Pickup Truck Fuel-Economy Battle Heats Up

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Among full-size pickup trucks powered by gasoline, the Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) F-150 is the reigning champion, with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel-economy ratings of 20 miles per gallon in city driving, 26 mpg in highway driving and a combined rating of 22 mpg. General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (NYSE: FCAU) are taking dead aim at those numbers with major improvements to their 2019 full-size pickups.

GM is adding a new inline four-cylinder turbocharged 2.7-liter engine for its 2019 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra models. The new engine is the first four-banger in a modern full-size pickup and the first ever pickup engine capable of running on just two cylinders.

Fuel-economy data on the 2019 model year trucks is not available yet, but GM told Automotive News that it will be “very competitive in fuel efficiency” with its competitors. One GM executive said it is “very possible” that the new four-cylinder engine eventually might replace a traditional V6 pickup engine.

GM said that a Silverado with the new engine will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than seven seconds and that it cuts 380 pounds from the weight of a Silverado equipped with a 4.3-liter V6. The engine is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and will be standard equipment on the 2019 Silverado RST and Silverado LT.

According to Automotive News, GM claims that the new engine is expected to deliver more torque than the 3.3-liter V6 in the F-150 XLT or the 3.6-liter V6 in the Ram 1500 Big Horn. The pickups are equipped with a dynamic fuel management system that continuously adjusts the number of cylinders that are firing (minimum of two) among 17 different performance modes.

Ford’s 2019 Ranger midsize pickup, also due out late this year, is equipped with an inline-four as its base engine. The 2.3-liter engine is mated with a 10-speed automatic transmission. Experts at Car and Driver estimate the engine will develop around 300 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque. The GM inline-four is rated at 310 horsepower and 348 lb-ft of torque.

And what’s Ram up to? The 2019 Ram 1500 added a 48-volt mild hybrid system to its 2019 model as standard equipment on all trucks with the V6 engine. The hybrid system drives a motor generator unit that enables the start/stop function and brake energy regeneration. The 2019 models have been available in limited numbers since March.