The Obama administration just passed one of the most sweeping and comprehensive changes to emissions and fuel economy standards in our nation's history. The new CAFE standards create a national standard and incorporate California's strict emissions rules to raise the fleet fuel efficiency standard for all domestically sold passenger cars will be 39 mpg. The standard will be 30 mpg for all domestically sold light trucks and sport utility vehicles.
While many believe this will be the end of the American pickup and pickup culture as we know it, I don't have quite as gloomy an outlook. Will the truck of tomorrow be different than the pickup of today? No question about it. But will it mean we're all going to be puttering around in featherweight, emasculated vehicles that struggle under the load of a few hundred pounds? Not likely.
For one thing, from everything I've seen and read, 3/4 and 1-ton trucks will still be exempt from this standard. Meaning, you'll still be able to get your Super Duty, Silverado HD and Dodge Ram 2500 or 3500. Emissions standards are tightening up on commercial and heavy vehicles as well, but not to the same extent as passenger cars and light trucks.
What it likely means is you're going to see more turbocharged six-cylinder engines in place of V8s, although the V8 is unlikely to disappear completely for quite a while. You're probably going to see a lot more hybrid half-tons. In terms of the long-anticipated half-ton diesels, it seems the jury is split 50/50 in terms of this probability. Some say diesel's inherently higher CO2 emissions per gallon of fuel burned favors direct-injected turbocharged gas engines, which can produce similar levels of power and torque to an equivalent turbodiesel while delivering close to the same fuel economy. Others still think diesels have an advantage, and with improved combustion sensor technology and more finely-tuned fuel delivery, as well as ever-advancing exhaust after-treatment technology, that diesels are the future. I guess we'll have to just wait and see on that one.
But just to put things in perspective, I wanted to give the example of the Chevy Silverado over the past 15 years. The 1995 Chevy Silverado 4x4 (or K1500, if you're a stickler for detail) got 11 miles per gallon in the city and 15 on the highway. The 2009 equivalent model gets 14 miles per gallon city and 20 mpg highway. An improvement of 3 and 6 miles per gallon, respectively. Or in percentage terms, more than 30 percent better highway fuel economy and 27 percent better city fuel economy. Oh yeah, and the 1995 model had 200 horsepower, and the 2009 model has 315 horsepower. A percentage gain in horsepower of more than 57 percent!
I personally have a lot of confidence in the engineers working for the major automakers. The economy going down the toilet and federal bailouts aside, these are some highly skilled people. Whether or not they philosophically agree with the higher standards, they're here to stay, and now that there's a measurable benchmark to aim for, I fully expect them to hit the target, and then some. What do you think?