Believe it: There's a pickup truck that you can't just go out and purchase from a dealership. And it's not even cool — it's a Ford F-150 work truck with few options, a basic interior and maybe not even four-wheel drive. The only remarkable thing about this truck is that it's a plug-in hybrid.
Related: 2018 Ford F-150 Video Review
Not to say that's bad. It's just that it isn't the most exciting truck in the world, or even particularly strange. It's not Tesla's near-mythical pickup or a crazy show truck at SEMA, or — my personal favorite — a racing semitruck. It's just a work truck that, without the graphics on the one in the photo, would look completely anonymous on any road in America.
The biggest reason you can't just walk into a Ford dealership and buy one of these: Ford doesn't add the hybrid technology. That's done by a company called XL, based in Boston. XL's goal is to improve fleet-vehicle fuel efficiency via electrification. In the case of an F-150, that means adding either standard hybrid or plug-in hybrid technology.
Here are three things PickupTrucks.com Editor Mark Williams learned after driving XL's F-150:
1. It Really Is More Fuel-Efficient
In unloaded and loaded fuel-economy testing, the XL F-150 outperformed gas-only models significantly. Unloaded, the XL F-150 returned 34.3 mpg. With an 1,100-pound load in the bed and driving over the same route it returned 21.2 mpg. A gas-only version of this truck is EPA-rated at 17/25/21 mpg city/highway/combined — and that's without payload.
2. Driving It Isn't Much Different
As intended, not much changes when driving the hybrid F-150 versus a stock model. When unloaded, Williams reported accelerator response as increased, not unlike other hybrid or electric vehicles, and that the regenerative braking was noticeable but not jarring. Loaded, however, Williams felt like the regenerative braking couldn't do enough on its own to stop the added mass of the vehicle.
3. The Cost-Benefit Ratio Isn't Great
Adding this particular plug-in hybrid setup will cost $20,000 per truck. A regular hybrid system is $9,000. Add those to a fleet purchase of multiple — even hundreds — of vehicles, and costs skyrocket. If and when fuel prices go back up, savings could increase, but adding these sorts of systems will almost never produce short-term cost savings — so unless those product prices come down significantly, it'll be difficult to make your investment back in a reasonable amount of time.
Is there a future for hybrid pickups? Time will tell if fuel efficiency and electrification become concerns for the average truck shopper in the future, but there's already something of a present: Outgoing 2018 GMC Sierra 1500s and Chevrolet Silverado 1500s are available as hybrid models, and the new 2019 Ram 1500 is available with a mild-hybrid system.
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