Fuel economy improvements emerging in the current crop of pickup trucks are being driven by customer demand; while that seems obvious, manufacturers are more and more breaking their customers into identifiable groups so they can be more responsive to particular needs. For instance, RVers who are a large user group that truck builders certainly do pay attention to for fuel mileage. But pressure is also coming from new government mandates and environmental benchmarks (which often reduce fuel economy). This is a tricky situation for manufacturers as they strive to satisfy buyers and new legislation while still building trucks that can do the jobs they were designed for.
So for the first year of the new decade, let’s have a look at what is available in the truck landscape and what’s coming. To date, the most advanced forms of fuel conservation have been a two-mode electric hybrid pickup from GM and a fuel deactivation system from Dodge. Both these companies also offered the largest-displacement engines as well. Ford, on the other hand, didn’t really get caught up in the horsepower war of recent years and so has managed to maintain a reasonable fuel consumption rating for its most common V8s – the three-valve 5.4L and the 4.6L.
Toyota, which jumped into the full-size truck market right at the apex of the “bigger is better” trend was, you could say, blind-sided. It came out pushing a high-powered V8 agenda only to have fuel prices skyrocket the very next year. It have since adjusted that strategy and this year has introduced a smaller 4.6L V8. With this engine in the Tundra, Toyota is now claiming to have the most fuel-efficient full-size pickup on the market at a combined City/Highway fuel rating of 12.1L/100km. But, again, the times are changing and frankly, more advances are needed. Here is what we can look forward to in the very near future.
For 2010, GM is saying that its Chevy and GMC full-size pickups will cut their fuel consumption to about 15.0L/100km City and 11.0L/100km Highway. In the meantime, its hybrid truck, which offers the best fuel economy in the city where its electric power can be used more frequently in stop/go traffic and while at idle (where the engine automatically stops), will also gain some ground. These trucks achieve as much as 10.5L/100km in city driving.
What GM has also done for 2010 is create a “fuel saver mode” for its trucks by adding its Active Fuel Management system, (which runs on four-cylinders in light-throttle conditions instead of eight) and more-efficient six-speed transmission shift points, engine variable valve timing and a lower gear ratio of 3.08 on all its full-size pickups.
Dodge recently announced that this winter it will begin offering the Ram with a two-mode electric hybrid system (one it introduced last year on the full-size SUV, the Chrysler Aspen). It achieves 10.5L/100km City and 9.2L/100km Highway. Meanwhile the Hemi engine will continue to be offered with cylinder deactivation. This 5.7L engine with MDS is shown to get 15.4L/100km City and 10.2L/100km Highway.
Ford’s two key engines, the 4.6L and 5.4L V8s, have both been improved (just last year) and claim in the area of 15.5L/100km and 12.0L/100km Highway. But for 2010, Ford has said that it intends to put its all-new EcoBoost engine in the F150. EcoBoost works by using gasoline turbocharged, direct-injection technology that nets around 20 percent better fuel economy than a similar displacement regular engine, and also generates 15 percent fewer CO2 emissions.
Released this year, the Lincoln MKS was the first to feature a 3.5L twin-turbo V6 version of the EcoBoost. While this engine offers the fuel efficiency of a V6 (12.5L /100km City and 8.4L/100km Highway in the Lincoln) it still makes an estimated 340 hp and 340 lb-ft of torque. It’s this engine that will most likely be dropped into the F150.
Ethanol, better known simply as E85, has not gone away (after a surge in popularity during the last mega-fuel spike two years back) but it seems to be waylaid as, frankly, it is only an alternative when gas hits $1.30 per litre or more. E85, which is a blend of 85 percent ethanol and just 15 percent gasoline, is a clean, renewable, domestic, and environmentally friendly fuel – but, it is less efficient than gasoline (meaning you have to burn more of it to go the same distance as you would with gas) and overall, more expensive. Still, most every truck built today, by all the manufacturers, is E85 capable. So, if the time comes, you should be able to use E85 without any changes to your fuel system.
The surprise for 2010 is the lack of new diesel engines. Not large ones – those are available in abundance with a new Ford Power Stroke 6.7L coming on, the veteran Dodge Cummins I6 upgraded to meet new emission standards and a new Duramax coming from GM in the late winter/early spring of this year. No, the surprise is that while each of the manufacturers announced at one time or another an intention to introduce smaller diesels in half-tons, none of them is doing it right now. They would range from four- to four-and-a-half-litre motors that would be dropped into half-tons and by extension would find their way into the larger SUVs. Development dollars are probably the cause, or the lack of them. I say this because the Europeans, namely VW, Audi and Mercedes, are all bringing more and more of their smaller diesels to our shores. Maybe next year.