The big news for 2012 in terms of regulatory compliance and reporting was the inflated fuel economy figures reported by Hyundai and Kia for many models built over the last several years. Going forward from 2013, the big compliance story could be about full-size truck towing standards. But the key difference is that towing standards compliance and disclosure is determined by a private voluntary organization, not the government.
Gary Pollak, program manager for technical projects at the Society of Automotive Engineers, explained the organization's limited recourse in policing and enforcing standards. "We can only pursue cases where manufacturers are making false or misleading claims that they're in accordance with our technical standards when they're not. If they're not making a claim of compliance to an SAE standard, there's nothing we can really do."
Currently there's an SAE J2807 towing standards stalemate in which all of the major pickup manufacturers, except for one smaller-volume player, are waiting for each other to voluntarily adopt and report figures according to the new standard. When will voluntary, universal compliance finally happen? It's anyone's guess, but today, nearly three years after the establishment of the standards, only Toyota is voluntarily abiding by and reporting towing capacity of its full-size trucks.
Despite being the only participant, Toyota is not pursuing any recourse with the Society of Automotive Engineers, which created the J2807 standard. The organization's members are employees of all the automakers, and standards are created and formed collaboratively.
Toyota decided to comply as a courtesy to its customers, according to Sam Butto, Truck and SUV senior product communications specialist for Toyota Motor Sales. "Toyota has been in compliance since 2011. We did it because we felt it was beneficial to the manufacturers to adopt one standard, and especially beneficial to consumers, so when they're comparing claims, they're doing it on an apples-to-apples basis," Butto said. "We hope the other manufacturers eventually come around to voluntarily reporting according to the J2807 standards." He said Toyota's compliance also is a valuable selling point when sales staff is working with customers shopping competitive vehicles. "One thing we can say is that our truck tow standard is based on the SAE towing standard, which no other manufacturer can claim at this time."
Toyota may be the compliance pioneer, but the major players in the full-size pickup sphere are indisputably the Detroit Three. And although engineers and representatives from all the companies were involved in the formation of the J2807 standard, none are willing to commit until the other manufacturers do.
According to Tom Wilkinson, communications manager for Chevrolet Trucks and SUVs, General Motors was prepared to begin voluntarily reporting J2807 standards starting with the 2013 model year, on the understanding that it would get unanimous buy-in from the other manufacturers. But another manufacturer backed out at the last minute. "There was kind of an agreement among the working-level engineers that everyone would go for the 2013 model year, and one of our major competitors decided not to. We're now looking at everyone going in together in a year or two," he said.
J2807 'A Good Idea'
Presently, there's no timeline for J2807 universal adoption and compliance. Wilkinson cited a Yogi Berra quote, saying, "It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." He said dealers and the customer call center are well-equipped with information about towing and the vehicles' capacities. He reiterated GM's support for J2807 in principle, but said it only makes sense if there's unanimous compliance.
Wilkinson said J2807 was irrelevant to heavy-duty customers, since it only applies to trucks up to 13,000 lb GVWR. "Someone who's buying a dualie and doing heavy towing probably know what they're doing," Wilkinson said. Nick Cappa, Ram Trucks communications manager, echoed Wilkinson's distinction. "The Ram Engineering team did use the SAE tow procedures and requirements to validate our new ratings." The Ram brand recently made headlines with an unprecedented 30,000-lb fifth-wheel towing capacity for the Ram 3500 HD, and Cappa says the company stands behind that claim. The 2013 Ram 1500 has a maximum conventional tow rating of 10,450 lb.
Mike Levine, Ford's truck communications manager, made the distinction on implementation of the standards in 2013 with all-new models, noting that the F-150 received a refresh in 2013, and was not an all-new model. "We'll test and report according to the standards with the introduction of all-new vehicles beginning with the 2013 model year," he said. "The 2013 Escape, which was an all-new model for 2013, complies with the J2807 standard. When our all-new pickups debut, they will comply with the standard."
While everyone agrees about J2807's merit, and all the major manufacturers were involved in the formulation and creation of the standard, each is waiting for the other to comply. But with all the major pickup manufacturers claiming maximum towing capacities for their half-ton models above 10,000 lb, the stakes are undeniably higher than in the days when five-figure towing capacity was the sole domain of three-quarter and one-ton models. Hopefully the half-ton truck buyer will be the ultimate winner when universal compliance and reporting eventually comes, whenever that may be.