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NAIAS 2011: Automakers Need Leaner Mid-Sized Pickups

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On: Thu, Jan 13, 2011 at 10:25AM | By: Sherry Christiansen

NAIAS 2011: Automakers Need Leaner Mid-Sized Pickups

There is the pre-Detroit auto show buzz, the ongoing Detroit auto show buzz, and the post-Detroit auto show buzz. That’s a lot of buzz to sort through. Entering into the pre-show discussions is Jamie Hresko, VP of GM’s global powertrain engineering, who predicts that the days of the full-sized pickup being the GM’s No. 1 selling vehicle might be waning. He also says the same about Ford’s mighty F-Series line of pickups. The reality is that by 2025, automakers need to comply with new fuel economy standards. That puts a bull’s-eye squarely on gas guzzling heavy duty trucks.

The goal for automakers will be 62 mpg for their overall fleet. Right now, the Chevy Silverado 1500 posts 22 mpg on the highway and 15 mpg for city driving. That’s going to have to change big time in order to meet the standards. The answer might be in having folks refocus their pickup truck needs. Unless you are driving a truck for work and need that capacity and muscle, why have a full size?

“A lot of people don’t use pickups just to drive around,” Hresko said. “They use them because they need them. I think that is what the market will be left with eventually: people who have to have them. I got a business; I tow with something.” That would seem to leave the door wide open for GM to enter into this burgeoning new market with a mid-sized pickup. So far, no word on that happening.

GM is already at work on their new light truck designs. Their plans include reducing overall vehicle weights and engine displacement while still making the effort to offer V-8 powered full-sized trucks. When they add in valve lift, direct injection, and automatic transmissions those fuel economy goals could be met.

The truth of the matter, according to Hresko, is that with rising gas prices a smaller, lighter pickup is going to happen. It’s not a question of “if” but “when.” Hresko explains, “As you look around the industry, what you have seen is a massive shift to smaller, more efficient, so I think it applies to every segment, including pickup trucks.”

Another plan is to gently guide truck buyers towards the lighter trucks by making the heavy duty versions a wee bit pricier. Automakers could also do away with all the perks like leather seats and luxury add ons and, instead, pour them into the smaller trucks. Hresko made these comments in an interview at Detroit as GM gears up for the big show.

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