I must confess: I’m a truck guy. I love my truck. I love the fact that economy cars look at my truck with the same soul-shattering fear squirrels have when they look at hungry pit bulls. I love the fact that every Saturday, some little-known friend of a cousin asks me to help him move possessions to large for his sedan. I love the fact that a well-placed rev from my V-8 can drown out and end any unwanted input. I cannot imagine driving anything else but a fire-spitting, gravel-kicking, battleship-towing pick-up; which makes the whole idea that I may be killing the planet with my choices an unwelcomed reality check. I don’t mind hybrid technology—I think the fact that the Prius gets 51 highway miles to the gallon is a great thing. I just would never be caught driving a Prius. A Prius neither represents what I am looking for in a vehicle nor represents how I see myself as a proud driver (plus, my six and a half foot frame in a Prius brings up images of canned sardines). What I need is a good hybrid truck.
It’s too bad no one invented one yet.
Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) rely on gasoline to drive an electric generator that powers at least one electric motor. The constricted combustion cycle is meant to reduce the release of greenhouse gases while increasing the mass-to-energy yield of the fuel as much as three-fold. In a traditional combustion engine, as much as 90% of the energy produced during combustion is lost as heat. HEVs are designed to reduce this waste through efficient electrical generation, recapture of energy through regenerative braking, and intelligent stalling when the vehicle is not in motion. However, with trucks, the mass-to-energy ratio is lower due to the need for the larger, more energy-hungry motors needed for the additional torque. This, coupled with the rarity of dysprosium and neodymium—two of the rare earth magnets needed for the batteries and motors of HEVs—and the fact that China control’s the world’s supply makes hybrid trucks more expensive than their gasoline counterparts without a significant improvement in efficiency.
For example, according to U.S. News & World Report, the 2012 GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid is a poor value in 26 reviews; at $40,010 MSRP, its base price approaches twice what the gasoline-only GMC Sierra 1500 goes for. With a lack of standard features, mushy regenerative brakes, and a diminished towing capability, there is a lot to be hoped for. Despite this, a roomy and beautiful interior and a smooth ride make this far from a write-off. With a 30 horsepower gain from the gasoline-based model to 332 at 5100 RPMs, the not-terrible 33% increase in city fuel economy (from 14 to 20 MPG) and 25% increase in highway fuel economy (from 19 to 23 MPG) makes the GMC Sierra 1500 a reasonable choice. However, the extra cost does not make up for the minor bump in the statistics.
Another example is the 2012 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid. According to U.S. News, the Silverado is a mixed bag. As a work truck, it fails to deliver; it can’t tow what is expected of a truck of its type, and the small bed makes the Silverado inconvenient. Its interior is full of features basic buyers would not necessarily look for (despite having a comfortable interior). The mushy regenerative brakes common to hybrid trucks make an appearance here, and the transition from intelligent stall to full V8 power is jarring and less than seamless. Finally, with a MSRP starting at $39.640, there may be better options. On the plus side, the Silverado’s interior is upgradable to near-luxury levels. More importantly, the price is shrinking; future models should approach the gasoline-only model’s price point. At 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque, the Silverado is at par with the Sierra 1500, and with a 6.0 liter V8 driving two electric motors, it has a world-shaking satisfying presence; even with Sierra 1500-like fuel economy of 20/23 MPG city/highway.
As a point of comparison, the gasoline-only Ford F-150 2WD Regular Cab 8 Feet Box XL has a fuel efficiency of 17 city/23 highway and a MSRP of $23,295.
Even by modest standards, both models are terrible compared to the promise of the Toyota Prius and the Scion iQ. It feels like both of these models are an open-handed attempt to offer the little that the auto manufacturers have to offer toward improved fuel efficiency. This may change soon, though. President Obama has announced federal regulation that would increase the CAFE, or Corporate Average Fuel Economy, for a car manufacturer’s fleet to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. CAFE standards have already been set at 35.5 MPG by 2016. While it is arguable that a manufacturer like Toyota would expand their 100+ MPG fleet of electric cars to offset their truck fleet, it is more likely that lighter, more powerful trucks are on the horizon.
According to Digital Trends, Ford and Toyota are working together towards developing a new system for hybrid vehicles that would improve the fuel efficiency of lightweight pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. Meant to improve the technology available to automotive makers, Ford’s and Toyota’s vehicles that will use the new system will directly compete against each other. The vehicles that will be based on this new system will be available by 2021. Ford and Toyota have said that their collaboration will also develop improved in-car communications and Internet-based services. It may not be too long before your truck can receive traffic and weather updates in real-time.
So, for now, we truck-owners must accept the fact that we are, in fact, burning through the world’s nearly extinct petroleum supply and contributing to global warming unabashedly. That’s the price of our passion. However, for those like me that feels somewhat guilty that fifty years from now—once my vision fades and I become too dangerous to allow to drive alone—I may not have a truck to terrorize my grandkids’ friends with, a better option to the hybrid trucks available to us today may be available in less than ten years. Until then, we can accept the bandage approach available now, or we can deal with our guilt—at least, for the time being.