Pickup trucks have traditionally been the best selling vehicles in America while routinely returning the worst fuel mileage. In order to improve mpg’s in the face of high fuel economy standards, Detroit is going on a diet.
That’s still a long way off from 30 mpg, but to reach that magic 34.1 automakers just have to sell more fuel efficient vehicles by volume to hit the new CAFE standard. So even if the trucks don’t meet their own standard of 30 mpg’s, it is ok, as long as they sell enough 40 mpg passenger cars to make up the difference and bring their overall economy up to 34.1 mpg. However, considering that Ford, GM, and Dodge, sell more trucks than any other vehicle in their lineup, they’ve still got their work cut out for them. They really only have one option.
Lose weight. Lot’s of weight. Unfortunately, consumers have become quite picky when it comes to new car purchase; they want a lot of bells and whistles, safety, power, and now they want fuel economy too. It’d be hard to backtrack and start taking cars back to the stone age of automobiles. Ford is pushing smaller-displacement engines in full-size trucks, but you can only get so many mpg’s out of a vehicle that weighs 5,000 pounds.
So Ford and GM are both experimenting with magnesium frames and aluminum body panels, which could shed between 500 and 800 pounds off of the truck. With modern engines and six-speed transmissions that are suddenly all the rage, these trucks could break into the 30 mpg range (on the highway at least). But these lighter metals are more expensive, and that cost will be passed on to buyers. How much more it will cost is anybody’s guess, but losing weight is just the first step. Detroit is still trying to make a golf ball out of a brick. Aerodynamics are going to be key to reaching those upper mpg’s.
As a truck fan, I’m absolutely elated at the idea of a 30 mpg truck, and business owners who rely on work trucks should be too…depending on how much extra these lightweight trucks cost. The question Detroit has got to ask is, much more wouldare consumers willing to pay for a 30 mpg truck?
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to Hemis. You can follow his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout.