What if gas-guzzling trucks went green?
There are plenty of eco-options out there for smaller vehicles, but what about the real gas hogs?
Thu, Mar 20, 2014 at 11:46 AM
"We started at the wrong end. The whole automotive industry made the intellectual mistake of thinking EVs were all about maximum range, so we all started with small vehicles that are basically very economical anyway."
As Mike reported over at TreeHugger, former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz now believes that the Chevy Volt (which he helped create) should probably have been a truck or SUV. He may have a point.
Early efforts to create cleaner, more efficient cars have definitely been aimed at either the ultra-rich (think the Tesla Model S) or the urban, green-minded early adopter (Nissan Leaf, Renault Twizy, Smart Electric Drive etc). And yet, outside of some denser, urban environments, our roads continue to be filled with SUVs, trucks and so-called "full size" vehicles. Not only do these vehicles use considerably more gas per mile, I'll wager that they also drive more miles per driver, given both their popularity in suburbs and rural areas, as well as their use by professionals needing to haul heavy loads on a daily basis.
Imagine if these vehicles started to go green? The good news is that they already are.
Pickup trucks being marketed for fuel efficiency
The stereotype of a pickup truck owner may be of a rural conservative male, scoffing at hybrid vehicles, urban commuters and Californian air quality mandates, but the fact is that if you spend hundreds of dollars a month filling up your gigantic vehicle, you are going to have a pretty strong interest in cutting down your consumption. That's probably why, as noted over at Green Car Reports, the 2014 RAM 1500 EcoDiesel logged 8000 orders in three days when it was first announced. Boasting a combined fuel economy rating of 22 mpg or 23 mpg for the 4- and 2-wheel-drive models respectively, the "EcoDiesel" features active grille shutters, aerodynamic under-body panels, and an engine start-stop system.
And it's not the only truck being marketed for its (relatively) fuel sipping credentials.
From the aluminum-bodied 2015 Ford F-150 to the 2014 Toyota Tocoma (rated the most efficient small pickup), truck makers are increasingly realizing that communicating fuel economy to heavy fuel users is by no means a losing proposition.
While environmentalists will rightly lament the marketing of big trucks to people who don't really need them, we should at least be grateful that those vehicles are getting somewhat less destructive, and we should remember that these incremental improvements do add up. As John Voelker wrote in his defense of why Green Car Reports writes about pickups:
An improvement from 18 mpg to 22 mpg sounds insignificant — even though increasing fuel from 18 mpg to 22 mpg saves as much gasoline(1.01 gallons per 100 miles) as increasing a 33-mpg vehicle to 50 mpg (1 gallon per 100 miles).
Electric pickup trucks are coming
Pete Seeger's solar-powered electric pickup truck may have seemed an oddity a few years ago, but that is starting to change. Tesla is reportedly planning an electric pickup truck similar to the Ford F-150, and VIA Motors is already building extended range electric pickup trucks (essentially plug-in electric vehicles) which they claim achieve 100 mpg in typical driving. According to Core77, the company has already won a $20 million contract to supply 50 fleets in the San Diego area.
And guess who just joined the company? Yup, it's the aforementioned former GM man, Bob Lutz.
Truck & van sharing provides access without ownership
For all the improvements in fuel economy, one criticism of America's truck obsession still holds true - for every truck owner who hauls heavy goods on a daily basis, there's probably another 3 who drive their truck daily, and yet only use it for heavy hauling on the weekend or for occasional projects. The growth in car sharing has already freed many urbanites from the need to own a car, but as companies like Zipcar expand their fleets to include trucks and vans, there's a tantalizing promise that they may also encourage truck owners to either opt for a smaller vehicle for their daily ride, or forego vehicle ownership altogether.
Now if Zipcar started buying up VIA's plug-in pickups, that would truly be a disruptive change...
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