F-150s, Silverados, Rams, and Tundras do not have to run on tiny four-cylinder hybrids by 2016. New Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards announced by the Obama administration for the 2012-16 model years are not as bad as they sound. The 2016 CAFE must be 35.5 mpg combined, which is expected to come out to 39 mpg for cars and 30 mpg for trucks when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration writes its final ruling by next year. First of all it's crucial to remember these CAFE figures are based on the uncorrected combined fuel economy test results, which tend to be about 25 percent higher than the corrected combined EPA window-sticker figures with which you're familiar.
Key to keeping work trucks and some traditional sport/utility vehicles in showrooms is a complicated formula called the "S-curve." Think of the 30-mpg truck standard as a straight, horizontal line. The S-curve starts well above the 30-mpg level, where 1.5-liter, compact crossovers live, hits the middle of the S at 30, then drops well below that for larger trucks, including Chevy Suburbans, Toyota Land Cruisers, and Dodge Ram Crew Cabs. Truck and SUV categories of various sizes, determined by "footprint" (measured by front and rear track width and wheelbase length), fall along various points in the S.
It's important to know that, with this new rule, environmentalists want to see a 30-percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by mid-decade. That translates almost directly to a 30-percent increase in fuel economy numbers.
If NHTSA determines that full-size pickups currently average 15 mpg combined (corrected), they will need to get the average up to about 20 mpg by 2016, which pushes for more V-8 hybrids, conventional six-cylinder engines replacing eights, and possibly clean diesels. The 30-mpg average will be a guideline, however, and there are precious few vehicles classified as trucks that reach or beat that number. NHTSA will determine size categories by counting each vehicle's footprint.
Let's use Ford as an example. The 2009 F-150 rear-drive SFE, Ford's fuel economy special, is rated 17 mpg combined (corrected). Assume the 2016 F-150 SFE has an EcoBoost V-6 with a combined 22 mpg (30 percent better than the 2009 SFE's). If 2016 model-year V-8 4x4 F-150s increase fuel economy by 30 percent, but still average less than 20 mpg, it will be in Ford's interest to sell enough EcoBoost SFEs to offset the thirstier models. You are likely to see much higher transaction prices on V-8 4x4s and potential incentives on the EcoBoost models if gas remains relatively cheap.
Because so few vehicles classified as trucks meet or beat the 30-mpg uncorrected average today (only the four-cylinder Ford Ranger, Mazda B2300, and Toyota Tacoma), you'll see more small, four-cylinder pickups and SUVs, more unibody pickups, and more hybrids. Again, these will have to offset big trucks, which will have to average about 20 mpg. President Obama estimates the new standards will add an average of $1300 per car or truck. Independent analysts place it closer to $2000, which approaches the cost of adding a clean-diesel engine.
What about heavy-duty trucks? NHTSA is expected to retain the exemption for heavy-duty pickups, vans, and van chassis (used for cube trucks), and clamp down on the exemption for heavy-duty sport/utility vehicles. Exemptions for SUVs like the Chevrolet Suburban 2500 and the now-defunct Ford Excursion and Hummer H2 are history.