Fuel economy push gives pickup buyers options
There's a persistent fear among some in the auto industry that fuel economy regulations will result in a limited selection of undersized, underperforming pickups that buyers won't want.
So far, the results are the exact opposite.
Faced with a need to improve the fuel efficiency of their trucks, automakers have responded with a variety of technologies and vehicles.
Consumers will soon be presented with a wide range of choices, increasing the odds that each can find the exact truck that meets his or her needs.
For years, makers of full-sized pickups squared off with comparison advertisements that focused on payload and towing capacity; V-8 engines ruled. Then gasoline prices jumped.
In a market that suddenly cares about fuel economy, Ford Motor Co. has scored big with fuel-efficient V-6 engines that deliver impressive torque.
This fall, Chrysler Group says, the redesigned Ram 1500 full-sized pickup will best Ford's F-series truck to claim segment leadership in fuel economy for both V-6s and V-8s.
General Motors, in contrast, plans to keep its big pickups as workhorses and offer a mid-sized pickup for buyers who are looking for fuel economy more than size or muscle.
Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. haven't yet shown their next-generation full-sized pickups, due in 2014, but they're likely to boast improved fuel economy without sacrificing performance.
Ford, which has discontinued the small Ranger pickup, says some former Ranger buyers are finding their needs are better met with the Transit Connect small cargo van.
If pickup buyers are willing to consider cargo vans as an alternative, they will soon find they have even more choices.
The Nissan NV200 and a Chrysler van, a reskinned version of the Fiat Doblo, will soon take on the Transit Connect.
For those wanting full-sized cargo vans, an array of fuel-efficient choices from GM, Ford, Chrysler and Nissan are headed for showrooms.
The industry is to be commended for responding to a shift in truck buyers' wants with an impressive lineup of competing offerings, none of which is dinky or underpowered.
The market will determine which manufacturer comes out on top, but the consumer will be the true winner.