By Larry Edsall for PickupTrucks.com
According to a 414-page report from The National Academies: Advisers to the Nation on Science, Engineering, and Medicine, new federal regulations aimed at increasing fuel economy and reducing emissions could add as little as a few bucks or as much as several thousand dollars to the price of your next new HD pickup.
How much? Nearly $15,000 per vehicle isn't out of the question.
"There is no question that using new technologies to meet federal fuel economy targets will be necessary and many of these technologies have the potential to add significant cost to new vehicles," said Charlie Territo, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington, D.C.-based organization comprising a dozen automakers.
"Costs will depend on the specific fuel economy targets and the cost of the technology that needs to be added," explained Territo.
"At the end of the day, what remains to be seen is whether or not consumers will be willing to pay those costs," said Territo. "This is a very challenging economic time and we need to insure that the costs of new technology are in line with what consumers can afford to pay."
Whether someone operates a fleet or vehicles or owns a single HD work truck, the vehicle owner has an option, as Territo put it, "to buy a new vehicle or to hold onto a current vehicle longer."
And, Territo added, "There is no benefit if these vehicles aren’t on the road."
In May, President Barack Obama called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation to include work trucks – medium- and heavy-duty vehicles – under the fuel economy and emissions umbrella that already spans passenger cars and light-duty trucks.
The EPA and DOT have responded and sent the administration a draft of the proposed regulations covering medium- and heavy-duty vehicles for model years 2014 -2018. Those proposed standards have not been released, but they could be available this fall and are expected to be announced in their final form next summer.
The new regulations could add as little as a few bucks or as much as several thousand dollars to the price of your next new HD pickup, according to a report from the National Academies.
(Note: What the automakers may label as "heavy-duty" trucks are considered medium duty by the feds and the National Academies, so don’t think you escape under some technicality of language. Your 2016 Ford F-250 Super Duty or Chevy Silverado HD or Ram 3500 is included in the new regulations.)
The report was prepared by the Academies' committee to assess fuel economy technologies for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles and by its board on energy and environmental systems. The committee was made up of academics, consultants, folks from the national laboratories and even a representative of Southeastern Freight Lines. Board members included academics as well as representatives of Dow Chemical, Delphi, an investment bank, assorted consultants and retirees from Honeywell, ExxonMobil and Chrysler.
The report covers medium- and heavy-duty vehicles ranging from contractors’ pickups and delivery vehicles to garbage trucks, semis and buses.
In the section that deals with pickup trucks and vans (Class 2b), the report notes that "vehicles with up to 10,000 pounds of gross vehicle weight used for personal transportation are classified as medium-duty passenger vehicles and are subject to light-duty vehicle legislation." It also notes that the “typical application" for Class 2b is “an urban delivery vehicle or a work vehicle for a small contractor.” In other words, your typical HD pickup.
"Fuel consumption can be reduced through vehicle modifications and systematic incorporation of advanced technologies into the powertrain," the report says. "Engine fuel consumption can be reduced by either applying advanced technologies to the spark ignition engine or substituting a diesel engine for the spark ignition engine."
Because of the typically low annual miles traveled by such vehicles, "the highest potential for reducing fuel consumption will reside with engine improvements, hybridization and transmission improvements," the report says.
The report's focus is on technical and mechanical solutions and includes several categories of enhancement. The least expensive is bumping the cost of each truck by $10 to put it on low-rolling-resistance tires, which in most instances would improve fuel economy by 2 percent, the report says. Or, for $100 per vehicle, aerodynamics could be enhanced, resulting in a 3 percent bump in fuel economy.
Interestingly enough, reducing vehicle curb weight by 300 pounds would produce less than 1 percent in fuel savings but would add $800 to the vehicle purchase price, the report says.
Switching from a four-speed to a six- or eight-speed transmission would improve fuel economy by 7 percent– for a cost of $1,000 per truck.
Opt for a parallel hybrid powertrain, and you get an 18 percent boost in fuel economy, though for a cost of $9,000 per vehicle. Going hybrid also adds 300 pounds to the vehicle’s weight, so you’d have to find some other way – at a cost of $600 per vehicle – to remove enough stuff to negate that added weight.
Another option is going from unleaded gasoline to diesel power. The result is a 19 to 24 percent improvement in fuel economy at a cost between $8,000 and $9,000 per vehicle.
The most effective way to increase fuel economy – and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the same time – is to make changes to the engine. Applying variable valve timing or variable valve lift technology to your typical gasoline-powered V-8 reduces fuel use by 1 to 3 percent at a cost of $120 to $750. Cylinder deactivation reduces fuel use 2 to 3 percent and costs only $75 per truck. Direct injection technology reduces fuel use 2 to 3 percent at a cost of $550 to $950 per truck.
The biggest payoff comes from turbocharging, downsizing and using lean-burn technology, similar to Ford’s EcoBoost engines. A 5.8-liter turbo gasoline engine can produce a 23 percent savings in fuel use. The cost is $4,000, less than half the price of a hybrid.
Do all of the non-diesel changes above, and your 2015-2020 package produces a 44.5 percent fuel savings over today’s HD pickups, at a total cost of $14,710 per vehicle, the report says.
Of course, the report also notes that instead of requiring any complex technical changes to the vehicles themselves, the government could simply reduce fuel consumption by significantly increasing the cost of fuel through higher taxes.