What makes a truck?

Image from Topspeed.com

 

 

Unless you are an auto enthusiast, you might not know how bizarre and convoluted the classifications of vehicles truly are.

I knew about this weird world of government vehicle classifications from various resources, but quickly set it aside to maintain my sanity.

Take for instance the question posted above:  What makes a truck?

Define it.

I bet you could rattle off the names of trucks without trying.

F-150, Silverado, Ram, Sierra, Tundra, Titan, Ranger, Colorado, Tacoma, B-2000, Frontier, Dakota… It’s as easy as looking down the street or in your parking lot. (For those outside the U.S. let me throw in HiLux, Amarok, and G-Ute trayback.)

image: Fourwheeler.com

But what about vans?  Do they count?  They do if you ask plumbers, florists, electrical workers and water technicians.  These people own vans to help earn their living and usually treat them as such.

image: Ford.com

How about SUVs?  Are they a truck or are they an amped up station wagon? A Cadillac SRX argues the case for station wagon, but what about a Nissan Xterra or Jeep Wrangler? Some would argue that their body on frame construction earns their membership into the truck club.

Image: Cadillac.com

The truth is that the “truck” classification by CAFÉ and the EPA is very broad and diverse group.  Did you know that the Chevrolet HHR and Chrysler PT Cruiser are listed as SUVs and thus in the truck club?

Image: motortrend.com

How about Subaru’s medium sized wagon? In 2006 this vehicle was listed as a wagon and an SUV depending on model.  If you picked the Legacy, it was listed as a station wagon.  If you chose the Outback version (Basically the same thing with an inch or two more ground clearance, different fog lights and plastic cladding on the bottom of the sides) according to the EPA and CAFÉ, you bought an SUV.  The Baja is also classified as a SUV, but I was half expecting it to be classified a small pickup given that Subaru cut the back of the roof off to make an open bed for it.

image: Carbl.com

image: Jasononcars.com

image: Norcalcars.com

See, I told you it was bizarre and convoluted.  (Ok. The Baja is an earlier design, but you get the point.)

One of the reasons it is so are the lobbyists and the EPA itself.  The government mandates that vehicles get a certain amount of gas mileage per class.  The problem is that for some companies their best-selling vehicle in that class is also the one that has the worst fuel mileage.  You might see a lot of SIlverados running around hauling nothing heavier that their owner and maybe their dog, but there are also a lot of them running around packed to the gills with heavy, bulky equipment or pulling trailers around.  These vehicles are designed to carry heavy loads and the strength and power needed to do it safely comes at the cost of mileage.  These trucks also have one of the highest owner loyalty groups ever.  That’s something these companies will almost kill for.  (Not including my wife and I.  Together we have own both the small and large versions of pickups from every member of the big three.)

The problem comes with trying to balance out the poor mileage truck sales with good mileage truck sales.

“Just sell more small trucks like the Tacoma and Colorado.” You say.  It’s not so simple.  See, because of all the safety regulations put into these trucks, their weight has gotten so high they are almost comparable to full sized trucks.

“Make them lighter.”  Easier said than done.  Ford is the first company to risk building a pickup with an all-aluminum body to save weight.  The metal costs more that standard steel, the build process had to be completely rethought.  (Welded aluminum will actually cause electrons from one atom “shift” to another until the entire weld breaks.), and every single Ford dealership that deal with bodywork had to learn how to properly fix damage to these panels when accidents happen and buy special equipment to fix them.  Guess where all that extra expense is going.  Yep.  Right into the sticker price.

“Well, offer engines that run on things other than gas.”  They do now.  It’s just not cheap.  You can get flex-fuel, hybrid, diesel, and even compressed natural gas engine for trucks… at  cost.

Hybrids usual cost about $1,000 to $1,500 more than a standard gas engine.

Diesels used to cost $2,000 more but with the new smog regulations the price has raised upward to $4,000 over the price of a gas engine.  (Plus diesel fuel costs roughly 50 cents more per gallon than 87 octane gasoline and you can’t use veggie oils anymore since it will clog up all the new technology.)

Compressed Natural Gas in the latest offering to help the EPA ratings.  Not being gasoline at all, it really boosts the numbers up and at roughly $1.50 per gallon to fill-up, the compressed natural gas option looks really good.  Until you see the price tag of $9,500 for this choice.  And that’s down a thousand from last year’s price!  CNG also has the wonderful challenge of dealing with safety in crashes.  Remember the press GM got over its Volt electric car?  People were shocked that the batteries ripped open when the vehicles were crashed so hard into walls that the frames ripped apart.  (Something that happens to all the cars tested when doing the offset crash into a giant, sharp block of concrete.)  Imagine the sheer terror when one of these trucks is hit so hard that the compressed gas tank ruptures.  The reports will have you think a nuke went off!

Because people want real good mileage in a class of vehicle that is designed to do heavy work, we have odd things like station wagons and minivans listed as trucks.

So I ask, what is a truck?

Let me know in the response section.