The phrase "truck aerodynamics" might seem like an oxymoron, especially when considering a truck's traditional brick-like shape. However, because the design baseline is so bad, there's plenty of room for improvement. Helping blocky utility vehicles slide through the air more easily is an area of significant effort by manufacturers. Heavy-duty highway tractors embraced aerodynamics some years ago; as conservatively styled as the tractors may be, their owners are more motivated by the opportunity to save fuel costs than anything else.
But pickup-truck and SUV buyers don't typically stay financially afloat based on the fuel economy of their vehicles, so these buyers may be a tougher audience for streamlined designs. Witness Ford's more muscular-looking 2004 F-150.
"You hit on the thing that makes our life tough in the Jeep and truck division," says Rick Aneiros, vice president of Jeep and truck design at the Chrysler Group. "Our customers are traditional and have a clear idea of what a Jeep or truck looks like."
Designers can trick the eye and cheat the wind, making customers happy on the highway and at the gas pump. The Dodge Durango recently traded some of its macho design for a pointy-nosed look that carries a larger grille ahead of a sloping hood. That's the obvious part. Less obvious is the four-inch air dam at the bottom of the front bumper that keeps air from getting under the truck, where it swirls around the running gear and creates drag.
"That's a common trick, one we all do," explains Bill Pien, supervisor of vehicle aerodynamics, Ford Motor Company. "We spent a lot of time developing a spoiler for the front bumper of the new Explorer to help us increase the fuel economy."