Buy new? Pickup owners say no.
For many of the 41 million Americans who rely on light trucks, new efficiency isn't worth the higher upfront cost.
The other day, Dareem Rashid was selling Carolina-style ribs on Moreland Avenue in Atlanta. That's just one of many locations where he sets up shop. To get his business from place to place, he uses a 1995 Chevy Silverado, pulling his two-pit barbecue kit behind.Skip to next paragraph
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Given that his truck is 14 years old, how would he feel about buying a new pickup – one that costs more but gets better mileage under tough new fuel-economy standards?
"I wouldn't buy one of those new trucks for nothing," he says.
Such is the challenge facing the auto industry.
Under the fuel-efficiency standards that President Obama announced in May, automakers must achieve a 30-miles-per-gallon average for pickups by 2016 – 10 more m.p.g. than the previous standards, an increase of 50 percent. Pickup trucks, in fact, are where manufacturers would have to make the greatest strides in fuel economy.
In other words, truck efficiency will not come easily, and it may affect everything from vehicle weight to torque. And the sticker price? The increase per pickup could go well beyond $1,300, which is the average estimated hike for a new car or truck.
This is a price that many of America's 41 million pickup owners – those hammer swingers, pipe twisters, carpet haulers, and fix-it guys – may not be willing to pay.
For truck drivers with opinions similar to Mr. Rashid's, two options are emerging if their wheels falter. One is to trade down to a sedan, wagon, or smaller truck.
Another, say truck owners and transportation researchers, is to fix existing vehicles – in much the same way that some Cubans still take wrenches to Rat Pack-era American cars.
"Call it the Cuban effect," says Bill Hammond, a rancher in Lockhart, Texas. "For the average rancher or farmer, the pickup is their office, their workhorse, and mode of transportation, and now they may have to keep the one they've got for a heck of a long time."
Historically, trucks have been a chief profit center for the auto industry. But pickup sales have begun what many believe is a permanent decline – from 13 percent of total auto sales to 11 percent.
It won't help that some truck owners aren't very enthusiastic about the pickups of the future. These drivers have a unique attachment to their vehicles, whether they're hauling feed across the Texas plains or shuttling 60 miles a day across the hills of Atlanta to tie electrical wires.
A massive balk by truck owners could have all sorts of repercussions. One possibility: If the average truck turnover went from five to 12 years, as some estimate, that would put a damper on the White House's goal of saving 1.8 billion barrels of oil in the next five years.
However, it's unknown how the new federal "Cash for Clunkers" program will effect new truck sales. Under the program — which begins July 1 — up to 1 million Americans, including truck owners, will be eligible to get up to $4,500 for trading in their gas-guzzlers for a more efficient ride. The $4 billion price tag will come out of the federal TARP funds.