If you’ve ever found yourself shopping for a truck, you’ve probably been frustrated trying to figure out the fuel-economy ratings for medium-duty vehicles like the Ford F-250 and Chevrolet Silverado 2500. While the Environmental Protection Agency gladly provides figures for cars and light-duty trucks, it doesn’t regulate or measure the fuel consumption (or emissions) for larger trucks. That may not be the case forever, though. President Barack Obama has said that he wants the Transportation Department and the EPA to establish the first-ever standards for medium and heavy-duty trucks by 2014.
The reason is simple: The president says that the vehicles in question consume around 20 million barrels of oil per year -- and average around 6.1 mpg. Even worse, the trucks are believed to be responsible for around 20 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions. Needless to say, it would appear that it’s finally time for that to change.
At this point, it’s unclear as to what the new fuel-economy standards will look like, though it’s a safe bet that the face of medium and heavy-duty trucks will change significantly between now and 2014. In terms of automotive development, 3 1/2 years is a blink of an eye, but that doesn’t mean automakers will be stuck in a tough spot when the new regulations hit the books.
Odds are that short-term development will begin to focus on trimming weight from the average medium-duty truck. The segment has seen models swell in size over the past decade, adding plenty of pounds along the way. Use of composite bodywork and pickup beds will go a long way toward cutting weight and improving fuel economy, as will the use of more advanced 6-speed gearboxes instead of traditional 4-speed units.
We wouldn’t worry too much about power figures falling off, though. Manufacturers haven’t regressed in the horsepower department in a very long time, and that’s not likely to change just because the government imposes new regulations. Instead, we’re likely to see smarter, smaller-displacement engines with more direct-injection and forced-induction technology. In a segment that still relies on classic push-rod V8s, the changes should go a long way toward curbing fuel consumption.