By on August 28, 2019

2020 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

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]

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57 Comments on “Trucks, Fuel Economy, and the Desire for More...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    I think that if a full size truck can get an honest to goodness 25 mpg highway (in the real world, not just in an EPA test) then we should be happy.

    If you want 4 cyl Camry fuel economy out of your full size truck – you are delusional. At least until “Mr. Fusion” becomes a reality.

    • 0 avatar
      MoparRocker74

      THIS!!! Furthermore, if you’re shelling out more money for fuel saving tech then you’re already in the hole, money wise. Gutless, over stressed engines and/or janky technology like MDS and electrification also add mucho complexity that’s just WAITING to break and cost money right about the time you hit the break even point.

      The harsh reality is that mpgs don’t mean a damn thing…the price at the pumps is everything. Supply of crude oil isn’t the issue, obviously…we’re exporting it. our refinery capacity has been dangerously thin for decades. THERES your choke point, folks. Until we start building new refineries and upgrading what we have, nothing will change. Chasing the last scraps of mpgs is a fools errand.

      • 0 avatar
        smartascii

        I mean, there *is* a third option. Your choices are not limited to “gas guzzler” or “gutless, over stressed engines and/or janky technology like MDS and electrification also add mucho complexity.” There’s also: less powerful engines. But I think, by and large, buyers of 6,000-pound trucks value power and payload/tow ratings over fuel economy.

        As an aside, OEMs have done a pretty great job of squeezing efficiency out of all that power. My F-150 weighs roughly 5,700 pounds. It makes 375hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. At 80-mph constant highway cruising, it reports 19.5 mpg, which is pretty close to what manual calculations give you. My old towing rig was an Excursion, which weighed a bit more (6,500 on the scales), had 310hp and 425 lb-ft, and got 12 mpg, if you were going downhill with a tailwind. Hitching a trailer to either of them tanks that rating, obviously, but that’s a 62.5% efficiency improvement over 18 years, and the new one tows more and does it better. So give them another couple of decades and if internal combustion is still on offer, I bet they’re even more efficient.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          And personally I’m just fine with Fords twin turbos and 10 speed automatic. I have heard that a 2wd Ecoboost 2.7 V6 F150 can get 25 mpg highway and I think that is laudable.

          I’m not the guy who’s going to rant about the death of the V8. It is still there if you want it. (Or start buying 3/4 ton trucks.)

          • 0 avatar
            FordMan_48126

            +1 PrincipalDan.

            I have a 2018 F-150 4×4 crew cab with the 2.7 dual turbo V6 and 10 speed. I am currently averaging 21.5 mpg in city driving, and have achieved near 30 mpg on freeway going between 72 and 75 mph. The mileage is more than acceptable.

            We need to be careful about surveys – remember in 2016 when someone was predicted to win the 2016 election….people do not always respond truthful to surveys. Survey results can also be impacted by how the questions are asked. Could also be as simple as some have already said, it is more the price of fuel where they live…..if I never let my tank get lower than 1/2 a tank, the cost to fuel up is not so bad, under $25.

            However, I suspect many of the survey respondents are like my wife, whom literally drives until the tank in her mommy bus is run dry. In a full size SUV or pickup that have tanks between 26 to 32 gallons, an empty tank could cost $75 or more to fill up.

      • 0 avatar
        pragmatic

        We do not need more refineries. Capacity has been growing at existing refineries and total capacity is not an issue. Refinery inputs (crude refined) in the US has grown from 14,336 thousand barrels per day in 2009 to 16,968 in 2019 a growth of over 18% in the last decade. (source EIA)

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Overall, we have excess capacity at the refineries.

      Refined fuel was the #1 US export (one of the ways the refiners kept the price of gas higher than it should have been) before started to export oil.

      The problem, however, is that there are certain regions served/dominated by 2-3 large refineries and like clockwork, 1-2 or all 3 of them seemingly have an accident every spring – which partially shuts down production and causes the price of gas in that region to skyrocket (California and the Chicago-area are 2 prime examples of this).

      The problem has been the consolidation of the refinery business w/ the large refining operations buying out the smaller refiners and then turning around and shutting them down, so that there is a near-monopoly.

      The big exception is the Gulf coast region which has seen pretty significant expansion of production, but that’s also the main source of US exports of refined fuels.

      Btw, that oil from Canada that would be flowing to to the Gulf if the XL pipeline is built – either in refined form or not, most of it will be heading to China as China’s largest oil companies have snapped up Canadian oil producers.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        Yep. Every Californian is familiar with the “accidental shutdowns” of refineries every peak driving season. It got so bad that at one point the state offered to buy a refinery outright from Shell.

        Whereas when I was on a tour bus on the Gulf coast, tourists from all over the country were pointing excitedly out the window…at the gas station, which advertised prices about half of the California rate and a third less than the national rate.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Mentioned in the other thread, I just returned a Tahoe LT (a RWD one, granted) that got me an indicated 24.5 mpg over the course of a 130 mile run up to Chicago (24.1 on return leg with some sustained idling in traffic for an interstate closure). I maintained speeds of around 76mph where prudent. The truck would go into V4 mode mostly below 75moh where it was flat and little load on the engine, not unpleasant or even very noticeable unless you’re really paying attention. Loved the powerplant, came away with positive impressions of the truck overall. I had a rental Tacoma 4wd with the gutless, downshifting 3.5L that struggled to break past 19mpg over the same drive, granted that was in cold weather in late February.

    • 0 avatar

      had a rental 5.3 Silverado a while back average around 22 MPG on 2 day 350 mile highway trip.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        @gtem – do you happen to know which trans?

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        I just took a 2019 LT 4X4 Silverado with the new 2.7T 4 cylinder that had about 100 miles on it at a local dealer and saw an indicated 25.5 going 70 on the highway for a good half hour drive. The EPA could be way off on this combo as it is on my 2017 Impala 2.5. Not bad for a new truck with literally no break in miles. It was surprisingly quick too but was kind of weird hearing what sounded like an economy car engine under hood starting up and revving out.

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      News flash, trip computers are no good dirty liars. I really don’t understand why anyone even uses them to gauge fuel economy. I have had one car with a pretty accurate trip computer that could get within one mpg out of about 10 vehicles over the years. I have NEVER had a vehicle that underestimated fuel economy. Never once and I track every tank with hand calculation. Or maybe it sucks to admit that you bought something that averages 15 mpg to commute to work in. It’s tough to admit you made a bad choice.

      It’s 2019, this tech has been around for a while, yet somehow always overestimates your fuel economy. Personally, I think it’s intentionally programmed into the cars/trucks. Easy way to stoke owner satisfaction.

      When people talk about fuel economy, I honestly have zero interest in what the computer says. Chances are it’s wrong.

      On a side note, I am not even sure what this article is talking about, almost every truck owner I’ve ever talked to claims to average over 20 mpg. Maybe because they are referring to their trip computer. Or maybe it’s tough to admit you made a bad choice.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        What vehicles are you buying?

        I’ve only had one vehicle equipped with a trip computer that was off by a significant amount. That was a Subaru Forester XT, which reported about 5% better fuel economy than it got. Pontiac, Acura, Ford, and a brace of Lexuses and Toyotas have all been bang on, well within 1% according to Washington state pumps.

      • 0 avatar
        tankinbeans

        I confound the trip computers in my car such that they can never really get a proper estimate of the mileage. I usually fill up from the rock right before half tank and sometimes the computer is wildly optimistic, and others wildly pessimistic. I guess it averages out to being bang on.

        When I had an honest analog gauge, I would do a constant guesstimate based on where the needle was, but with my digilog gauge it makes it harder. I know I’m generally on track for 30ish of I get to 50 miles before the first tick.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I test each car (except the C-Max Energi, which I only had to fill up about every 3 months) by calculating over 5 tanks, all filled up to the first click of the nozzle. That’s enough in my experience to wash out variation in where the nozzle clicks.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        gamper just how far off do you think onboard trip computers get? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was reading 1mpg too high or so, my Town & Country is like that. But even then, about 23mpg for a 5000lb+ V8 SUV, not bad at all.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        I check the miles VS gallons input on my 05′ vette every so often (once a month) the MPG I hand calculate typically comes in higher than what the car calculates.

        My suburban on the other hand, is within .3 of the trip computer. Your thesis they are all dirty liars as they are programmed to show higher than actual figures to make the buyer feel better is a bit tin foil hat for me. As a GM owner, GM has proven over the years to really not care what the actual buyer thinks or feels as evidenced by some of the product they put forth. Though they seem to be doing a better than average job of late in this department I will concede.

        • 0 avatar
          thegamper

          I have had two Buick Enclaves and they have both been off by about 3 mpg each fill up. So I dont think GM is “one of the good ones” My current AWD Enclave which will be gone in a few months probably averages 15-16 mpg, computer consistently says 18 to 19 mpg. (mostly city/stop and go driving) The only really accurate trip computer I have had was Mazda. I bought and leased vehicles from Honda, Nissan, Ford, Buick and Mazda. My experience is that they are typically wrong and always in such a way that the fuel economy is overestimated.

          Sorry guys, I dont think trip computer readouts are even worth considering, unless you have a history where the computer as been spot on over the course of multiple fillups over a long period of time, the reading just doesnt mean much. Again, I think people get upset that they arent getting the mpgs that the vehicle suggests and dont really talk about it and/or, they just dont bother to do a hand calculation.

          • 0 avatar
            dal20402

            Could just be the Australians, but my Pontiac G8 was dead accurate. (Which often meant 12 mpg for tanks of city driving.)

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        My last 5 GM vehicles that were equipped with trip computers were all within +- 1% of accuracy from computer to hand calculation and most of the time dead nuts on. I always check these things out before reporting real world MPG

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    “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.”

    I’d think the answer to that question is obvious, and I’m not sure why this has to be associated with some political question.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    CR pushing an agenda with a foregone conclusion. OF COURSE if you ask people if they want better fuel mileage, they will say yes. If they asked them if they wanted their next vehicle to grant wishes, they’d say yes to that as well. For free of course.

    The facts that matter are the “why buys” of a given vehicle. Typically with FS trucks, fuel economy is down at 4 or 5 on the list, beneath capability, features, comfort etc. Manufacturers will still strive for FE for CAFE and something to boast about, but not at the expense of things higher on the list of why buy.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      This, I’m sure trucking companies would love their big rigs to return 20MPG. It’s not a hard conclusion to make, if it were a big deal then the Prius would replace the F-150 as sales king. The 5.3L in my 2017 W/T is returning 24-26 HWY with the old 6 speed. Would better fuel economy be nice? I suppose, a better gear set and more displacement would be much better however.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree but anywhere in the top 5 has to be of some concern. It’s fun to watch all the guys on Tundra forums freak out about mileage but not so much on the Taco forums. There is this odd contingent of buyers that aren’t truck people who buy a truck to tow an RV or boat, and then drive it every day, lot’s of these people look at tow capacity followed by MPG.

      • 0 avatar
        danio3834

        It is of some concern, just not at the expense of other things.

        The Tundra guys just want their trucks to be competitive.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        And honestly if your drive is only 30 or less miles a day then it’s a pretty hard case to complain about fuel economy even down into the teens, it’s simply not going to make a difference between 12MPG or 18MPG. If your doing over a 100 miles a day I can see getting the V6 or fuel efficient V8 truck or even a full-size car but it should be clear the situation before purchasing decisions are made.

        • 0 avatar

          Yeah distance matters. My wife drives 7K miles a year, 14 MPG in the old Durango around town doesn’t matter much. I drive about 18k a year which kind of changes the math. I would prefer a compact car and a truck but it’s nice not having insurance and property taxes on two vehicles and my driveway is doesn’t have a ton of room. So a fuel efficient fullsize kind of make sense.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      I want to eat a Gino’s Pizzeria 18-inch with pepperoni, sausage, and meatballs every day and retain a 34 inch waist. Where’s my survey? Why didn’t Obama decree that there would be low calorie cheese, dough and pork?

  • avatar
    dal20402

    So many replies about highway fuel economy, which for reasonably geared vehicles is pretty much a function of drag.

    I’ll be impressed when a full-size pickup can get 25 (or more) in mixed driving or the city. Would be easy to get there with a hybrid powertrain like the one GM briefly sold a decade ago.

    • 0 avatar

      yeah in theory a good hybrid would help alot. The new Ram seems to have some software issues on the Hybrid hemi, but I can see the potential.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I’d like to see a more aggressive hybrid setup that can run without the gas motor for extended periods in the city, like a lot of non-pickup hybrids. The Ram system is better than nothing but is basically an alternator + starter on steroids.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Hell, a hybrid-like setup for auto start-stop would be great! In a 2017 Accord Hybrid that I had a couple times as a dealer loaner, the transition was as seamless as you could possibly hope it would be. You don’t want to have to fire a starter, like on a Malibu! Yuk!

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Well they just released the MPG ratings of the Explorer Hybrid and they are 27city 29 hwy for a 28 combined with 2wd. All indications are that the F-150 will use a version of that power train, so I can see a 25 or better city or combined rating for a 2wd F-150 Hybrid.

  • avatar

    As some one who spent little time worrying about MPG in my 4×4’s for a long time I find my self looking at it more and more. It has me seriously considering a used Pentastar Ram 1500. I think getting average combined MPG (real world) over 20-22 MPG with a gas engine is kind of the holy grail for a full size truck. There is a big mental barrier for anything under 20 MPG.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    13 mpg here in my gasser Super Duty and couldn’t be happier with it.

    Would I prefer it got better economy? Sure, in a vacuum. But I’m not willing to compromise anything to get it. I think it’s silly to buy a truck as a daily driver (I don’t daily mine) and then complain about gas mileage. Every vehicle choice has tradeoffs.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Same here, mine is for doing work, not for running to the store for a gallon of milk or daily commuting so I don’t complain about the 12~13mpg my F-250 gets.

  • avatar
    brt

    Or, how about offering smaller trucks for those of us that want a daily driver with a bed and some off road capability. Nothing on the market since the old Ranger. A sub-Tacoma would sell like crazy.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    I think a UTE, such as the Maloo, would be fun. Low-slung like a car, with a bed for bulky bits. What’s not to love?

    I’d even sachet my derriere down to the dealer to get one if the price were something I could afford. I don’t have need of a large truck, but could see the usefulness of a UTE.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Yap. In other shocking news, I’ll take some free fuel if someone’s offering. Otherwise 15.4 mpg I can live with in a truck that’s old enough to drive, gives me no problems, parts are found everywhere if it did, and checks most of the boxes for me. Clearly I’m not rich, and even going to either coasts, it only stings for a little while.

  • avatar
    Dan

    Fuel economy in the truck forums.

    “I want to install a 4″ level and new wheels with 35″ mud tires, that won’t kill my mileage right? Shop quoted me 2600”

    “I just installed the 4″ lift and 35″ mud tires and they killed my mileage, but a regear will bring it back up right? Shop quoted me 2200.”

    Fleet managers don’t post, nobody else cares.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Which of the following would be most important in a future vehicle purchase?
    a. better fuel economy.
    b. more space for passengers/cargo.
    c. more power and speed.
    d. more comfort and luxury.

    Can you guess what the owner of a fully-loaded crew cab with 400+ HP motor is most likely to desire? Can you understand why the owner of a lightly equipped, tiny car with wind-up motor is likely to have different “wish list” preferences?

    Now can you imagine how the “wish list” preferences might change if we include the cost of the wish, as in would you pay $5,000 more to a 3 mpg improvement, or would you tolerate a $10,000 10 speed transmission/twin turbo replacement at 100K miles to get a 5 mpg improvement?

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Which of the following would be most important in a future vehicle purchase?
    a. better fuel economy.
    b. more space for passengers/cargo.
    c. more power and speed.
    d. more comfort and luxury.

    Can you guess what the owner of a fully-loaded crew cab with 400+ HP motor is most likely to desire? Can you understand why the owner of a lightly equipped, tiny car with wind-up motor is likely to have different “wish list” preferences?

    Now can you imagine how the “wish list” preferences might change if we include the cost of the wish, as in would you pay $5,000 more for a 3 mpg improvement, or would you tolerate a $10,000 10 speed transmission/twin turbo replacement at 100K miles to get a 5 mpg improvement?

  • avatar
    Eric the Red

    Drive a 2015 Ford F150 Lariat crew cab 2wd and a 2012 Flex. Both trip computers read 1.5 miles too high of mpg. Have manually calculated many times and very consistent at 1.5 too high. I can achieve 25 mpg with the truck driven conservatively on the highway which I think is incredible for a luxury crew cab truck with 325 horsepower (2.7 V6 Ecoboost). But put a load on this truck and the mileage is less than half that. Just drove 1,500 miles towing a trailer with two motorcycles on it and the mpg was about 12. Was never short on power but definitely shoots the mpg. Ford engineered the truck and drivetrain for high mpg without a load. But how often do most people tax their actual truck capacity?

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      The difference is likely in the frame of reference. The avg eco meter in those vehicles is a rolling average over a frame of 500 miles.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        You’re explanation fails because he said the readings are 1.5 mpg high. If he said that sometimes they read high and sometimes they read low, then the rolling average would explain it. It’s his truck. This isn’t about the time he drove an F150. This is just Ford taking advantage of their customers. They aren’t alone.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      Wierd, the last thing I pulled was a MK III Toyota Supra on a U-Haul trailer (not the dolly, all 4 wheels off the ground). I got 19. Mostly Highway, mostly flat (I-20 from Augusta GA to Huntsville AL.

      I have found it does not like non aerodynamic trailers at all…The Supra was pretty slick up there. Still, I got 12 on that same route pulling my 30 foot, 5200 pound Gulfstream Travel Trailer. Pulling that thing in the mountains though (N. GA, Western NC) can dip you into the single digits.

      Still, I think it is a good compromise for people who need the capability, but not all the time. If I was working it like that more often, especially the Travel Trailer type load, a 3/4 ton would probably be better long term. I hadn’t noticed the trip computer discrepancy…It’s typically a little under or a little over. My wife’s Hyundai is the same. My Fiesta though is typically off by a bit more, but it typically underreports. Figured it was a result of Ford getting burned on the MPG stuff.

  • avatar
    crtfour

    Just last week I had a rental 2019 Ram Hemi 4×4 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.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      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.

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    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.

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