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May 18, 2020   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

Recovery and New Auto Buyers Coming Back… for Pickup Trucks

As of the end of April, more pickups and light trucks were sold than sedans for the first time in decades.

First year of diesel options in leading full-size pickup trucks, new full size SUV options available.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on most sectors of the global economy, and the auto manufacturing sector is no different. New car sales in the U.S. plummeted to nearly a million fewer vehicles compared to the previous month, that is the lowest yearly rate since 2014 thanks to state-mandated stay-at-home orders as consumers adjusted to the pandemic’s many new limitations. Now, with automakers starting factories back up this week as state lockdowns are lifted, indications are that Americans will travel more by road in 2020 than by the sea or the air, and that should be good news for automakers.

Auto manufacturers and dealers are fueling recovery by responding with generous incentive offers including no interest financing for up to seven years, as auto sales outperform the decimated retail sector. A distinctive trend in consumer preference is emerging as well. As of the end of April, more pickups and light trucks were sold than sedans for the first time in decades. 

Despite the overall reduction in U.S. vehicle sales, bucking that trend are large pickups including, the GM Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra and Fiat Chrysler’s Ram, and Ford’s F-series line that made up nearly 21 percent of all vehicles sold in the U.S last month according to J.D. Power. And the good news is that 2020 is the first year for new options in all three leading full size pickup trucks, as well as new SUV entrants to market. 

Diesels options are already performing well. In Q1 2020, sales of advanced diesels were 0.9 percent of total sales so far this year, up from 0.6 percent in 2019.

Q1 2020 Dashboard

That SUV and pickup trucks are the key growth sectors means that consumers have an array of fuel efficient choices including mild hybrids, 48 volt hybrids, battery electrics, plug-in electrics and even fuel cells are now available. Although they may not generate headlines, improvements to gasoline engines including direct injection and multiport variable valve timing deliver savings along with advanced diesel choices are all available. 

Of all these advanced internal combustion engine choices, diesel is still the one fuel efficient choice and one that does not sacrifice power and performance. A full-size pickup owner choosing the more efficient diesel option can save 200 gallons of fuel per year and squeeze out an additional 125 miles on a single tank relative to a comparable gasoline option. And current trends are seeing diesel fuel prices being down 76 percent on a nationwide average compared to a year ago.

Using less fuel also means fewer greenhouse gas emissions. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, diesel pickups on average have greater real world fuel economy and a lower real world C02 footprint than the most efficient comparably equipped gasoline options. If all full-size pickup trucks sold were diesel, we could save 500 million gallons of fuel per year that equates to 15 percent of all cars and trucks on the road being an EV, according to research commissioned by the Diesel Technology Forum.

As more Americans look to pickups and SUVs, diesel options can deliver the efficiency and performance consumers want. More diesel pickup sales can help save fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions even delivering benefits on par with expanding EV sedan sales.


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Ezra Finkin
Director, Policy

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