How Can Pickups Break the 30 MPG Highway Rating?

Eco-mode II

By Tim Esterdahl

It seems like only yesterday when the average pickup truck barely got 10 mpg on the highway, was made of heavy steel body panels and was about as aerodynamic as a brick. Now pickups are lighter, more aerodynamic and highway fuel economy hovers near 30 mpg highway. The two-wheel-drive crew-cab mid-size Chevrolet Colorado powered by the turbo-diesel 2.8-liter inline four-cylinder actually gets 30 mpg highway.

The rapid pace of fuel-economy improvements had us wondering just how far manufacturers will be able to push the three-box design — hood, cab and bed — to achieve better fuel economy. Is surpassing the 30 mpg highway threshold possible? The short answer is yes. Here's how.

1. Continue to Push Improvements

Automakers can push through the current barrier by simply continuing to do what they've been doing with structural design, smarter multispeed transmissions and engine development.

The move to aluminum and high-strength, lighter steel has resulted in hundreds of pounds of weight savings for the Ford F-150 and Super Duty. With the continued advancements in both new and traditional materials, we think its possible to find more weight savings.

2015-ford-f-150-aluminum-body-shell II

Multispeed transmissions also help improve fuel-economy ratings. While pickups used to sport "three-on-the-tree" or "four-on-the-floor" transmissions, they're now getting eight-, nine- and 10-speed transmissions. Also, pickups may see improved fuel economy with the addition of an Eco mode, automatic stop-start or cylinder deactivation on big engines (already found in the 2017 Ram 2500/3500 and GM half tons). GM expects a 15 percent fuel-economy increase through the Dynamic Skip Fire ignition system it's developing.

Finally, truckmakers can improve gas engines to achieve better fuel economy. Toyota's use of the D4S and the Atkinson cycle for the mid-size Tacoma is one example, and the growth of smaller displacement single- and turbo-charged engines are other examples.


2. Diesel and/or Electric Hybrid

Hino diesel electric hybrid II

Another way for pickup truck makers to improve fuel economy is to develop a diesel-electric hybrid. On paper, this system seems to combine the best of both worlds by pairing the low-end grunt and fuel economy of a diesel engine with a hybrid system for either acceleration assist or full driving motivation. The challenge of this system is the extra weight both power sources bring to the chassis.

Then there's the cost of these two systems. Sure, we now live in a world with a nearly $100,000 Ford F-450 luxury truck, but automakers seem resistant to charging premium prices for low-volume powertrains. Instead, the big truckmakers emphasize luxurious interiors that customers can touch every moment they're sitting in their truck. Powertrain complexity, in terms of maintenance fees, could also be a limiting factor.


3. Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Pickups

The last real possibility for big improvements in pickup fuel economy is a hydrogen fuel-cell system such as the one Toyota is testing in its cars and Project Portal semitruck. This system combines the low-end torque found in an electric hybrid with a relatively cheap and renewable energy source — hydrogen.

The benefits of hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are many, the most significant being zero emissions (the vehicle emits only water vapor out the tailpipe) and a refillable fuel source similar to gas. Once fuel-cell infrastructure is in place, range anxiety will all but disappear. Fuel-cell systems also are lighter than diesels, hybrids or big V-8s. Depending on the chassis, that weight savings could be put right back into payload capacity. Toyota already is testing a fuel-cell Tundra.

Project Portal II

Then there's the fuel economy of a fuel-cell vehicle. The 2017 Mirai, Toyota's hydrogen fuel-cell sedan, is already on sale. Compare it to the similarly sized Toyota Camry, and the Mirai offers double the four-cylinder Camry's highway mpg: 67 mpg versus 33.

Of course, advances such as this carry a hefty price tag, so cost will be an issue. The 2018 Mirai has a starting price of more than $58,000, while gasoline, diesel or hybrid vehicles can be had for much less than that.

As hydrogen fuel-cell technology becomes more common, the price difference will likely shrink. Toyota has speculated that by 2025, a hydrogen fuel-cell car will cost the same as a hybrid or electric vehicle.

We're confident there are plenty of alternative powertrains to get us past the 30 mpg highway threshold. But the question is which one will achieve consumer acceptance? No doubt all the truckmakers want to offer their buyers better fuel economy, but which manufacturers will do it at a reasonable cost?

Manufacturer images


Hino diesel electric hybrid 2 II



@Papa Jim--Fuel economy is the #2 concern of truck buyers and Eco is the future. Sorry you don't understand current trucks. Good luck with your 10 year old truck.

@Papa Jim--I'd rather spend $750 more and get 30-40 mpg. But that's just me. Good luck with your truck that gets 15 mpg.

Papajim is fake news.

Wow interesting Uranium powering cars. Impenetrable I hope, and autonomous too. Because a head on collision between two mini nuclear reactors at 100mph doesn't sound too good to me.
I'm betting a uranium powered car is going to be a ways off with all the other tech competing for a cars engine bay.
---- Posted by: Angelo Pietroforte

Like I said, Possible, not Probable. The impenetrability would be the "reactor" itself, considering that radiation potential in the event of a crash. If you look at how nuclear waste is already carried, those containers can stand up to a direct impact of a heavy railroad locomotive with no breakage of the containers seals. When you're talking about something smaller than your closed fist as the "hot" part, it wouldn't be difficult to build sufficient protection around it.

Look at the page

It will be presented at NAIAS in a month in a fully driveable Ford 150 and a Chevrolet Suburban. . 37 mpg. That will rewrite the engineering map.

@CGiron --Thanks, very interesting article. This engine will be less costly to make.

The FAKE Jeff S is running wild again.

@papa jim--Yes there are postings using my name. I do believe there is a place for electric vehicles but as for them replacing ICE not going to happen in the foreseeable future. I did provide the link to the new GM patent and I responded to CGiron. I believe that most manufacturers are going to do what they can to comply with the 2025 efficiency mandates because they don't know for sure that these standards will be reversed. Some of the technology that is patented by GM and is on the link that CGiron is to address the 2025 standards. Whether GM uses their patent is unknown but they are getting prepared to meet the 2025 standards. As for nuclear power I did post that information and the information about methane gas. The US has an abundance of energy sources but as you stated before politicians whether they be Democrats or Republicans are influenced by special interests. Why not use other sources of energy for utilities along with natural gas and the existing coal. Waste not want not.

The main hurdle for electric vehicles is the cost, size, and range of the batteries along with the infrastructure needed to maintain these vehicles. The manufacturers have to work with ICE because that is what is selling now and the foreseeable future. It does cost more to comply with the 2025 mandates but it will be much worse to not comply and be faced with having to catch up. Manufacturers will ask for an extension in complying with the 2025 standards but even if they wanted those standards to be rescinded they cannot wait to see if that will happen.

My uncle had a ranger in the 80s... want to say 7' bed regular cab. He got about 30 MPG.. so... its been broken already.

Roadwhale and Jeff S have been pretty quiet about pump prices for unleaded regular following September's hurricanes. I bought gas from a major outlet today for $2.24 per gallon.

Jeff and Roadie are still mouthing the platitudes of the 1970's liberals who predicted we'd all be running out of gas by now. Roadie even says that we can power cars with the propulsion systems from Jet Propulsion Labratory's 40 year old space ships.

I don't know what it was about the 1970s but those guys are still livin' it.

@papa jim--I am glad to hear that pump prices where you live are $2.24 but I have not seen gas prices that low since before the hurricanes. Try $2.59 a gallon for regular which is about 30 cents a gallon more than it was last year at this time. Maybe you could twist that around to say that the prices are cheaper but an increase is an increase. I can afford the increase but it is a not accurate to say that prices are going down when they in fact have gone up. The price of oil is about $59 a barrel which is higher than last year. The price of gas is not expensive but it has not gone down unless you are imagining that. These are the facts.

@papa jim--"Jeff and Roadie are still mouthing the platitudes of the 1970's liberals who predicted we'd all be running out of gas by now. Roadie even says that we can power cars with the propulsion systems from Jet Propulsion Labratory's 40 year old space ships."

Either you are looking for an argument or you have attention deficit disorder. I never stated that the US was running out of oil or gas. Government regulations on pollution and vehicle efficiency have been around for decades and regardless of what politicians promise these regulations remain. Auto manufacturers have to plan for the future and cannot rely on campaign promises. Manufactures also have to plan for regulations in Europe, China, and other countries. Not that easy and it is better to prepare than to be caught off guard and have to be hit with fines and sanctions.

I am not a fan of everything the Government does nor am I a fan of turbo engines. I doubt I will ever own an electric vehicle but my opinions will not stop manufacturers from making them or buying them.

As for alternate sources of energy if you reread what I have stated previously that most of those could be used in generating electricity. I never said anything about a nuclear or jet powered vehicle. Maybe you never heard of it but Chrysler developed and manufactured a jet powered car in the 60's. Jay Leno has one. Not very practical and very noisy. Do you have any objection to generating power from methane gas which is a waste product from sewage and garbage? Do you have a problem with generating electricity from wind power or solar where these sources are practical? Do you think it is a good policy to not use nuclear power when we as a country have more uranium and plutonium than anywhere in the World? You don't have to be a greenie to be in favor of utilizing all sources of energy. I would think anyone would be in favor of utilizing all sources of energy that are practical unless maybe you are a lobbyist for the coal and oil and gas industry. Are you one of those lobbyist?

@papa jim--Maybe someday someone can develop a time machine, if so you could go back to the 50's a time of less government regulation and when a Chevy was only one size. I miss some things from the past but I realize that I live in the present and that things have changed and will continue to change whether I like these changes or not. I would rather be alive and live in the present. Don't care much for the alternative.

@papa jim--Remember in the early part of the last century "if man were meant to fly he would have been born with wings" and before that "the World is flat and those who sail might fall off the end of the Earth". Also at the turn of the last century the Government was thinking about closing the patent office because there were those who believed that everything that could be invented was already invented. Who knows what will happen in the next 10, 20, or 30 years so should we assume that we will always use fossil fuel? The US has about 200 to 1000 years supply of coal and maybe 100 years of known oil and gas reserves but does that mean we should not develop clean and more efficient sources of energy if we can do so economically? You and I might not be alive to see many of these newer sources or to see affordable and long life batteries but that doesn't mean it will not happen.

I used to drive an Isuzu Pick up back in the mid 80's. It got @35 mpg! In dong some checking, I'm seeing that Isuzu has a diesel model in Australia/UK that gets over 43 mpg,... and Toyota has a truck called the Arctic that gets over 50 mpg. So, it comes down to "WHY" we don't have these in the US???.... I'd love to know the answer!!

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