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Light Truck Loophole Bad for Pickup Drivers, Oil Dependency and Pollution

Roland Hwang

Posted July 14, 2011

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This evening, the WSJ online is reporting that the White House is offering automakers a big loophole in fuel economy and carbon pollution standards for light trucks, a category that includes pickups, SUVs and minivans. Opening up a light truck loophole would just throw away money, gasoline, and pollution savings. The biggest losers will be future pickup owners who will be saddled with thousands of dollars of extra fuel costs over the life of their trucks. 

According to the WSJ online story “White House Offers Auto Makers Concessions to Win Mileage Support” dated July 15th, 2011:

The administration this week offered several proposals to auto makers to break the logjam, according to people close to the discussions. One option would let the fuel economy of light trucks improve at a rate of 3.5% a year, less than the 5% annual improvement that would be required of passenger cars. It's not clear that the proposals will be part of any final deal.

While the U.S. automakers may complain that equal treatment for light trucks is bad for their profits, the opposite is true. By allowing big pickups and other light trucks to lag behind, the Detroit 3 run the risk of falling back into the bad habit that lead them to their downfall -- becoming too dependent on fuel-inefficient vehicles.

Ford’s F-150 Ecoboost engine demonstrates that even big pickups can be more fuel efficient.  The 40 percent purchase rate for the F-150 Ecoboost demonstrates that pickup buyers are willing to pay more to cut their gas bills. In fact, since light trucks generally lag behind the technology of their gasoline counterparts, these vehicles can improve at an even faster rate.

Equal treatment for light trucks makes sense. It will save truck driver thousands of dollars over the life of their trucks, cut our dependency on oil, and ensure the U.S. automakers don’t fall back into their bad habits.

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RobinJul 14 2011 09:45 PM

What a shame, I was thinking of purchasing a pick up or mini SUV when the new gas mileage rules took effect. Guess I'll be getting another Honda or Mazda instead.

AlexJul 17 2011 10:52 AM

Okay, but how will trucks meet the proposed standards while still having their current levels of towing and carrying capacities?

I never got a straight answer. Maybe because it's not possible?

Roland HwangJul 17 2011 11:50 PM

Alex: The EPA, NHSTA and CARB have published their preliminary technical assessment here: They assess, holding performance constant (including payload and towing) for large pickups, technologies to meet higher standards. Note also that the 56.2 mpg is a certification test cycle, fleet-average and includes air conditioning reductions. Because the standard are size-based and allow use of low cost air conditioning credits, pickups fuel consumption will have to be reduced about 43% from 2011 levels. According to the agencies' technical assessment, this can be done through incremental improvements including: downsized gasoline direct injection with turbocharging, dual clutch transmissions, discrete variable valve timing, mass reduction, stop start systems, and cooled/boosted exhaust gas recirculation. Downsized GDI turbo truck engines are already showing up with Ford's Ecoboost F150's which have proved popular with auto reviewers and customers (about 40% "take rate). I plan on blogging this week on this issue with more details.

CharlesJul 20 2011 11:56 AM

I think the fuel economy improvements for new light trucks and SUVs are long overdue and I fully support them.

That said, for an atmosphere pumped full of GHG emissions, and at or near the tipping point if not fully past it, it is not nearly enough.

The top 10 industrial economies are blasting BILLIONS of tons of GHG/CO2E into the air EVERY YEAR. The 100,000,000 (North America) light trucks and SUVs already on the road account for hundreds of millions of tons of this pollution annually.

I want to demonstrate that even old "basket-case" pickups can enjoy startling improvements in fuel economy as a result primarily of driver behavior modification, plus a few tweaks to the vehicle.

I'm currently working to show that this truck can go from San Diego, CA to Jacksonville Beach, FL (approximately 2,362 miles) stopping just once to refuel.

Improved fuel economy doesn't have to be only for those with a fat wallet that can afford a new vehicle.

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