Fuel economy regulations have automakers developing plans on how to achieve the stricter goals for cars, but regulations for light trucks have many scrambling to devise a way to shed hundreds of pounds in the name of fuel economy without giving up capability.
“It’s a tough task, but we’re facing it as grown-ups,” Rick Spina, head of full-size truck development for General Motors, told Reuters.
A tough task, indeed. Pickup trucks currently weigh an average of 5000 pounds as content, safety features, and capabilities have been increased dramatically over the years. This represents a 22 percent increase since 2000, while fuel economy has risen a mere two percent despite improvements in powertrain technology and aerodynamic efficiency.
Shedding weight on cars while maintaining content is a big enough task, but pickup trucks have the added hurdle of maintaining expected capabilities — when a truck can tow 22,000 pounds, that’s going to require some weight in the form of a big, structurally sound frame. That frame is currently made out of steel, but automakers are reportedly investigating other materials from which to fashion the frame.
Inside sources at Ford told Reuters that the company is currently looking at using a magnesium alloy frame for the next-generation F-150 — a move that could reportedly shave off up to 800 pounds if combined with changes to the materials used on the truck’s sheetmetal. GM is also looking at using more advanced, lightweight materials such as aluminum and magnesium for its next-generation pickups, due out in 2014. That could be part of the way GM plans on trimming some 500 pounds from its pickup trucks by 2016.
Unfortunately for both consumers and automakers, these new lightweight trucks with similar capabilities and improved efficiency will be more costly. For consumers, this means they’ll have to spend more to get the same truck as they just got rid of, making them a tough sell, which is bad for automakers as it could decrease sales volumes from where they’ve been at or near the top of the market for years.
“With fuel economy standards where they are, trucks are going to get kind of edged out of the top of the market,” Eric Fedewa, automotive director of global powertrain forecasting for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told Reuters. “Everything is going to change in the next [few] vehicle cycles.”