Tim Esterdahl's picture

SHOCKER! Truck Buyers Don’t Really Care About Fuel Economy

Every truck maker in the U.S. has been working on developing new fuel efficient technologies in response to what they see as consumer demand as well as escalating CAFE fuel economy targets. While the race to hit the 30 MPG threshold is hot and heavy, all of these efforts seem to be lacking one key component - consumer interest. Frankly, consumers may say they want better truck fuel economy, but the numbers don’t back this idea up.

Don't believe us that fuel economy isn't the number one buying factor? Here is the proof.

Monthly Truck Sales

One of the tell-tale signs on consumer behavior is monthly truck sales. Historically truck sales rise throughout the year and due to various market conditions. For example, gasoline prices have been often tied to new truck sales. When gasoline prices are low, consumers buy more trucks than when it is high.

Recently, gasoline prices have seen vast fluctuations and have dropped dramatically. Yet, there is really no correlation to new truck sales. Simply put, the industry has seen month after month of sales gains regardless of fuel prices.This truism of truck sales simply doesn’t apply anymore.

Another interesting thing about truck sales and fuel economy is looking at the top sellers. If fuel economy was the be all, end all, trucks like 2015 Ford F-150 with its “best in class gasoline engine fuel economy” would be destroying the competition. While on paper the Ford F-series has the most sales due to the way the numbers are presented, grabbing a calculator and adding the Chevy Silverado/Colorado and GMC Sierra/Canyon show GM outsold Ford last month (126,502 for GM and 109,606 for Ford).

This is a bit surprising if you think fuel economy is the number buying choice since a 2015 Ford F-150 is EPA rated for 26 MPG in certain configurations while the best the 2015 Chevy Silverado is EPA rated to return is 24 MPG.

High-Fuel Efficiency Models

When Ram revealed its 2015 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel HFE at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, it grabbed a lot of people’s attention with its EPA rated 29 MPG highway. This is the highest MPG number the truck world has ever seen for a half-ton truck and it is a pretty remarkable engineering feat.

One of the interesting things about the reveal is that the 29 MPG truck played second fiddle to Ram’s new Rebel truck. In fact, during the presentation, the Rebel took center stage and the 29 MPG truck was off in a corner. If fuel economy was such a big deal, why didn’t Ram put the Rebel in the corner and promote the new EcoDiesel HFE truck? Simple. Fuel economy doesn’t sell trucks.

For years, truck makers have built a “class leader” truck to help with their marketing. For fuel economy, this is a high-fuel efficiency model and is typically a stripped down model in a regular cab, 2WD setup (note: the EcoDiesel HFE is surprisingly a crew cab). These trucks help give the marketing team the best fuel economy number to use in their advertisements. Note, you really never see this truck in the advertisements, but you do see the MPG number. Again, if fuel economy was such a big item, why don’t we see the HFE model? It isn’t sexy and people want to see the more desirable models.

Most Popular Pickups

Ask any major truck manufacture what their best selling truck is and they will mostly tell you it is a crew cab, 4WD model with an upscale trim level and a larger or turbocharged engine. This truck sells for around $50k or more, can be financed for a surprisingly low payment with long loan terms and gets around the low 20s for fuel economy. When you talk with consumers who bought this truck, they either say the fuel economy doesn’t really matter or they wish it got a little bit better. Yet, when asked why they didn’t buy the more fuel-efficient model, the answer is often, I didn’t want to sacrifice ride comfort, power or skimp on interior materials.

The reality is the stripped down, more fuel-efficient trucks aren’t the ones that sell. And trucks sell for a variety of reasons, fuel economy just isn’t a big one for most people. If it was such a buying factor, arguably one of the worst fuel-efficient trucks on the market, the 2015 Toyota Tundra wouldn’t consistently be selling out. Every Toyota Tundra they can build sells quickly and it is commonly among the fastest moving trucks on the market.

In the end, most consumers want a truck that gets “good” fuel economy. What is good? It surely isn’t 29 or even 26 MPG. It is around the high teens in highway MPG and the majority of trucks get that. Anything more than that doesn’t seem to matter to most buyers. Truck makers can continue pushing for that magical 30 MPG number all they want. The question is who is going to buy that truck? Not a lot of people from what we can tell.

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