To really do something about oil imports, gasoline and diesel consumption (and CO2 emissions) America will have to get a grip on the light truck issue. They make up the largest share and have the poorest fuel economy of the U.S. fleet. For some owners the light truck is a tool that pulls and carries heavy loads and is an important part of many businesses. However, many more people use them as personal vehicles and that creates a problem for everyone when the light truck owner is buying a far larger amount of fuel to go the same distance as the high efficiency car owner. When oil is abundant, its not a problem, but now and for the foreseeable future the light truck owners are a serious problem for the U.S. economy.

If we’re to do something about petroleum prices the light truck fleet can’t be ignored. 69% of the oil we use is going to transport with 81% of that on roads, 9% flying, 5% marine use and 2% rail, making the road portion is the obvious target. The close look at road fuels tells us 95% is trucks and high fuel consumption cars. In the truck portion, now down to 57%, the light trucks are 95% of the truck population. Only 1 in 32 trucks sold is a heavy truck or over the road semi tractor.

In fairness, the heavy and semi trucks are pretty good on a gallons/pounds /mile. Even a loaded light truck with 12,000 lbs is good too. But how many people do any of us know who consistently go drive their light truck loaded or towing 10,000 or 14,000 lbs? Very very few, and that’s the problem. With 3 of the top 5 selling vehicles last year in the U.S. sold being full sized pickups, the light truck is the target.

This presents a paradox for manufacturers. With the big sales numbers going to status and leisure buyers and the need for towing and load carrying capacity going to the small part of the business the prospects for gains in fuel efficiency are diminished. A light truck should need only 20 horsepower at 40-mph unloaded, moving in a steady state and as much as 1000 peak horsepower for those moments pulling 20,000 lbs up a steep grade.

So here is the comparison that matters. A Prius making 50-mpg going 100 miles would use 2 gallons of gasoline. Double the mileage to 100-mpg and you would save 1 gallon. A light truck getting 12.5-mpg uses eight gallons to go 100 miles. Improve the truck to 7 gallons or 14.3-mpg and you save 1 gallon. But double the truck mpg and you save 4 gallons. Improving the U.S. fleet is an important job to get a grip on oil usage, prices, and environmental issues. The light trucks, large SUVs, heavy low efficiency cars are the low hanging fruit. They are the critical target for U.S. fleet fuel efficiency

People will catch on to the facts of using light trucks, SUVs and low efficiency cars for personal transportation. Their days as status symbols could be running out. On the other hand:

The technology for series hybrids would transfer to this vehicle class just as effectively as small cars. The electric motors, controllers, generator sets and small continuous duty diesels are available even now. But the issue remains for light trucks the same as cars, the prices of batteries and super capacitors. Just keep in mind that the people who really need this class of vehicle at $3.50 diesel loaded or towing large gross weights 25,000 miles a year at 10-mpg the fuel cost would be $8,750, or $70,000 over a 200,000 mile life. That makes for a lot of room in capital investment to save fuel.

Can it be done? The compromise in the added cost to purchase is saved back in fuel expenses. This too is low hanging fruit, saving half of $70K allows up to $35K for increased investment. It looks like the technology could be put in for $20K which leaves a $15K saving over the truck’s life. Somebody at Ford, GM or Chrysler will figure it out. Hybrid drive will save a huge amount of fuel. The transition will also build volume that will help get lower prices of ever smaller hybrid drive vehicles.

For more on this topic please look through Ian Wright’s site. Although working towards autos and racing he understands the issue and his thoughts have helped with facts in this post. I encourage you to pass this post on, when enough dealers hear from enough light truck and SUV buyers that a hybrid is what’s wanted the big step to decreasing dependence on (foreign) oil will happen.

For many of us the idea of the 125-mpg car would be a dream comes true. The opportunity is at the other end though, where big money is being spent on fuel and the capital costs can give a large, immediate and vehicle lifetime savings


4 Comments so far

  1. The Top Energy Stories of 2007 on December 29, 2007 6:03 AM

    […] Chevy Volt is announced.  Blue Ribbon for Mr. Rapier and readers!  The comment from me can be seen just last Wednesday.  The low hanging fruit for auto manufacturers isn’t little Volts as newsworthy as that may […]

  2. Cars information » Blog Archive » Where are the Hybrid Trucks and SUVs? on December 30, 2007 4:05 AM

    […] Want to read more? Full post is available at New Energy and Fuel […]

  3. Trucking Applications: Software, Trucker Forums, Trucking Help » Where are the Hybrid Trucks and SUVs? on January 10, 2008 7:18 PM

    […] 7â

  4. Alejandra on February 17, 2010 8:45 AM

    I wish I could come up with such well written posts.

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