NEW YORK (May 24, 2004) — Consumers seeking fuel-efficient pickups and sport-utility vehicles to ease the pain of $2-a-gallon gasoline won't have much to choose from this summer.
But fuel-efficient trucks will start trickling into the market in August.
Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., the Chrysler group and General Motors (GM) Corp. plan to launch pickups and sport wagons with hybrid powertrains or diesel engines.
In most cases the auto makers will promote the performance of these powertrains, and fuel economy will get a soft sell.
“What Americans really want is their cake—vehicle size, carrying capacity and horsepower—and being able to eat it, too—fuel efficiency,'' said Lindsay Brooke, a powertrain analyst at CSM Worldwide, a consulting firm in Farmington Hills, Mich.
Here is what's coming:
* Volkswagen is offering a turbocharged 5.0-liter V-10 diesel in the Touareg. The 310-hp engine is primarily a performance option but delivers 23 mpg on the highway.
* The Jeep Liberty will get an optional four-cylinder diesel engine. The 2.8-liter powertrain will deliver 25 mpg in city driving.
* Ford will offer the Escape HEV, which is expected to deliver 35 to 40 mpg on the highway.
* Dodge will sell the diesel-electric Ram pickup.
* Lexus will offer the RX 330 hybrid sport wagon.
* GM will launch the consumer version of the gasoline-electric GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups. GM says the trucks will get fuel economy up to 13 percent better than the same trucks with conventional engines.
The gasoline-electric pickups will get up to 20 mpg on the highway. GM is now delivering 500 of the hybrid trucks to fleet customers.
* The 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee will have an optional 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 with a cylinder deactivation system. Cylinder deactivation improves fuel economy up to 10 percent by shutting down half the engine when the vehicle reaches a steady cruising speed. GM's version of cylinder deactivation will be available this fall.
There is evidence that fuel efficiency matters to some shoppers. Toyota has a large backlog of unfilled orders for the gasoline-electric Prius, and Honda's Civic hybrid had record sales in April.
But car dealers say that most truck purchasers don't seem to be affected by higher fuel prices. In Henderson, Nev., motorists are not complaining about fuel economy, even though gasoline in the Las Vegas area sells for $2.50 a gallon.
“People buy these vehicles because they fit a purpose,'' said Tom Jones, general sales manager at Towbin Dodge.
And at Winter Park Dodge in Orlando, Fla., truck sales have not been affected by high gasoline prices, said Sales Manager Don Lee: “People just expect to pay $1.80 to $2 per gallon.''