euros have conversion kits and approved fuel canisters on 4 stroke OB’s so they run on either gasoline or propane. Propane is cheaper & gives equal or better energy return, unlike alcohol.

    My 7.3 Turbo F250 after chipping was/is faster & more fuel efficent once it was allowed to breath,
    18+ while towing at 75mph, without towing a trailer 24+ @ 75mph.
    Agian add a propane injector & you can smoke the tires like NOS in a drag car…
    When gov’t mandates were put on cars in the 70′s the folks moved to truck based vehicles (pickup trucks, vans,) not defined in the CAFE regs. These morfed into todays minvans & SUV’s.

  6. will

    It seems to be an American “value” that cheap fuel is a god given right. The CAFE standards are a blessing! Go to Europe. Everyone survives. It is quite possible to get everything you need without wasting fuel. I am stunned by the ignorance of the first few comments. Blame a politician rather than own the basic concepts of physics. It takes a great deal of energy to tow anything. If fuel suddenly shot up to $10 a gallon people would start to think of ways to conserve.
    Guess what- it will be there [or higher] so get a jump on it and start conserving now
    p.s. lobby your elected officials to encourage research in the areas of energy innovation, and efficiency. WAKE UP AMERICA!

  7. Gary Bruner

    Government over-reach again, huh? Without government set CAFE standards, I fully expect we’d still have 10 MPG Suburbans and PUs and big cars with WAY more engine than they need, like the 13 MPG Firebird I had in 1974 (before I wised up after the FIRST OPEC crisis). We’d NOT have cars like my own stick shift 1.5 liter compact that gets 47 mpg when I keep to 60 or less (it cost $8600 new in 1997 and has 265K trouble free miles on it). I totally support higher CAFE standards and have disdain for those who think they have the RIGHT to use (waste?) all the gas/fuel they can just because they have the coin to pay for it. Oil is a finite resource and when one person wastes it, there’s less to be shared by the rest of us….

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