High gasoline prices hit owners of heavy pickup trucks hard. This is what they say

Tom Liu, chief exterior designer of the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor, stands next to the vehicle at a design studio in Livonia, Michigan in January 2021. With gasoline exceeding $ 6 per gallon at some stations in the area in Los Angeles, motorists and especially owners of heavy trucks are feeling the effects. (Ford Motor Co./TNS)

LOS ANGELES (Tribune News Service) – This silver Dodge Ram Warlock with the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine must have looked pretty cool as gas prices hovered around $ 4 a gallon. Now, with gasoline going over $ 6 a gallon at some stations in the Los Angeles area, a little bit of acid has been added to the mix.

Record prices for gasoline and diesel are burning the budgets of drivers across the country, large and small. But filling a pickup truck or truck-sized SUV burns the most, given the extra weight and lower gas mileage that is a trade-off between utility and size.

Like many, George Moreno uses his pickup for work. The downtown Los Angeles resident runs a warehousing and logistics company. Heavy trucks do most of the work, but he often uses his Ford F-150 for short trips. Fuel costs “are so important to us, sure,” said Moreno, 52, outside The Home Depot. It is difficult to “keep our prices at a fair level while seeing our costs increase”.

In times of higher inflation, gasoline prices are the most visible manifestation of this. With a national average of around $ 3.40 a gallon, the Biden administration is worried – on Tuesday the president ordered a partial withdrawal from the country’s strategic oil reserve to bring more oil to market in hopes to reverse the rise in fuel prices.

Pickup truck drivers feel the effects more than others, and their disproportionate pain at the pump reflects major changes in the design of what are now America’s most popular vehicles.

In 1960, a standard Chevy pickup weighed 3,535 pounds. Today, the Chevy Silverado equivalent weighs 4,257 pounds, up 20 percent.

Go for the Silverado LT Trail Boss, with the crew cab and heavier engine and other options, and the scale comes in at 5,155 pounds, up 46% from the 1960 model.

The trucks are also much taller. In 1960, the average American man was 5 feet, 8 inches tall. In 2020, 5 feet 9 inches. The Chevrolet pickup in those years has grown from 5.9 to almost 6.6. The hoods are also taller. The hood of the F-250 Super Duty measures 55 inches, shoulder height for many adults and taller than the average 8-year-old.

Car manufacturers consider these tall hoods to be important selling points. General Motors designer Karan Moorjani put it this way in a 2019 Muscle Car & Trucks article on the GMC Sierra HD pickup: “We spent a lot of time making sure that when you stand in front of this thing It looks like she is you. He has that edgy feeling, but not in a childish way, he still looks mature. He just had to have that imposing look. “

Automakers have made huge strides in improving the fuel efficiency of these trucks, using lighter materials and more efficient engines. But the larger dimensions work against energy efficiency gains. As the International Energy Agency notes in a report this month, “height and weight are a key determinant of fuel consumption.”

Average sedan mileage hit 30.9 miles per gallon in 2019, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, up from 20 in the early 1980s. The pickup truck average, meanwhile, has remained nearly stable since. the 1980s: 19 mpg. Put a trailer load on today’s bigger trucks, and that mileage drops to single digits.

Yet last year more pickup trucks were sold than cars in the United States for the first time. The popularity of microphones is not difficult to understand. What was once a piece of farm and construction equipment has evolved into an everyday vehicle that fits seamlessly into the lifestyles of millions of Americans. The vans rolled like washboards. Now, with modern suspension systems, they drive like cars.

In the Home Depot era, they can accommodate large pieces of lumber for home improvement projects. In the Costco era, they can easily fit into an entire grocery store where every item is purchased in bulk.

Whether their appeal fades depends on the question of how far fuel prices will go up and how long they will stay there.

Decades of studies have shown that significant increases in fuel costs influence vehicle purchasing decisions – whether those price increases are to last six months or more.

A 2020 MIT study found that a $ 1-per-gallon increase in gasoline prices, if it is expected to hold up in the future, will cause the average buyer to choose a vehicle with mileage a few points higher. percentage. Individual fuel savings are small, but of the 124 billion gallons of fuel consumed annually in the United States, they add up.

According to study author James D. Ruckdaschel, the only group that did not push for more efficient vehicles through significantly higher gasoline prices were “those who do not consider compliance at all. ‘vehicle environment as important in their purchasing decision’.

How many of them are pickup buyers, the report does not say. However, the increase in sales shows that millions of Americans love their big pickups. Emphasize “large”.

The tension between the environment and low gas prices, like almost all major issues in recent years, has become political and controversial.

The high-flying act is evident in the Biden administration’s attempts to tackle global warming while dampening the fury over high gas prices. First Biden ordered cuts in oil and natural gas production in the United States. Then he begged Saudi Arabia to turn on the oil taps to bring down prices. Shortly after Saudi Arabia said no, it uncapped the strategic reserve of oil.

Next year Ford will begin selling its all-electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck, a vehicle that roughly looks like a gasoline or diesel F-150, but without tailpipe emissions. Chevrolet and Ram have similar plans. Ford reports strong demand for the electric truck, based on pre-orders. A switch to electricity would help solve the problems of climate and gas prices.

But it’s unclear whether pickup buyers will migrate to electric models.

Pickup driver Jon Rannells, 49, said he plans to reduce his family’s reliance on his Nissan Frontier, which he needs to transport tools and materials.

“We are renovating houses in the desert,” he said. “I would keep (the truck) because I need it sometimes for work. But otherwise we have two kids, so just to commute with the kids – I mean, I just ran over my two kids in this (the border) to go to the doctors, and that was ridiculous. “

He thinks of a Prius.

© 2021 Los Angeles Times.

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