So, are we going to get rid of all the new pickups?
You'd have to wonder, given the stringent fuel economy rules coming into effect in 2016, both here in Canada and the United States.
Here's the problem: the new rules require manufacturers to sell a fleet of vehicles that averages 35.5 miles per gallon (6.6 litres/100 km). Plenty of small cars can do that right now, and some larger diesels and gasoline-electric hybrids, too.
But pickups? Full-size pickups? Not without adding $5,000-$8,000 in cost for a fuel-efficient and clean diesel, or $8,000-$10,000 for a hybrid. Big, full-size, V-8-powered pickups are primarily work trucks in Canada, so as it stands now, the businesses that buy them are facing a tremendous hit to the bottom line.
The fact is, less expensive technological improvements just won't do the job. Let's say the auto companies really manage to squeeze out weight, add in more efficient combustion techniques (direct injection with turbocharging) and tidy up designs to make pickups as aerodynamic as the best cars (though that last one will never, ever happen). Maybe we'd see a 30 per cent fuel economy bump.
That would be hugely impressive. And it would get today's V-8 rig to about 21-23 miles per gallon, well short of 35.5.
Now keep in mind that the top-selling vehicle in Canada this year is the Ford F-Series. With sales at 27,513 through the end of April, the F-Series outsold the best-selling passenger car, the Mazda3 (17,198), by more than 10,000 units.
Meanwhile, the Dodge Ram is the fifth best-selling vehicle in Canada (16,029), and if we combine General Motors' twins, the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado, the sales total comes to 24,890.
The numbers are so big in part because light truck sales overall in Canada have exploded this year, up 21 per cent in an total market up 11.3 per cent. (For the record, passenger car sales have grown a paltry 2.0 per cent over a weak 2009.)
The boom in trucks has a lot to do with Canada's recovering economy. Pickups, in particular, are workhorse vehicles valued for their utility and their durability (71.8 per cent of all light trucks sold over the last 24 years are still on the road today, versus just 56.0 per cent of passenger cars, notes DesRosiers Automotive Consultants). Businesses, small and large, need light trucks to do their work.
So what's the answer here? How will auto makers conform to CAFÉ (corporate average fuel economy) given the very real consumer and business demand for pickups and other light trucks? Will there be a move to smaller pickups?
Doesn't seem likely. Only one small pickup has cracked the Top 10 in 2010, the Ford Ranger with 7,268 sold through April. And the Ranger is having a banner year, with sales up in Canada 37 per cent and up 14 per cent in the U.S. Though competent enough, the Ranger is an aging design, and therefore is heavily discounted. Ranger buyers are chasing a bargain, first and foremost.
Overall, small pickup sales have been shrinking for years, so it seems unlikely that buyers will start returning to them in massive numbers, at least if fuel and transaction prices stay steady. That leaves the regulators one option: change the rules to accommodate the reality of the marketplace.
Given the Prime Minister and his party have their base in pickup-friendly Alberta, you can expect just that. Perhaps along with other modifications to the 2016 CAFÉ rules.
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