Meet the Truck Smoking the New Ford F-150 in Efficiency Gains

Ford (NYSE: F  ) stole the headlines at The 2014 North American International Auto Show in January with the public debut of its new aluminum body F-150. The 2015 lineup will drop 500 to 700 pounds in curb weight and, when coupled with a variety of engine options, could save drivers a substantial amount in fuel costs compared with previous models. Although investors and gearheads won't know the exact efficiency ratings until Ford provides updates, I took a stab at estimating the fuel economy for each new model.

The results were impressive, sure, but they don't come close to matching the 20% increase in engine efficiency and 70% increase in freight efficiency made since 2010 of a new truck built and tested by Cummins (NYSE: CMI  ) and Peterbilt. Oh, yeah -- the new truck also sports an over 84% increase in fuel economy compared with other trucks in its class. Are you ready for it?

Hi, my name is SuperTruck. Source: Sarah Gerrity / Department of Energy.

OK, so the SuperTruck won't actually compete with the Ford F-150, but it's certainly more important to America's energy future than Ford's innovation. That's not an attempt to marginalize the new F-150 -- it's just difficult to say otherwise after analyzing the numbers.

SuperTruck = SuperSavings
The new Class 8 tractor-trailer can get a whopping 10.7 mpg in real-world driving conditions. That may seem laughably inefficient, but it marks quite an improvement over the average Class 8 fuel economy of just 5.8 mpg. It was built as part of the Department of Energy's SuperTruck initiative, which aims to create tractor-trailers that are 50% more efficient than current models. For those of you keeping score at home, Cummins and Peterbilt have already beaten that watermark.

No wonder the SuperTruck was in attendance when President Obama unveiled the new fuel economy guidelines for heavy-duty vehicles last week -- part of the across-the-board improvements he's made in efficiency standards since taking office. Better yet, rather than establishing a one-size-fits-all threshold, the heavy-duty category is broken down into three sub-categories. The next-generation SuperTruck resides in the top category.

Why make an effort to improve the efficiency of the heavy-duty vehicles traversing American highways, especially Class 8 vehicles, which account for just 4% of the nation's total vehicle fleet? Well, it's all pretty simple. Consider that Class 8 vehicles transport nearly 80% of the country's goods and consume nearly 20% of the country's fuel. Do the words "ridiculously disproportionate" come to mind?

Replacing America's entire Class 8 fleet with SuperTrucks could reduce national fuel consumption by 10%, equivalent to saving 300 million barrels of oil, and $30 billion per year based on current diesel prices (also equivalent to one and a half WhatsApps in annual fuel costs). To further put those savings in perspective, consider the following. The first wave of fuel economy standards rolled out in 2011 for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles covered model years 2014 to 2018. According to the White House:

Over the lifetimes of the vehicles covered, trucks and buses will reduce oil consumption by a projected 530 million barrels and greenhouse gas pollution by approximately 270 million metric tons, saving vehicle owners and operators an estimated $50 billion in fuel costs.

So, rolling out an entire fleet of SuperTrucks could save more money in two years than the entire fleet of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles spanning a five-year model period could save over their lifetime of operation. Please check your pulse if that isn't one of the most amazing vehicle facts you've ever heard.

What does it all mean for Cummins and Peterbilt? Big things, perhaps. Because it represents such an amazing improvement over incumbent technology, truck operators may not have much of a choice when purchasing new vehicles. When you consider that one SuperTruck could save an operator $20,000 in annual fuel costs, the rationale for purchasing one becomes clear.

Foolish bottom line
New F-150 models mark a major improvement in consumer vehicle efficiency -- and effectively squash any concerns about meeting the new aggressive Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. But while shedding up to 700 pounds in weight is impressive, the overall fuel savings and efficiency gains made by the new SuperTruck from Cummins and Peterbilt will have a greater impact on the nation's fuel consumption. Nonetheless, both next-generation vehicles will be a critical piece of America's energy future -- it's just difficult to beat the SuperTruck. 

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Read/Post Comments (18) | Recommend This Article (12)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 5:32 PM, Number1FordFan wrote:

    If you calculate the fuel used by the weight that over the road semi gets better MPG than just about EVERY traditional gas powered car or pick up.

    I saw a comparison years ago when VW had thier rabbit diesel cars getting 45 MPG and a school bus getting 4 MPG.

    They put a gallon of fuel in each one. Bus made the trip loaded with students. The VW started hauling the students back,....3 at a time.

    The VW ran out of fuel before it got all the studesnt back where they started.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 6:24 PM, maki000001 wrote:

    "A BNSF train can move one ton of freight 500 miles on just one gallon of diesel fuel." -BNSF dot com just saying if we are going there, lets get there already. apples, organs and pinapples ect. I don't see the point of this piece unless they were paid to write it which makes complete sense to us. The Fool takes us all for fools once again.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 10:35 PM, fujidan wrote:

    When less fuel is consumed the prices will go up to maintain the corporate income. As always the consumers can not come out ahead.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 10:55 PM, TMFBlacknGold wrote:

    @fujidan

    "When less fuel is consumed the prices will go up to maintain the corporate income. As always the consumers can not come out ahead."

    That's not exactly how commodity pricing works. The opposite should be true for fuels.

    Maxxwell

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 11:00 PM, TZ138 wrote:

    This is impressive, but will only work under ideal circumstances... A flatbed, oversize or other non van type trailer will not do as well... I expect this truck will be useless in the mountains, on ice, and dangerously slow on some western freeways... The trucking industry itself is putting immense pressure on equipment builders for efficiecy... I don't see government pressure having a much larger impact... As for the BNSF train moving that much weight that far on one gallon of diesel, there again in ideal circumstances, and likely does not include the drayage to and from the rail yard... Having driven, and owned trucks for years, I understand all that is going on here... I can say statistically that the average class 8 truck is now moving a ton of freight about 150 miles, and that is from the shipper to the reciever...

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 11:33 PM, jimmychurch wrote:

    This is a fairly useless article that is disguised not to look like a paid advertisement

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 12:36 AM, CAmothertrucker wrote:

    Any savings in diesel fuel for my Peterbilt trucks with new Cummins engines meeting the CA carb law (they say $20k/yr, not seeing that) is eaten up plus some for the repairs I have put out on these new engines and their particulate filter system. Constant break-downs! Used to make a decent living with my small fleet. Cummins, along with the rest of the large truck engine manufacturers, adding all this smog equipment has only put trucks in the shop. 6 years later, still no improvement! Come on people!!!!

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 1:20 AM, ddh1961 wrote:

    "OK, so the SuperTruck won't actually compete with the Ford F-150..."

    Then why say it's 'smoking' the F-150? Please, leave the cheesy taglines to AP & Reuters and stick to reality. Yes, for it's class it's good, but it doesn't beat an F-150 for fuel mileage. Stick to class vs. class...

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 10:24 AM, patssara wrote:

    why dont class 8 trucks in fact why dont all vehicles do as trains do an use diesel over electric ? just saying,.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 11:51 AM, PJCHILDS wrote:

    Interesting to see the graphics for the three categories of vehicles don't seem to represent any American-made vehicles and the one for pick-ups and vans actually seems to be of a VW van which hasn't been available in the US since 1980.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 11:58 AM, Albert0Knox wrote:

    The bottom line is that improved efficiency will reduce our dependence on oil imported from dangerous parts of the world. DoD is the biggest federal expenditure. Look how much of that equipment and personnel is used to protect the seal lanes that bring us that oil.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 3:38 PM, rioesmarex wrote:

    So Cummins can produce a diesel engine that gets an 84% increase over the average big rig engine ... from 5.8 to 10.7 mpg and is able to haul 80,000 lbs plus

    But Ford can't come up with an engine for their F-250 ( which can only haul +/- 10,000 lbs ) and increase it's mileage from 15mpg to 28 mpg.

    What does that tell you ?

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 5:04 PM, hdc77494 wrote:

    So I guess that means goodbye tow vehicles, camping trailers, boats etc? 15% efficiency increase just means smaller engines and lower capacity. This can't help but hurt all those recreational industries.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 5:27 PM, luckyagain wrote:

    A decrease in oil demand is great news for the US economy. Time will tell how much can be saved. Hopefully enough to keep the US out the Middle East and let someone else be the cop. Most of the Middle East oil goes to Europe and Asia, so let them do the policing.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 6:59 PM, BaconRules wrote:

    "A BNSF train can move one ton of freight 500 miles on just one gallon of diesel fuel."....because BNSF uses diesel to power a generator to run electric motors.

  • Report this Comment On February 24, 2014, at 7:52 PM, Bob2278 wrote:

    Remember your mileage may vary!

  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 9:36 AM, ghelmz21 wrote:

    Might be hard to park in the city or the garage!

  • Report this Comment On March 06, 2014, at 7:44 PM, JoeSage wrote:

    The truck vs. train argument is valid only to a certain point. Merchandise that travels by rail typically needs to be on-loaded and off-loaded ... usually from a truck. There are large areas of the country that aren't served by rail and won't be in the foreseeable future. Rail has a much less flexible schedule than truck, etc., etc. Rail is great for commodities like coal, timber, grains and oil (at least until Keystone is built). If rail were so efficient, nobody would use trucks - but they do, and businesses don't just leave money on the table.

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