Knowing When The Truck You Have Is Enough


It’s high time environmentalists stopped picking on SUVs. It’s not fair that they alone should be singled out as theposter vehicles for global warming and climate change.

Numerous Canadians won’t want to hear this, however the combined environmental impact of all the thirstiest SUVs pales alongside the effect of that cherished and peculiarly North American institution – the large pickup.

Look at the numbers, though that’s not to permit the Escalades and Expeditions off the hook. In 2008, Canadians bought about 14,000 large and/or V8-engined SUVs. Large pickups? Would you believe 203,000? That’s 14 times greater than the big-SUV sales tally. One in every eight vehicles sold last year was a large pickup.

2010 Toyota Tundra (© Photo: Toyota)

Photo: Toyota

SUVs aren’t really the only gas-guzzlers around.

Pickups are in least as thirsty as same-size SUVs, and generate just as much carbon dioxide. Yet somehow these vehicles that are so embedded in our automotive culture seem to fly under the environmental radar.

Not on pickups, although the recently-discontinued federal ecoAuto “feebate” program levied a penalty of up to $4,000 on gas-guzzling cars and SUVs. Despite rising gas prices, large-pickup sales actually grew nine percent in 2007, when ecoAuto was still essentially. Sales of large SUVs shrank 18-per cent. Coincidence?

Only in Canada And America

2009 Dodge Ram 1500 Crew Cab (© Photo: Dodge)

Photo: Dodge

Most trucks bought from Canada are V8-powered and have crew cabs.

People elsewhere in the world needs to be dumbfounded that four of your Top 10 best-selling nameplates in Canada are monster trucks that typically guzzle more than 14 L/100 km (under 20 mpg). What exactly are we thinking?

Of course, “large pickup” is a fairly elastic definition. Light-duty half-tonners (aka 1500s) range from six-cylinder 4×2 regular-cab models weighing about 2,000 kg, to V8, 4×4 crew cab models that crush the scales at 3,000 kg. The heavier-duty three-quarter and one-ton models go up following that.

And guess what everybody is buying these days. In 2007, fully 99-per cent of Dodge Ram 1500s available in Canada were V8-powered. And the vast majority of those were 4×4 Quad Cabs — the heaviest and thirstiest configurations.

The craze is little different amongst the other manufacturers. Ford of Canada’s F-150 marketing brand manager, Denis Schofield, told me last year that 82 to 84-per cent of F-150 sales are 4x4s, and as of 2009 all F-150s are V8s. Toyota and Nissan don’t make any six-cylinder versions of their full-size pickups, either.

Primary vehicles

2008 Ford F-150 (© Photo: Ford)

Photo: Ford

For some people, a half-ton pickup may be the only choice. We’ve got no qualms with that.

Crew cab models are relatively more popular in Canada when compared to the Usa because our lower disposable incomes mean there are relatively fewer multi-vehicle households, according to Schofield. So Canadians are more inclined to be driving pickups as his or her primary vehicles.

But it’s probably no coincidence that crew cab 4x4s with their rumbling V8s hold the most dominating “”presence”” on your way. That’s a huge ego massage for many drivers.

Now clearly, many pickups do work their butts off for a living –getting dirty, hauling loads day in and day out. They are indispensable tools in the trade for fishermen and farmerslandscapers, contractors and fishermen. No issues there.

Shopping carts

2009 GMC Sierra Denali (© Photo: GMC)

Photo: GMC

… However, for others, it’s about style and image.

Equally clearly, many pickups spend lives of leisure. Just shop around you. Immaculately clean and usually with cargo-bed tonneau covers permanently in position, they’re driven by “”suits”” commuting with their desk jobs and housewives dressed for your mall.

A cursory observation of the Canadian roadscape demonstrates that quite a few of those, too, are little more than truck buffs’ runabouts, although you’d think at the very least the heavy-duty pickups can be genuine work trucks.

Ford’s Schofield estimates that in Canada about 20-per cent of F-150s are purchased for purely personal use. Another 20-per cent are for business, with the remaining 60-per cent a mixture of both. But choosing a big truck partly or primarily for work isn’t necessarily the same as needing a big truck for the job. Many are used for tasks that could be performed perfectly well by more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Excessive capability

2009 Ford F-450 Super Duty (© Photo: Ford)

Photo: Ford

Sure, how much do you actually need, although capability is great?

And even if some tasks can only be handled by way of a large truck, the question is, how frequently? It’s hard to justify driving a gas-guzzler year round just so you can tow a 3,175-kg boat/trailer combination on the lake once each spring, and back again from the fall.

“the vast majority of boats you can see being towed on the highway … weigh anywhere from 300 to 2,000 lbs.” Even including trailer, gas and gear, most combinations still weigh less than 3,000 lbs, according to Boatguide magazine. That might be within the capacity of most minivans and compact SUVs with V6 engines. Most four-cylinder compact SUVs can handle 1,500 lbs, and even some compact cars are good for 1,000 lbs.Needless to say, some might want the large extra margin of capability of a far more powerful vehicle. But what for? To allow them to blast on the highway at 40 km/h over the speed limit?

Many other options

2009 Chrysler Town & Country (© Photo: Chrysler)

Photo: Chrysler

Small SUVs and minivans are also capable towing vehicles.

It’s reasonable to assume that the heavier the boat, the less frequently it will probably be towed. Paradoxically, that can mean the higher the tow rating from the vehicle needed for the job, the less justification there is for owning one. An obvious alternative is just to rent one when needed. The price would be over outweighed through the savings from driving something economical the other time.

Obviously pickups can also be used to carry stuff inside their cargo beds, and to tow other things than boats. But is a 2,200-kg-plus tow rating really necessary? It will be a pretty monstrous Sea-Doo or ATV or snowmobile that weighs over 350 or 400 kilograms.

And for the odd occasion that you have to transport more stuff than fits in a tiny vehicle, you will find options: rent a pickup or a panel van (stores like Home Depot rent them by the hour); work with a utility trailer; install a rooftop carrier; or perhaps, borrow your buddy’s pickup.

Aggravating factors

There’s an entire other side to this issue: the confusion between wants and needs. Using a pickup to tow recreational toys is a want, not a need. And from your strict ecological viewpoint, towing a powerboat or a snowmobile is not an absolution for pickup ownership, it’s an aggravation: most forms of motorized recreation are eco-hostile in ways that make even pickups look green.

But let’s not actually go there. No doubt ample Canadians are now baying for my blood as it is. Besides, it’s time to start work on my next exposés, regarding the dark sides of Canada’s love affairs with hockey, and Tim Hortons …

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