President Barack Obama announced tough new fuel-economy standards this morning that will increase the corporate average fuel economy in the U.S. to 54.5 mpg for cars and light trucks built between 2017 and 2025. For truck-makers, the hyper-efficient requirements will force major design and powertrain changes in future pickups.
“This agreement on fuel standards represents the single most important step we’ve ever taken as a nation to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” Obama said. “We’ve set an aggressive target and the companies are stepping up to the plate. By 2025, the average fuel economy of their vehicles will nearly double to almost 55 miles per gallon.”
The new standard requires passenger cars to meet annual mileage increases of 5 percent from 2017 through 2025, while light trucks, including crossovers, vans, SUVs and pickups, will need to improve 3.5 percent a year from 2017 to 2021 and then by 5 percent between 2022 and 2025.
Exact annual fuel-economy targets haven’t been posted by the federal government, but current light truck CAFE standards are 25.4 mpg for 2012, rising to 28.8 mpg in 2016. They’re expected to be over 40 mpg in 2025, representing at least a 60 percent jump in efficiency over the next 13 years.
CAFE numbers are cacluated using a different formula than EPA mileage figures found on a truck's window sticker, but here's how the tough new rules could impact light-duty pickups.
A 2011 Ford F-150 with two-wheel drive and a 3.7-liter V-6 gasoline engine has a combined city/highway rating of 19 mpg. That same F-150 would have to achieve approximately 30 mpg combined (60 percent improvement) by 2025, which is an increase of about 11 mpg.
Can truck-makers build 30-mpg combined full-size half-ton trucks, the most popular pickups sold in the U.S. today? If they do, they will be radically different from the body-on-frame trucks driven today. We can guess at some of the technology that will be required.
Weight reduction, which in the development of next-generation pickups, will likely shift frame and body structure materials from metals like steel and magnesium to much higher use of lightweight materials like composites and plastics. We wouldn’t be surprised if the half-ton of the future weighed at least 25 percent less than today’s pickups.
The truck of the future is also likely to be much more aerodynamic. Tough-truck looks are likely to disappear to get the best fuel economy possible.
Powertrains will probably feature extensive electrification and hybridization, similar to the plug-in series hybrid setup of the Chevy Volt. Four-cylinder diesels are also a strong possibility, like the research effort Cummins has been leading in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy and Nissan.
There’s one thing we can say with certainty. Though you’ll save money at the pump, the truck you buy is going to cost a lot more in the future to pay for all that advanced fuel saving technology. Don’t be surprised if your used 2012 Silverado, F-Series, Ram, Tundra or Titan holds its value strongly in the next decade.