Fuel Economy Rules Set Through 2016 – What it Means for Full-size Pickups
On April 1st, the Obama administration released their final rules for vehicle emissions and fuel economy thru the 2016 model year. The big picture is that average vehicle fuel economy (as measured by the EPA) will be somewhere near 35 mpg. However, the actual fuel economy figures are going to very widely from vehicle to vehicle. First, here are some ground rules:
1. The EPA goal is only 29.8 mpg for light trucks. This is a fleet average. Some light trucks will have a higher fuel number and some will have a lower number.
2. The EPA numbers are inflated by as much as 20%. The EPA fuel economy figures are usually 10-20% more optimistic than what people see at the pump. That moves the real world average down to 24-27 mpg (give or take).
3. Individual vehicle requirements will very by ‘footprint.’ If a vehicle is small, it will have a higher than average requirement. If it is big (like a full-size pickup) it will be lower. The regs say that trucks with a footprint larger than 66 square feet will not be granted a ‘break’ on the fuel economy requirement. This likely means that full-size trucks are done growing in size and might even shrink – the smallest Tundra has a footprint of
116 70 square feet (footprint is defined as width x wheelbase, not overall length).
4. Fleet averages are still in use and separated by car and trucks. An automaker’s fuel economy rating is based on the performance of their fleet of cars and their fleet of trucks. The combined fleet has to meet the standards, but each individual fleet has to meet the standards as well.
5. Credits can be traded between cars and trucks. Toyota, for example, might be able to exceed the federal standards in their fleet of cars and use the excess as a ‘credit’ towards their truck fleet.
What This Means For Full-Size Trucks
Fuel economy will be the hot topic in trucks for the next 5 years. Manufacturers are going to have to work very hard to maintain truck capability while also improving fuel economy and emissions performance. There will be plenty to talk about over the next few years, but here are some big picture predictions:
Lots of technology will be added across the board. There’s a long list of possibilities and each manufacturer will take their own path to get where they need to be. Still, here are some things you can expect to see on new trucks over the next 6 years:
- Crappy ‘low rolling resistance’ tires and zero-weight full synthetic oil. Both of these changes are quick and easy ways to improve fuel economy at a low cost. Truck owners won’t like low rolling resistance tires when they go off-road, and low-rolling resistance tires don’t stop your vehicle that well, but it’s all about the fuel economy, right? (sarcasm intended)
- Variable valve lift, cylinder deactivation, and stop-start. Since Toyota already uses a sophisticated VVT-i system on the Tundra, adding their variable valve lift system (known as Valvematic) should be easy enough. Adding cylinder deactivation, however, will be tricky and costly. Dodge and GM already have cylinder deactivation systems, but they’ll need to totally revamp their truck engines to get any sort of variable valve lift system in place. Ford is ahead in a lot of ways with their EcoBoost engines, but they’ll need to add features as well. Finally, no truck manufacturer has an engine stop-start system currently [stop-start shuts off the engine during idle] but there’s a good chance it’s coming on all trucks (all vehicles in fact).
- Electric steering and more efficient alternators. Electric steering isn’t necessarily bad, but more efficient alternators aren’t going to be popular with people who need extra electric power to run winches, lighting, and big stereo systems.
- Weight reduction. Vehicle weight reduction is incredibly difficult because it requires manufacturers to spend a lot more money on materials. Technologically it’s a simple matter to reduce the weight of a modern vehicle by 50%…economically, it’s incredibly difficult to cut weight by as little as 10%.
- Better aerodynamics. A lot of truck’s aerodynamic drag comes from underneath. Partially, high ground clearance is to blame, and it’s likely that ground clearance figures will decline somewhat. Front grille slats that automatically open and close are also an interesting idea being kicked around.
- 7 or 8 speed automatics and dual-clutch 6 speed transmissions. Dual clutch transmissions are essentially two gearboxes side by side with electronic controls, and they’re more efficient than automatic transmissions. However, automatics with 7 or 8 gears might be cheaper and better at managing a lot of torque while still boosting efficiency.
- Smaller engines. It’s highly likely we’ll see more emphasis on V6 pickups. Ford has hinted that they’ll offer a version of their 4cylinder EcoBoost engine in the F150 at some point. It’s likely that some or all of the following engines – the 5.7L Hemi, 5.7 Tundra, 6.2 GM, and 5.6 Titan – will cease to exist in the next 4-6 years. Hopefully, these engines can be improved, but at this point the wind isn’t blowing in that direction.
When everything falls into place, brand new 2016 full-size trucks will get about 20-24 mpg in the ‘real world’ as opposed to 15-18 mpg now. Hopefully, these trucks will do everything the current models can do and only cost slightly more…just kidding.
It’s most likely that trucks will get less powerful in the short term – do you think it’s worth trading power for better fuel economy?
Filed Under: Auto News