DETROIT -- The full-sized pickup’s reign as General Motors’ No. 1-selling vehicle likely is in jeopardy. The same might be true of the F series as Ford’s top seller.
To meet proposed higher fuel economy and lower emissions standards, automakers will eventually need to develop a leaner range of pickup trucks, mid-sized pickups, said Jamie Hresko, vice president of GM’s global powertrain engineering.
Automakers may have to achieve corporate average fuel economy standards of 62 mpg for the overall fleet by 2025, under the most ambitious scenario outlined by the U.S. government. The 2011 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 gets 22 mpg on the highway and 15 mpg in the city.
The smaller, lighter-weight pickups will be more fuel efficient than today’s full-sized, light-duty pickups, serving as an alternative if fuel prices climb to a level not been seen before. The trucks would be aimed at buyers who prefer pickups but do not need the capability of full-sized trucks and do not use pickups for their work.
Hresko said: “A lot of people don’t use pickups just to drive around. They use them because they need them. I think that is what the market will be left with eventually: people who got to have them. I got a business; I tow with something.”
He would not say whether a mid-sized pickup is being developed by GM.
Hresko said automakers will make every effort to continue to offer V-8-powered, full-sized pickups. In addition to reducing vehicle weight and engine displacement, GM will add variable valve lift, direct injection and other technology to its truck engines. Small fuel economy gains are still likely to be achieved from the automatic transmissions in GM’s pickups.
Smaller pickups inevitable
But at some point, especially with the likelihood of higher gasoline prices down the road, a smaller, lighter-weight pickup is inevitable.
Hresko said that as you look around the industry, “what you have seen is a massive shift to smaller, more efficient, so I think it applies to every segment,” including pickup trucks. Hresko was interviewed Tuesday at the Detroit auto show.
He said he thinks an increase in energy costs is “inevitable with the expansions in China and other regions. Logic would say prices will go up” and pickup buyers will be looking for a more fuel efficient alternative, Hresko said.
“My point is the general population will eventually walk there. I do believe that. I am not sure what the marketers think. To me it is logical,” Hresko said.
But if many buyers do not shift to mid-sized pickups, GM and other automakers might be forced to push them in that direction. For example, to meet future emissions or CAFE regulations, automakers might need to make the full-sized trucks less attractive to some buyers.
One possibility is to adjust the pricing of full-sized pickups, making mid-sized pickups more attractive to buyers who do not need pickups for their jobs.
Another possibility is eliminating such features as leather seats and a long list of luxury-like options on full-sized pickups.
The full-sized pickups of the future might be positioned much as pickups were in the 1950s and 1960s, basically aimed at tradesman, farmers and construction workers, for example.
“I think that is a logical, rational way of looking at it,” Hresko said.