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Future Truck Technology: Lean & Green

A Barrage of High(er)-Mileage Trucks from Around the World

Jan 30, 2009
Used to be with a full-size pickup or SUV, you got 12-15 mpg. That was unless you had a big block, in which case, you got eight, or maybe six mpg. With a minitruck, you could get 17 or 18, which was fine as long as you didn't need to move anything big or heavy. These days, things are different. All of a sudden, full-size pickups and SUVs are getting 20 mpg and better--and that's a big deal.
By moving trucks up to 20, 22, and 26 mpg from their previous lows, huge savings in fuel become possible. A recent report in Science Magazine quoted a Duke research team that studied the benefits of better mileage in trucks. The team noted that replacing a large vehicle that gets 10 mpg with one that gets 20 saves five gallons of gas for every 100 miles. But replacing a small vehicle that gets 25 mpg with one that gets 50 will only save two gallons per 100 miles. "The reality that few people appreciate is that improving fuel efficiency from 10 to 20 mpg is actually a more significant savings than improving from 25 to 50 mpg for the same distance of driving," explains professor Richard Larrick.
So the greatest fuel savings come from improving the efficiency of the biggest gas-guzzlers--trucks.
Better mileage is welcome in a full-size truck, as long as capability remains comparable. Here we've listed a sampling of the newest high-mileage trucks and SUVs, whenever possible including their towing capacities and performance characteristics. Their gains are enabled by such technologies as high-pressure direct fuel injection, aerodynamic design, turbocharging, and hybrid drive systems. Many offer the option of using renewable fuels such as biodiesel and E85.
The questions are, what are these technologies, where will they appear first, and what do you have to give up to get better-than-mini-truck mileage in a full-size truck? In a nutshell, the tradeoff will be expense. As with any new technologies, initial costs will be higher.
Still, many of the vehicles you see here--even luxury vehicles like the Mercedes diesel SUVs--qualify for the federal Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit. For example, the Mercury Mariner hybrid qualifies for a federal tax credit of up to $3000, and the hybrid GMC Yukon up to $2200. To find out more about that, check www.fueleconomy.gov.
PICKUPS: Lean & Green
Photo 2/19   |   future Truck Technology ford F150 EcoBoost
EcoBoost F-150: More Power and Better Fuel Economy
True truck owners, those who must buy pickups for towing and hauling, need the practicality of a truck, but like everyone else, would like to use less fuel. Unlike the commuters who haul air in their trucks, true truck users don't have the option of swapping their pickups for economy cars.
The obvious solution has been for manufacturers to start putting diesel engines into their light-duty pickup trucks, but the large price difference between regular unleaded and diesel, often about a dollar per gallon, has caused a rethink of that plan. Ford says it has put off (at least for a couple years) its previously announced plan to offer a diesel in the F-150 in 2010.
Photo 3/19   |   future Truck Technology ford F150 EcoBoost Engine
Instead, the company will use some components of diesel engines to make its gas engines more efficient. The company is developing what it calls EcoBoost, which is the replacement of a conventional V-8 engine with a turbocharged, direct-injected V-6 making similar power but using less gas. Such engines are cheaper to build than diesels--costing less than $1000 more than a conventional V-8 in comparison with the $4000 or $5000 price tag of a diesel engine, according to Ford. That $1000 buys you more power, expected to top the targets of 340 horsepower and 340 pound-feet of torque from the 3.5-liter turbo V-6, compared with the 320 and 390 for today's 5.4-liter Triton V-8.
It will also return 15-20-percent-better mileage, Ford engineers predict. That extrapolates to 16 mpg city/23 highway for the EcoBoost engine, compared with 13 and 18 for the V-8 today.
Towing and other hard work won't tax the EcoBoost engine, even though conventional wisdom would suggest that a smaller-displacement engine would have to work harder and that a turbocharged engine could be stressed by heavy loads. The direct injection of gasoline has the effect of cooling the combustion chamber, as the fuel absorbs heat when it evaporates. According to an engineer who is developing the EcoBoost F-150, "cooling has not been an issue."
One challenge will be the sound characteristics of a turbo six-cylinder, which will be different from the familiar mellow rumble of a V-8. The company is looking at solutions, including a simplified active sound-cancellation system that will mold the sound waves that emerge from the exhaust pipe, but without a complex closed-loop system using microphones to monitor and adapt to the sounds being produced. The system would instead use a simple data map to know what it should do under different circumstances.
EcoBoost-powered F-150s will arrive in showrooms in 2010 for the 2011 model year.--Dan Carney
Photo 4/19   |   future Truck Technology 2009 Dodge Ram 3500 Diesel
2009 Dodge Ram 3500 diesel
Some might be surprised to see the Dodge Ram 3500, with its 6.7-liter diesel, on the list of green trucks that will change the world. But the big six-cylinder Cummins is the most fuel efficient of the domestic heavy haulers. And it will be first among the domestics to be certified to burn B20, a clean, renewable American-made fuel that is 20-percent biodiesel. Chrysler has already certified the 6.7 to burn B20 for fleet use, and is expected to announce certification of B20 for all new 6.7 Ram pickups in the near future.
The combined benefits of diesel mileage and B20 use add up. According to Dodge, a Ram diesel pickup running on B20 fuel would use nearly 40 percent less petroleum over its lifetime compared with a similar gasoline-powered vehicle. Biodiesel, generally made from recycled fryer oil, closes a waste loop and can be burned without adding carbon to the environment.
Photo 5/19   |   future Truck Technology 2010 Dodge Ram 1500
2010 Dodge Ram 1500
In 2010, the Dodge Ram 1500 will add two more powertrain options--a version of the two-mode hybrid system in the Aspen/Durango, and a new Cummins turbodiesel. The turbodiesel engine will meet 50-state emissions standards, and achieve a 30-percent fuel-economy improvement, Chrysler sources estimate. Expect something in the range of 4.5 to 5.0 liters, delivering around 20 mpg overall, certified for use with B20. Naturally, there will be big torque in the bargain.
The two-mode hybrid system, developed jointly with GM, can allow the pickup to operate on electric power only, engine power only, or any combination of the two. Electric-only operation results in a significant reduction in fuel consumption in heavy stop-and-go traffic. The second mode is used primarily at highway speeds, allowing the electric motors to assist the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 for bursts of passing power or temporary hill-climbing assistance. Capability specifications have not been released for either powertrain, but we would expect to see towing, hauling, and acceleration performance to vary only slightly from comparable gas-powered models.
Photo 6/19   |   future Truck Technology 2009 Ford F 150 SFE
2009 Ford F-150 SFE
With the F-150, Ford aims for efficiency without offering diesel. Smaller engines with lighter, more aerodynamic bodies are mated to six-speed transmissions to produce an average 12-percent fuel-economy improvement across the line. High-strength steel was used to shave weight without losing capability, and for perhaps the first time ever, extensive wind-tunnel testing was conducted to clean up airflow over the top of the cab and tailgate.
Ford's SFE package puts all the high-mileage upgrades into one model. The SFE combines the six-speed transmission with the three-valve 4.6-liter V-8 and a very tall 3.15:1 rear axle. Because the six-speed automatic has a very low first gear, the SFE is still rated to tow as much as 7500 pounds. Low-rolling-resistance tires, mounted on 18-inch wheels, are part of the formula. It's available in XLT and XL trim, and alas, in RWD only. We've driven the SFE (for Superior Fuel Economy) at the Ford proving grounds. We didn't drive it loaded to capacity, but with the bed empty you can still peel out from a standing start. Expect to see the SFE package extended to Ford full-size SUVs in 2009.
2009 Silverado XFE
On the 2009 Chevy Silverado (and GMC Sierra), the XFE model leads the way. XFE (for Xtra Fuel Economy) is a package of mechanical, aerodynamic, and weight-reducing tactics that raise fuel economy to 15 mpg city and 21 highway.
Photo 7/19   |   future Truck Technology 2009 Chevy Silverado XFE
Possibly because of a bigger V-8 and slightly lower rearend gear, the XFE approach to fuel economy relies on aerodynamics more than does Ford's SFE package. The XFE is slightly lowered, with an extended front air dam and a soft tonneau bed cover. That brings the coefficient of drag down to 0.412--pretty good for a pickup truck--and improves highway mileage. Weight reductions, such as aluminum wheels (including the spare), engine block and heads, and front-suspension control arms boost city economy.
A 3.08 axle ratio is also standard on all XFE models. As with the Ford SFE package, low-rolling-resistance tires that specify a higher tire pressure are part of the deal. The XFE packages are limited to RWD Crew Cab vehicles with the aluminum 5.3-liter V-8 (LC9) and six-speed transmission. The LC9, a flex-fuel engine capable of burning E85, gets its best mileage on regular gas. With the bigger engine and nominally lower rear-end ratio, the XFE achieves good mileage improvements without sacrificing much capability. Towing capacities of the Silverado and Sierra actually increase from 6600 pounds to 7000 pounds, due to the new six-speed automatic transmission and a high-capacity cooling package.
Photo 8/19   |   future Truck Technology 2009 Silverado Hybrid
2009 Silverado Hybrid
This is GM's second try at hybrids, following the original mild hybrid offered as a worksite generator truck. This time around, GM has a true hybrid system, and there's nothing girly about it. Under the hood is a 6.0-liter V-8, backed by a Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic transmission (with high-capacity cooling on Silverado and Sierra). The powertrain, shared with some other 2-Mode hybrids, permits a 6100-pound towing capacity and for-real performance when conditions demand. Yet efficiency is improved overall by about 25 percent. With the Silverado (and GMC Sierra) Hybrid, 2WD mileage climbs to 21 city and 22 highway, or about 20 mpg for 4x4s.
Especially efficient around town, where mileage gains can be up to 40 percent, the 2-Mode hybrid system permits all-electric driving at speeds up to 30 mph for distances of about a mile. Production started in December. GM plans for an eight-year, 100,000-mile hybrid component warranty. The Silverado hybrids will be pricey, but will come loaded with standard equipment, including locking rear differential and Bluetooth, plus climate control, safety, and audio upgrades. That brings the starting price to $38,995 for a RWD, and it goes up from there. Buyers could qualify for a federal tax credit of as much as $2200.
SPORT/UTILITIES: Lean & Green
Photo 9/19   |   future Truck Technology 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe XFE
2009 Chevrolet Tahoe XFE
GM has already extended the XFE package to its full-size SUVs, including the 2009 Tahoe and GMC Yukon. For the Tahoe, wind resistance was reduced to a Cd of 0.349, according to GM sources. The result will be an expected five-percent gain in highway mileage and a seven-percent improvement around town. Other than that, not much is changed--most regular production options will be available when they hit the showrooms in early 2009.
Photo 10/19   |   future Truck Technology 2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid
2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid
We had a test drive in the Escalade hybrid and must say it's uncanny to move out in a full-size SUV without the engine running. The Escalade has the same 2-Mode hybrid system that appears in the Silverado and Sierra, allowing it to blend output from the battery and gas engine according to driver demand. As with other hybrids we've driven, the transition between electric-only and gas/electric power occurs when speeds get higher or the throttle comes down harder. The result is a faint whirring thump as the engine lights up along with the usual background intake/exhaust sounds of a 6.0-liter V-8. It's a transition you can hear, but not really feel, as you drive.
The 6.0-liter V-8/hybrid combination mates Active Fuel Management with the 2-Mode hybrid system and a 3.42 rear-axle ratio. The 6.0 uses an Atkinson-cycle combustion process, which means intake valves remain open later in the cycle for better efficiency. For the Escalade, the engine is tuned to produce 332 horsepower at 5100 rpm and 367 pound-feet of torque at 4100 rpm on regular unleaded. Power passes through an electric continuously variable transmission; the electric motors are supplied by a 300-volt nickel-metal hydride battery pack.
Cadillac has announced a starting MSRP of $72,865, a premium of $4895 over a comparably equipped Escalade. The Escalade hybrid will come with a very high level of standard equipment; the only two extra-cost options are four-wheel drive and power runningboards.
Photo 11/19   |   future Truck Technology 2009 Saturn Vue 2 Mode Hybrid
2009 Saturn VUE 2-Mode Hybrid
Billed as the world's most fuel-efficient V-6 SUV, the Saturn VUE 2-Mode is the second hybrid in the Vue line. It's not a cargo truck so much as a people-mover, but the hybrid system in this front-drive trucklet can increase efficiency up to 50 percent over the non-hybrid V-6 Vue. The Vue 2-Mode Hybrid's 3.6-liter VVT V-6 engine has direct injection for maximum fuel efficiency. Acceleration time from 0-60 is expected to be around 7.3 seconds, and the maximum towing load will be 3500 pounds. Driving range is projected at more than 500 miles per tankful.
GM has announced plans for a plug-in hybrid version of the Vue for launch around 2010.
Photo 12/19   |   future Truck Technology 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid
2009 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid
This full-size SUV combines 25- to 30-percent better overall fuel economy, up to 6200 pounds of useable towing capacity (6000 pounds on 4WD models) and a 12,000-pound GCWR--plus eight-passenger seating. The 2-Mode hybrid system uses two electric continuously variable transmission modes of operation to optimize power and torque for various conditions. The addition of the second mode, which comes into play at higher speeds, reduces the need for large electric motors, typically used in single-mode systems. The smaller motors are lighter and more easily packaged. In the Tahoe hybrid, the 6.0-liter V-8 delivers 332 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque.
Chevrolet Tahoe (and GMC Yukon) hybrids are EPA rated for 21 mpg in the city, comparable with a 2.4-liter Toyota Camry sedan. EPA highway fuel economy is 22 mpg. For 4x4s, the Tahoe/Yukon hybrids are rated at 20 mpg, city and highway. All GM hybrids are treated as luxury SUVs, with an unique gauge cluster and with high levels of standard equipment, offered at premium prices. Pending IRS approval, Tahoe/Yukon buyers could be eligible for a federal tax credit, reducing the MSRP to something under $50,000.
2009 Chrysler Aspen Hybrid
Along with biofuel-capable diesels, Chrysler has developed hybrid SUVs that are already on sale. The Aspen shown here (and its sister ship, the Dodge Durango Hybrid) is a true hybrid. It's able to operate at speeds up to 30 mph on battery power alone and has regenerative brakes and a stop/start system. The 300-volt battery pack is stored under the back seat. The gasoline engine is the 5.7 multidisplacement V-8, which can shut down cylinders when demand is light. The two technologies together yield an EPA rating of 20 city and 22 highway, a significant improvement over the 13/18 mpg the standard model is rated. Because of that, the Aspen/Durango hybrid can qualify for a federal tax credit of up to $2200.
Photo 13/19   |   future Truck Technology 2009 Chrysler Aspen Hybrid
Towing capacity is reduced to 6000 pounds, compared to 8600 for a "properly equipped" standard Aspen, but the power is there when you need it. The 5.7-liter V-8's total output, when combined with the two-mode hybrid system, is 400 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. Like a lot of hybrids these days, the Aspen has a display in the dash that teaches the driver how to operate in the most economical mode.
On the move, the Aspen seems especially quiet--nearly silent when operating on battery. The regenerative brakes have a different pedal feel than standard four-wheel discs, but on the whole the Aspen hybrid is a very driveable, comfortable large SUV that retains the capabilities SUV owners need. Unfortunately, the future of these vehicles is in question as Chrysler is closing the plant where they were scheduled to be built.
Photo 14/19   |   future Truck Technology Jeep EV Concept
Jeep EV concept
Chrysler has shown electric demonstration vehicles that use lithium-ion battery packs to power an electric drive motor. A controller manages the energy flow. The system is being developed for FWD, RWD, and as shown here, 4WD applications. The idea is that these types of vehicles could become zero-emissions vehicles for people driving less than 150 miles per day, although we suspect the actual range would be significantly less in the real world. Still, it's an intriguing technology.
The Jeep EV, a "range-extended" electric vehicle, backs up the electric motor and battery pack with an integrated electric generator to produce additional energy to power the electric-drive system when needed. The 200-kW (268 horsepower) electric motor generates 295 pound-feet of torque. With approximately eight gallons of gasoline, the Jeep EV has a range of 400 miles, including 40 miles of all-electric operation.
Jeep engineers are also exploring four-wheel drive, using in-wheel electric motors to demonstrate more advanced electric-drive technologies. The instant high torque of the electric-drive motor and the ability to precisely control each wheel independently would supply off-road capability ideally suited for Jeeps, without compromising on-road driving characteristics.
Photo 15/19   |   future Truck Technology 2009 BMW X5 XDrive35d
2009 BMW X5 xDrive35d
Powered by an inline six-cylinder diesel, the new X5 35d exemplifies the more performance-oriented European approach to fuel economy in North America. By using high-pressure common-rail direct injection, combined with piezo injectors and sequential twin-turbo technology, BMW engineers have put together a package that delivers high performance and high mileage, and meets stringent North American emissions standards. By combining small and large turbos, the engine develops as much as 390 pound-feet of torque at 1500 rpm, and 425 pound-feet at just 1750 rpm, before reaching peak horsepower of 265 at 4200 rpm. A six-speed automatic supplies the right gear for any situation--0-to-60 mph can be achieved in 6.9 seconds. Because fuel economy is rated at 18 mpg city and 26 highway, the X5 35d qualifies for a $1550 tax credit.
Meeting tough 50-state emissions required using a selective catalyst reduction system with urea injection as part of the exhaust gas treatment. Use of urea, which BMW calls AdBlue, allows for optimized engine management. The system contains enough AdBlue to allow the driver to replace the fluid during normal service intervals, and the cost is covered as part of the BMW maintenance program.
Photo 16/19   |   future Truck Technology 2009 Mercedes Benz ML320
2009 Mercedes-Benz ML320
The 3.0-liter V-6 turbodiesel engine under the hood of the new Mercedes GL-, M-, and R-Class BlueTEC models is developed to deliver fuel economy in large SUVs. It has an output of 210 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque starting at 1600 rpm. The same BlueTEC powertrain is available in all three vehicles, including the ML320 shown above. Highway fuel-economy ratings are 23-24 mpg, a 17- to 26-percent benefit over the gasoline engines in each model. The improved mileage also results in less oil imported over the life of the vehicle, and less CO2 released into the atmosphere. Mercedes diesels use urea-based SCR exhaust aftertreatment systems that are similar to those used on Audi and BMW clean diesels, carrying enough of the AdBlue liquid onboard to last about 10,000 miles.
Photo 17/19   |   future Truck Technology 2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid
2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid
The Mariner hybrid is a five-passenger SUV notable for remarkable fuel efficiency--34 mpg city and 31 highway. It's available in FWD and AWD configurations. A 330-volt battery pack powers an AC permanent magnet motor that assists a 2.5-liter Duratec four-cylinder gas engine that runs on Atkinson cycle valve timing. Horsepower and torque are modest--153 horsepower and 136 pound-feet--and the Mariner can only tow 1000 pounds. But for carrying people and their gear, it's a remarkably efficient SUV. The Ford Escape is also offered using a similar hybrid system, as is the Mazda Tribute.
Photo 18/19   |   future Truck Technology 2010 Lexus RX 450h
2010 Lexus RX 450h
While other manufacturers are offering their first hybrids, Toyota (and Lexus) is introducing its second-generation systems. The Lexus RX 450h shown below is the most advanced, with a newly redesigned hybrid drive system that makes more power and recharges more efficiently than previously. It's powered by a 3.5-liter Atkinson cycle V-6 and rated to produce 295 horsepower, total combined output. Nickel-metal hydride batteries, with a 10-year warranty, are stored under the rear seat. Lexus estimates EPA mileage at 28 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway for the all-wheel-drive RX 450h, about one mpg better overall for FWD models. The 450h seats five and tows 3500 pounds.
Toyota offers an additional hybrid SUV, the hybrid Highlander.
Photo 19/19   |   future Truck Technology 2009 Audi Q7 TDI Diesel
2009 Audi Q7 3.0 TDI diesel
Audi undertook a diesel mileage tour in 2008 to demonstrate the potential of its new diesels. During that trip, the Audi Q7 TDI was driven by teams of media drivers, and achieved fuel economy approaching 30 mpg. (The VW Touareg V6 TDI, offering essentially the same powertrain, is said to be able to achieve 17/25 mpg, city and highway.) The seven-seat Q7 is powered by a 225-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 that benefits from a variable-turbocharged, four-valve common-rail induction system with piezo injectors. Peak torque is 405 pound-feet.
As with the other European diesels, urea injection is used to achieve 50-state emissions requirements. The transmission is a six-speed automatic. The Q7 is scheduled to arrive in April 2009.

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