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How the New Top-Selling Ford Truck Will Help the Environment

A newfangled Ford F-150 may do more for the planet than some economy cars.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Ford Motor Company

 

Ford's redesigned large pickup truck could play a significant role in the war on climate change. Yes, you read that right.

However, before you conclude that comment was bought and paid for by Big Oil and click away from this article, read this: Assuming that the Ford F-150 sells 700,000 units — roughly the same number as it has for the past several model years — and that it gets the 22 mpg overall that many analysts are predicting, it may lower America's gasoline consumption by more than 115 million gallons. That's more than a million tons of carbon dioxide that won't be released into the atmosphere in a single year and roughly one-tenth of a percent of the nation's annual fuel consumption. Owners of the new F-150 will collectively save a whopping $500 million in fuel costs yearly. That's an impressive set of figures for just one vehicle.

If you're a driver of a hybrid car like the Toyota Prius, you might not think much of a vehicle that projects to get about 22 mpg overall, or even that it could get some 4 mpg better than the previous model. But numbers can be deceiving. That 4 mpg increase is about a 20 percent more fuel efficient and saves about a gallon of gasoline per 100 miles. That's virtually the same savings as increasing a 33-mpg car to 50 mpg, or swapping out a Honda Civic EX for a Prius. Considering that the F-150 will likely sell three times the units as the Prius in the 2015 model year, the picture emerges of a vehicle that's carrying a heavy load in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

But let's come down to Earth for a second, this is a still light-duty pickup truck, not a fuel-sipper by any means. Pickups are built to carry and tow large, heavy objects, and they need a lot of energy to perform these tasks. And while pickups are purpose-built vehicles used mostly in the construction, agricultural, and forestry industries, there is still a small, but shrinking, segment of consumers who use them as family vehicles.

“Is the F-150 a green vehicle? No,” says John Voelcker, Editor of Green Car Reports, an automotive news website. “But you can clearly state that it is greener. With rising fuel economy standards, every car is going to get greener in the coming years. What is important to note is that Ford took an audacious leap into producing a much lighter aluminum vehicle.”

Aluminum is only used in a handful of high-end cars, including the all-electric Tesla Model S. What it brings to the F-150 is a dramatic reduction of weight over steel — some 700 pounds —which is a very cost-effective way to reduce gasoline consumption. A fortunate side effect of the reduced weight is enhanced towing and cargo capabilities. The F-150 was further tweaked by the addition of a more efficient, turbocharged V6 engine instead of a thirstier V8, a start-stop system that saves gasoline at idle, and grille vents and running boards that close at speed to reduce aerodynamic drag. So, while the F-150 is not a hybrid, Ford used most every other fuel-economy trick available to them.

Industry insiders are calling this the biggest gamble of Ford's 111-year history. The F-150 has been the top-selling vehicle in the United States for 32 years and it delivers the lion's share of Ford's profits. So there is much concern that a radical departure from a winning formula can alienate loyal customers. But Ford felt it was time for drastic changes to keep up with rising Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards mandated by the U.S. Government. Clearly, these changes were driven by Ford's will to thrive under such regulations and not because of a corporate desire to become greener.

 
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