Big pickups with small V-6 engines — the red-haired orphans of truck country — always occupied the back rows on dealers’ lots.
As reported by the Dallas Morning News, no one but fleet buyers and bargain hunters ever wanted them anyway.
But this year, as automakers reach for every tool to prepare for dramatically tougher fuel economy standards in 2016, those orphans are shoving aside king V-8s, even in bigger-is-better Texas.
“We’d put them (V-6s) on the front row today if we could get them,” said Randall Reed, who owns nine dealerships in Texas, including Prestige Ford and Park Cities Ford/Lincoln in Dallas.
The challenges ahead are daunting.
Cars’ fuel economy will need to increase more than 29%, from the current 30.2 miles per gallon to a 39 mpg average by model year 2016.
Truck mileage must increase 27.6% — though that number is misleading because no full-size pickup can even achieve the current standard of 23.5 mpg, including hybrids.
And those are just the first steps. By 2025, automakers’ fleets will need to average 54.5 mpg before exemptions for full-size trucks are figured into the complex formula.
“It’s definitely a radical step up from where we were,” said Mike Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates. “The party’s over.”
Consider this: Only two of the top 10-selling vehicles in the U.S. last year — both cars — averaged 30 mpg. The rest didn’t even meet current standards.
Called corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE, the federal standards were enacted decades ago to cut the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and, more recently, to reduce greenhouse gases.
For years, CAFE standards have remained flat, allowing automakers to focus on sexier — and more profitable — attractions such as bigger, more powerful engines.
Manufacturers often had to pay millions in fines for not meeting CAFE standards, but they were considered just a cost of doing business.
As a result, Todd Turner has little sympathy for the auto industry’s CAFE struggles.
“Think about the millions that manufacturers sunk into size and performance over the last two decades,” said Turner, president of Car Concepts of Thousand Oaks, Calif. “It could have been devoted to fuel economy.”
Still, most automakers now need to invest billions to improve fuel economy — and those costs will likely be passed on to consumers.
Fuel-saving technology, more efficient engines and transmissions, and other equipment will cost an average of $2,700 per vehicle, Omotoso said. What is still unclear is how much of that will be added to the sticker prices.
“We could have a real disconnect where people will perceive that they are getting less car and being charged more,” said George Hoffer, a business professor at the University of Richmond who follows the auto industry. “The government is effectively ordering all this technology. What if buyers won’t pay for it?”
Ford Motor Co., which, like many automakers, still makes most of its profit from trucks, is encouraged by the early success of its new V-6 engines — though the company realizes that even sales stars like the EcoBoost V-6 are just a start.
“This is the first time since 1985 that we’ve sold more V-6s than V-8s — a very, very pleasant surprise that sets us up to keep building toward those (2016) standards,” said Doug Scott, truck marketing manager.