The End of the Pickup?

The U.S. Senate votes today on an old problem that is new again: stagnant fuel economy. It took rising gas prices, national security concerns and global warming, but Congress may actually increase fuel economy for the first time since 1975, when they mandated automakers to double fuel economy in ten years. And, automakers did. Some Senators are worried about the fallout this time for pick-up trucks – concerned that making them run on less gas will hurt their sale-ability. But recent data shows that fall-out is already happening for precisely the opposite reason: lack of fuel economy.

Autodealer Adam Lee writes in an Automotive News op-ed, “The trucks that the Detroit 3 bet their – and my – future on are not selling.” Sales of pick-up trucks are falling, despite record discounts and incentives. The average discount on a Dodge Ram is $6,000, up $500 since January, according to the Power Information Network. These are the same customer incentives that kept the number of SUV unit sales high while SUV revenue and profits were eroding since 2001.

But pickup truck owners are a different, more loyal breed, according to automaker lore. They want their size, power and don’t care about fuel economy. Turns out the lore and lure are gone. Turns out pick-up owners are just like the rest of us. They don’t want to spend $100 filling up their tank, especially with a slumping housing market and fewer jobs to be had.

What does this mean? The industry’s favorite product is vulnerable not because Congress is about to increase fuel economy standards, but because pickup buyers have already increased their fuel economy requirements, and the industry didn’t want to believe it.


  • Steve C

    There are some of us who need a truck to haul things. I’ve been rehabbing my old house for years and need a truck for getting drywall, lumber, etc. There used to be a variety of small 4 cylinder 2 seater trucks for sale. All of the small trucks are now midsize and most are standard w/ V6′s. Why? I love my little old Toyota pickup but if I had to replace it I’d have to buy something bigger. The current Tacoma is nice but it dwarfs my old one. Personally I’d like to see a little Scion pickup. That’s my $.02.

  • PW

    When are the auto makers going to get smart and make a plug in hybrid. They need to give the consumers the option at a descent price. Since pickup trucks are popoular it seems like a good market to go after. Toyota will probably be the first to make one.

  • Gandalf

    Detroit has banked on being able to pay-off Congress to prevent legislation from impacting their SUV/Pickup MPG’s. They thought they were “bullet-proof”. As a result of this they continued to think that their customers and the American people would be easy pickings(just like Congress).

    Their is immense moral, economic, and possibly, criminal wrong-doing in this system. It is hurting the whole nation for the benefit of a few backward, uncompetitive dinosaurs.

  • Bob Jacobson

    I have been following this story for two years, but it’s finally here. Google is helping and I have finally agreed with George Bush on something of importance!

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I’m not sure how to popularize it but in Europe, essentially no one has a pickup. Instead, many have small trailers that they can tow with their cars. This allows cars to be used for utility purposes and saves a heck of a lot of gas. Of course pickups are more convenient but this seems to work as well.

  • kballs

    Most people don’t haul stuff enough days/year to warrant a pickup truck. Driving a smaller car with higher MPG and using a utility trailer when you need to haul is a really good solution.

    I also agree with Steve C about truck sizes… the Ford Ranger is the smallest pickup you can buy (it’s still smaller than a Tacoma which has grown over the years) and it’s future is up in the air. The automakers have gradually grown their small pickups into “mid-size” which is really only a tiny bit smaller than full-size pickups from 20 years ago, and they have grown their full-size pickups into 4-door aircraft carriers that take 5 acres to make a u-turn and cost $150 to fill up.

    For many people even with regular hauling needs, a smaller pickup (maybe based on a Scion xB or Honda Element) would be adequate… I even know some residential construction subcontractors that drive Elements (not everyone needs to fit a full sheet of plywood/drywall).

  • Jerry

    If you need a large hauler then people will still buy the big pick-ups. If they are in business, and they need that size truck they can simply carry the cost over to the service and products that they provide painters, plumbers, carpenter etc.

    If your not in the business and you just want the truck well get ready to open your wallet as gas prices increase.

    I don’t need it anymore but I had a 1987 B2200 4 cyl Mazda carried everything I ever needed 22 > 25 MPG. cost 8k in 87 dollars.

  • Conflicted

    Getting better mileage is definitely needed but the reason pickup trucks have not been economized sooner is because they were viewed by the thick headed urban worrier as another status symbol just like an Excursion or some other big SUV. Leather bucket seats. Tinted windows. Monster stereo. There have been plenty attempts to green them up with plug in all electrics aimed at fleet/commercial use but they did not fly due to one reason or another. We own a basic F-150 because it is the smallest vehicle available that can haul a 1,000 pounds of hay or gravel and pull our double horse trailer and boat. If I did not have these needs I sure as heck would not be driving one at all let alone a fancied up one with all that non-truck crap on it. When our current truck dies and I need to replace it I certainly hope I can find one that gets better than 14 mpg.

    I drive a Prius when I am not hauling things.

  • ETM

    I have a truck to haul a trailered boat. The truck sits in the driveway most of the time and get to run to the home center to pick up materials once in a while in addition to towing the boat. The new silverado hybrid looks interesting. The fact that it come with a built in generator is interesting too. Might come in handy after a hurricane.

  • ETM

    95 monte carlo Z34.
    Its worth about 0$ but I don’t have to make payments.

  • Armand

    Waiting for Americans to take action or “feel” the need to change is pointless. If people in this country can only think out of their asses and wallets, then we’re in bigger trouble than initially thought.

    People in this country simply don’t have it in them to care genuinely for change. It’s not in their blood.

  • FL_P_D

    1) Truck Story-Start out with very simple and rugged pickup trucks. Make it turn into a fashion craze that inflates the features and size to unsustainable monsters.
    2) Utility Truck Story-Start out with very austere untility vehicles for niche uses. Make it turn into a fashion craze that inflates to the point where the city is filled with urban combat vehicles.
    3) Hybrid Story-Start out with a very fuel efficient vehicle. Make it turn into a green craze that overtakes all sense and results in every vehicle make having a hybrid option.

  • Max Reid

    A CUV (Crossover) can do what a pickup can do with its rear seats folder, whether its buying a door panels or Christmas tree.

    Thats why CUV sales are booming and PU sales are going down.

    Even Toyota is increasing discount on Tundra.

  • P_E_hamillton

    I agree with that guy about the small ute
    imean you used to be able to get a small two door ute
    like the old Holden rodao, we’ve got a 1998 one at home and its more fule efficiant than our KIA Carnival.

  • BJD

    For those who don’t know or don’t believe, there is a plug-in electric truck out there. See Phoenix’s SUT. It’s available in 2008.

    http://www.phoenixmotorcars.com/

    Instead of filling up for $100, why don’t you just fill up for just $3. You’ll save thousands every year. With a potential tax credit of $7,500 or more, the possibility of vehicle-2-grid kick back from the utility, the premium for this $45k truck could easily be made up.

    Come on consumers, wise up fast.

  • Jeff

    Max,

    That’s the point. All these idiots who think they need a PU, SUV or even larger CUV just to haul a Christmas tree that could be tied to the roof of a Prius are the problem. I haul lumber, canoes and large boxes in and on my Prius with no problem. If you really need/use a PU that’s fine. But most people commuting in one do not. Improving fuel economy for them is still a waste. Drive gas prices up another dollar or two a gallon and it will all take care of itself.

  • P_E_hamilton

    Can you please speek properly i have know idea what your saying
    i’m from austrailia
    so speak metric!

  • Sebastian

    Have to disagree on crossovers ability to haul. My dodge ram50 4 cyl with an extended bed can haul so much more. So much more…
    Bring back da baby trucks. With hybrid tech. That would be an awsome thing. Though I’m not going to pay for some stylist version on what a small pick-up truck is “supposed” to look like. It’s meant to do work not look like a top dog in some employers’ parking lot.

  • Nancy Fay

    A long-bed, full size pickup is a must in my work. When a hybrid pickup comes out, I will buy one. It has to be full sized though. Most full sized trucks are terrible gas hogs. I lucked out with my ’96 Dodge with the diesel engine. It gets nearly 20 miles to the gallon in mixed driving & the engine will probably outlive me (the transmission is another story.) My friend bought a new, 4-door Dodge dually diesel to haul a huge horse trailer last year. After it got broke in, it gets 18 mpg not hauling, and about 15 hauling a big load. I think that’s pretty good, haven’t heard of any full sized pickups doing much better than these diesels.

  • Gerald Shields
  • Hal Howell

    I recently traded my 2001 Dodge RAM1500 Quadcab for an’07 Prius. It was a good truck and I liked it but I seldom used it as a truck. Now I hardly miss it. Most people don’t really need a Pick-Up but when you do they do come in handy. Toyota and company need to re-intoduce the inexpensive mini-Pick-Up. My ’86 Toyota was a great truck and got great gas mileage.

  • jim absher

    I’ve got a 10 year old Ranger 4 banger that gets 25 MPG. Would love to get a hybrid to replace it. What, you ask , do you need a pickup for instead of a scion? Well, hauling trash to the dump each week, wet dog to the lake, landscaping material for my wife to put in the yard, etc. I’m not gonna put the trash in the back of a crossover, or if I do get rich & buy a boat, I doubt that a Prius could haul it. Would love to get a Tacoma, but the Ranger gets better MPG and is cheaper to boot. The little pickups can get good mileage and provide that “safe” feeling so many want their big SUVs for. Why can’t the automakers realize this instead of marketing the macho image of trucks, pushing up the size & down the mileage?

  • domboy

    The truck isn’t dead, and I don’t think it will die either. But I think/hope it will change. Here’s a glimmer of hope – GM is going to put a diesel in the 1/2 tons:

    http://www.autoblog.com/2007/06/15/gm-announces-clean-diesel-v8-for-pickups-and-the-hummer-h2/

    A step in the right direction. But I agree with everyone that is saying “bring back the small trucks”. The little Ford Ranger type with a 4-banger that gets ~25-30mpg. That’s the type most people need. Even better would be a small diesel engine in this size pickup. Anyone remember the VW Rabbit Pickup from the 80s? There are a few still around and they get 50mpg!! Why?? Small diesel engine.

  • CLD

    P_E_Hamilton:

    Seeing as how this is a U.S.-based website, I think it’s acceptable for people to not use metric units since most of us ‘speek’ in English units. But I would hate to exclude anyone outside the U.S. from the conversation. So:

    U.S. Gallon – 3.785 Litres
    Imperial Gallon – 4.546 Litres
    U.S. Dollar – 1.177 Australian Dollars
    50 mpg (U.S.) – 4.69 L/100 Km

    Cheers.

  • M. Evans

    I agree with the utility trailer idea. I rented them for years & finally bought a 5×8 trailer for $500 from Lowes about 5 years ago. Before buying a Camry Hybrid, I used to pull this with a Saturn SC2. I only use the trailer occasionally to haul what I can’t fit in my car. I get the mileage and comfort of a hybrid car & have the usefullness of a truck when needed. Yes, I snicker at the folks in the 300+hp trucks when I’m at the gas pump.

  • joelaptopusa

    Been using a Saturn wagon for years to run a handyman biz. Most of my tools fit behind the rear seat (good for dogs too!). I added a ski rack and have lashed up to 4 sheets of plywood, a ladder or two, and various lengths of lumber to get to a job and stil get 22-24MPG while enjoying my leather seats. If I need more materials hauled I borrow the free for 75 minute PU from Home Deport. No, its not always convenient but it beats having multiple vehicles for occasional use or one gas-hog for everyday use.

  • AP

    Before CAFE standards took hold, no one drove pickups except farmers and construction workers. Once we had CAFE and cheap fuel, people could buy pickups with V8′s, where most cars had V6′s (CAFE being lower for trucks). Pickups and SUV’s then practically replaced full-sized cars.

    Let’s see what unintended consequences the new CAFE rules bring. The only thing surer than the Congress’ ability to write convoluted laws is the American public’s ability to get around them.

    If they (California or the Feds) were sincere about conserving energy, they’d tax the heck out of FUEL and be done with it.

  • Mike

    I agree with conflicted. Thank you for using your truck when you need it…not all the time like some people.

    I don’t think pick-ups are bad…I believe they are a victim of “fashionization.”

    GM should drop the 2-mode hybrid transmission in their trucks sooner.

  • kballs

    Why can’t GM build e-flex pickups? Though the size of electric motors and battery would make it pretty expensive, it seems like they could easily double their MPG… the average consumer that only drives the truck once or twice a month to haul stuff probably couldn’t justify the cost, but professional construction contractors, etc. could save in the end. If UPS/Fedex can build hybrid electric delivery vans, e-flex pickups should be a no-brainer.

  • Hugh

    I would buy a small pickup if I could find one . I loved my small Nissan but they turned it into a high gas mileage 4 door dog .Im now a chev S10 , the best i can do . What are these people thinking !!

  • Pablo

    Pulling a trailer with a regular car works. I have pulled a trailer with Nissan Sentra (manual transmission) from Montana to Virginia.
    Several people told me this will ruin the car. This was 14 months ago and still there is not any sign of car problem.

  • NCskibum

    I traded my 03 Avalanche in for a 05 Corolla two years ago. I still miss it for yard and house work, and for taking long trips with the family. I could put six people in it and haul about anything, but couldn’t handle the $70+ per tank. i also own a 00 VW diesel. I would love to see a small truck with a diesel, 40 – 50 mpg with power to haul about anything!

  • Green

    Hi, please check out http://www.greenca.tv for news and video on being green!

  • domboy

    Google F150 Diesel. Looks like Ford is planning to put a diesel engine in their 1/2 ton trucks for the US market. They sell a diesel Ranger everywhere but here.

  • Dave K.

    I figured out the trailer thing about 10 years ago, since then I’ve pulled it with an 87Accord, a 93Altima, a Saturn Wagon, and now an 04Prius, same $300 trailer, I’ve moved with it, hauled lumber, landscaped, ect. No transmission problems, you just have to load it and drive reasonably.

  • Chris

    Pick-up sales may be down slightly from their immense popularity the last few years. But just look around on the roads…Even with the already high price of trucks and the high price of gas, a lot of trucks are still being sold. Actually, I’ve noticed a trend to bigger trucks (from the half ton to the 3/4 ton and full ton trucks). If the sales of 1/2 tons are down, I feel certain that the sales of 3/4 and full ton trucks are up. That is a message from the public that they want “bigger”. The popularity of trucks, given the increased cost, is testament to the very strong appeal of trucks.

    I don’t know that an 87 Accord and a $300 trailer is going to pull 5000 pounds of sod very easily! I’m not a contractor, but I did need to haul some sod for my yard.

    A lot of people live in semi-rural areas and actually “do things” with their trucks, as opposed to someone living in a condo in the city that just goes to work and comes home.

    By the way, I’m educated (engineer, MBA, and accepted to med school), not just some redneck dummy.

  • Wrong Question

    There will never be an “end to the pickup.” That’s ridiculous. Some people NEED pickups, and manufacturers need to build them.

    The real question is, “Have we seen the end of the full-sized pickup with a single occupant commuting 45 miles each way?” If fuel prices stay high, then maybe. For better or worse, if fuel prices drop again they’ll be back.

  • Curious

    I believe the reason why larger trucks have not been “greened” up and on the market is simply.. Electricity will only give you a certain amount of power. Larger trucks run on diesel because they need it to be able to haul larger amounts. I could be wrong, but that’s the reason why you have different trucks in a series. You wouldn’t be crazy enough to get a small Ranger, for instance, and try to make it haul what a F-250 usually does. It works, but you waste so much gas and time because the engine is so weak. A larger engine requires more consumption.. how much energy from a battery would that take? Maybe when the hydrogen breeds come out, but right now.. it’s just not feasible.

  • Tor
  • AP

    A comment to “curious”: larger trucks can be “greened up.” Remember that hybrid cars don’t run on electricity (unless they’re plug-ins) – they run on the gasoline the engine burns. Some of the engine’s power goes through the electric motors, but much of it is carried by the shafts in the transmission.

    The battery doesn’t need to do much in a normal hybrid. It gets things going and can push the vehicle short distances when the engine isn’t running, but the engine is the main source of propulsion.

    Large trucks have been “hybridized.” GM has been selling city buses that are hybrids, which is ideal because of how much time they idle and since they are always stopping and starting.

  • Timbo

    Just found this site and glad I did. I have a 2001 F150 2WD. I’m now a renter and obviously use my truck mostly for commuting to my office job. Does it suck down a lot of gas? Yes! Do I mind? Sometimes. Am I glad I have this vehicle? Definitely!! I have moved myself twice, my parents once, friends numerous times, I do charity construction work on the weekends, helping out my mother-in-law all the time with it, too.

    If Ford ever comes out with a hybrid F150, I will jump on it. Until then, I’ll keep my truck and grin and bear it at the pumps. That’s life.

  • Nancy

    I haul working dogs and would give my eye teeth for a small rugged fuel efficient truck that could go off road (farm fields, clearcuts) … the little SUVs are good BUT the truck bed with a dog box is a lot cooler place to keep the dogs and you don’t have to mess with tarps, and fans, and leaving your valuables in an unlocked car. Something you can get in wtih muddy feet and clean up later. Somehting you can drive across a field, up a clearcut, or down a logging road with confidence Something that won’t drain you at the pump. They have such trucks in the REST of the world. Most of the the “midsize” trucks out there are marketed as toys in the US but there are lots of uses for a small truck.

  • Floyd

    I own a 98 Sierra.I bought it new.It cost about $20 to fill it up when new. Now it cost over $60 for a fillup. I like it and use it when I need a truck, but I drive a Ford Escort daily. I plan to buy a Prius if the Volt does not become a reality. Looks like the secondary vehicles are the gas hogs and the economy vehicles are the primary now. Trucks are not going away, and they will get more fuel efficient. I doubt they will ever attain the mileage alot of us are looking for in our daily drivers.

  • james s.

    Wish subaru still made the Baja

  • Anonymous

    Hi everyboby I know this is a US site but I do have a quick comment.
    I drive a 93 lifted with big tires suburban, yes you can say it “glug glug” at the pumps 9-10 mpg. Need to haul tools etc. Some of the time, so need something cheaper. Here’s the problem, went to ford today saw they had a ugly little van that would be perfect for what I need. They call it the Transit connect 4 cyl gas 30 city 36 hwy 2 seater 1600 lbs payload. Now the problem they want $29,000 cdn for a bare bones little van. Even the dealer says they are way over priced because they’ve been out since sept 09 and have only sold one. What is ford thinking, ok they didn’t ask for a bailout but asking that price for a 13-19000 vehicle…… “they could be making a killing for small contractors couriors or poeple like me who need gas mileage and the ability to haul.”