Trucks, Fuel Economy, and the Desire for More

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

There’s a Consumer Reports study making the rounds that reveals owners of trucks and large SUVs wish for better performance at the pump. Please pick yourself up off the ground. In fact, 73 percent of surveyed drivers who own such a vehicle wish for more MPGs in their next vehicle, which is not surprising given that large vehicles return, on average, below-average fuel economy.

Interestingly, the Detroit Three find themselves in the midst of an MPG war with their full-size, light-duty diesels. Mild hybrid Ram 1500s are here, and Ford has a hybrid F-150 in the works. Both Ford and GM have fully electric full-sizers in development. The General just introduced a four-cylinder half-ton (with an admittedly lackluster EPA rating).

While it’s understandable that owners of large vehicles would wish for lower fuel costs, the study fails to ask why owners want an improvement in their gas bill.

It matters because the study juxtaposes its findings with the Trump administration’s efforts to freeze fleetwide fuel economy requirements at 2020 levels for the coming half-decade, rather than keep the existing Obama-era rules in place. Opponents to the rollback claim such a move would saddle consumers with increased pump costs; backers say the addition of fuel-saving technology needed to achieve the Obama-era targets will inflate sticker prices that are already climbing rapidly, especially among trucks. Either way, it seems, the consumer loses. But by how much is not an easily answered question.

One thing’s for sure — thanks to how CAFE is structured, maintaining the existing rules won’t do anything to keep small and affordable high-MPG cars on the market.

But back to the study, which deals mostly with owners of larger vehicles. This crowd, responding to a nationally representative survey, has fuel economy on its mind more than those driving gas sippers. As mentioned before, 73 percent of truck or large SUV owners “express an interest” in buying a more efficient vehicle. Only 42 percent of “other” drivers feel the same.

The study, not surprisingly, found that owners of vehicles averaging less than 20 mpg are twice as likely to claim their fuel economy is need of improvement when compared to those getting 30 mpg or more (53 percent vs 20 percent). The large SUV/ pickup crowd also saw the highest level of MPG improvement wishes among vehicle type (55 percent). Second only to fuel economy on the list of top concern among large SUV/pickup owners was vehicle price. Some 38 percent of respondents listed this as a concern, versus 20 percent of small or midsize car owners.

So, the takeaway is that fuel economy outranks vehicle price among owners of hulking gas guzzlers. Would it prove illuminating if we knew the motivation behind these answers? Are some, or even many, of these large SUV and truck owners wishing for better MPGs out of concern for the environment, or for their wallet? As truck sales soar and average transaction prices rise along with them, it’s obvious a great many people aren’t avoiding crew cab 4x4s due to ecological concerns. It’s easy to see these owners wishing for a little less guilt when behind the wheel, but it’s even more understandable for a truck owner to wish their combined MPG topped 20 or 25 mpg simply for pocketbook reasons. What additional cost consumers would be willing to incur to achieve a certain level of efficiency is unknown. Consumer Reports didn’t ask.

Let’s face it, trucks aren’t cheap, yet few people getting into a new model are choosing a stripped-down base model. It seems a favorable environment exists to keep the MSRP train chugging uphill while also adding fuel-saving tech. Should the economy tank, automakers will want fuel-sipping engines to place in lower-trim trucks with a more attainable price. Competition doesn’t stop just because people are poor; buyers will be looking at that annual fuel cost figure on the Monroney more closely.

Indeed, regardless of where you stand on the rollback or what political party you call home, strong support for greater fuel economy in new vehicles seems universal. The study broke down opinions along party lines, revealing that 85 percent of GOPers felt automakers should continue pursuing fuel-saving tech, with 90 percent of Dems saying the same. Among politically active large SUV and truck owners, 83 percent of GOPers and 90 percent of Dems said they felt their segment of vehicle should be made more fuel efficient. However, a slim minority (49 percent) of Republicans felt automakers should be compelled to do so by the government. Eighty-one percent of Democrats felt the state should be the motivating force in MPG improvement.

[Images: © 2019 Matthew Guy/TTAC, General Motors]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Crtfour Crtfour on Aug 29, 2019

    Just last week I had a rental 2019 Ram Hemi 4x4 which surprisingly got around 19 mpg over about 500 miles. What aggravated me though was that when cruising around town as soon as I let off the gas, it would go into high gear and 4 cylinder mode which was apparent by the exhaust sound and lack of smoothness. Then any extra pressure on the gas pedal would call back all 8 cylinders, and this would happen continuously. Same thing on the interstate....constant upshifting and downshifting with even slight incline changes. And there was no "sport" mode or anything to get around it. Bottom line is I would gladly give up a few mpg's to avoid this feature.

    • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Aug 29, 2019

      Considering the fact that the F-150/Ram/Silverado/Sierra are the 3 top selling vehicles in America year after year tells me that MPG is not very high on people's wish list, especially with gas well under 3 bucks per gallon on average. Regarding the Ram's 5.7 cylinder deactivation I did spend some time with a 2019 Silverado LT 5.3 DFM/8 speed and was blown away by how smooth and seamless the engine was. The 8 speed transmission wasn't as impressive however but I did learn that a switch in transmission fluid solved some of the harshness so will have to go on a test drive of a 2020 to verify.

  • Flipper35 Flipper35 on Aug 29, 2019

    I would like better economy, but I am not going to spend $10,000 more on a car to save $5000 in fuel over the life of the vehicle. crtfour, many vehicles shut all the injectors down now when coasting.

  • Dave M. The Outback alternates between decent design and goofy design every generation. 2005 was attractive, 2010 goofy. 2015 decent. 2020 good, but the ‘23 refresh hideous.Looking forward to the Outback hybrid in ‘26…..
  • Lorenzo Subaru had the ideal wagon - in 1995. The Legacy Outback was a straight two-box design with rear quarter and back windows you could see out of, and was available in brown with a 5-speed manual, as God and TTAC commenters intended. It's nice they're not raising prices, but when you've lost the plot, does it matter?
  • Bkojote Remember a month a go when Cleveland wanted to create a more walkable Cleveland and TTAC's 'BIG GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM' dumbest and dullest all collectively crapped their diapers? Here's the thing- look on any American highway and it's littered with people who don't /want/ to be driving or shouldn't be. Look at every Becky on her phone during the morning commute in her Tucson, look at every Brad aggro driving his 84 month loan GMC. Hell look how many drivers nowadays can't even operate a headlight switch. You expect these people to understand a stoplight? In my neighborhood alone 4 people have been rear ended at lights from someone on their phone. Distracted driving over the past 10 years has spiked, and it's only going to get worse unless Becky has an alternative, because no judge is going to pull her license when 'she needs it to get to work!' but heaven forbid she not check fb/tiktok for 40 minutes a day.
  • Scott Shouldn't the The Italian Minister for Business be criticizing The Milano for being too ugly to be Italian?Better use of resources doing that....
  • Steve Biro Frankly, while I can do without Eyesight and automatic start-stop, there is generally less B-S with Subarus in terms of design, utility and off-road chops than with many other brands. I just hope that when they adopt Toyota’s hybrid system, they’ll also use Toyota’s eCVT.