The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just published its 2014 fuel economy trends report, and though the news is generally positive, some potential storm clouds remain on the horizon for manufacturers. While the overall average fleet fuel economy hit a record 24.1 mpg for the 2013 model year, the monthly update from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) showed a 0.5 mpg drop in September 2014, equal to the 2012 to 2013 annual increase.
The long-term trend has definitely been upward. Last year represented the eighth increase in the past 9 years for the American new vehicle fleet. Automakers will have to maintain this momentum if they expect to hit the 2025 corporate average fuel economy target of 54.5 mpg. Fortunately, attendees at a fuel economy technology showcase at the EPA emissions testing lab in Ann Arbor were all publicly confident that the targets were achievable.
As for the sudden drop in September, that can be explained by what are likely temporary market conditions that led to a significant uptick in full-size truck sales at General Motors (GM) and Chrysler. As the 2014 model year drew to a close, combined sales of the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra jumped 46%, aided by incentives of up to $4,500. Ram sales were also helped along by retail incentives of up to $3,000, as well as the popularity of the new Ram 1500 EcoDiesel.
From Steel to Aluminum
Sales of Ford’s F-series trucks were essentially flat, as the automaker began the transition to its all-new, aluminum-bodied 2015 F-150. It appears that GM and Chrysler are hoping to grab some market share in the financially lucrative big truck segment in hopes that Ford would stumble in the complicated transition from steel to aluminum trucks.
At this point next year, even if truck sales continue to climb, we’re unlikely to see a similar drop-off in fuel economy, thanks to new technology in the segment. The weight savings and new power plants for the Ford trucks are projected to deliver up to 20% better fuel efficiency than the steel-bodied versions.
Chrysler and GM also have to meet the new fuel economy standards. Ram pickups are already available with ZF 8-speed transmissions, and GM is adding its first 8-speed automatic transmission to 2015 pickups with a 6.2-liter V8. As GM ramps up production of the new 8L90 transmission, it will probably get paired with other engines as well. GM and Ford also have a joint development program to produce 9- and 10-speed transmissions for trucks and other vehicles in the next few years.
Chrysler is also building on the success of the 28 mpg Ram 1500 EcoDiesel by doubling production to 20% of its total production volume of trucks in 2015. Ford is still awaiting final EPA certification on the 2015 F-150, but the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 is also expected to get a highway rating in the upper 20s. GM’s new midsize Colorado and Canyon pickups are already rated at up to 27 mpg with a gasoline V6, and a diesel version is coming some time in 2015. Ford is also offering a diesel engine option in the new Transit full-size vans that replace the E-series this year. Ford will likely be closely following the sales trajectory for diesel engines in the Chrysler and GM trucks, as well as the next-generation Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra, which will both be available with a Cummins-sourced 5.0-liter diesel V8.
With the huge sales volumes of pickup trucks in North America, lightweighting, advanced powertrains, and automatic stop-start, trucks will make a big contribution to reducing fossil fuel use in the next decade.
Tags: Clean Transportation, Diesel Vehicles, Electric Vehicles, Policy & Regulation, Smart Transportation Program, Transportation Forecasts
| No Comments »