Jeff Luke is the chief engineer for General Motors’ full-size trucks, a job he loves. PickupTrucks.com caught up with him at the NTEA Work Truck Show to get his opinion on where the full-size truck market is going.
Despite increasing fuel economy and emissions standards, Luke does not think the full-size pickup truck will vanish. He says there will always be a need for both light- and heavy-duty pickup trucks and full-size SUVS, but that it definitely will shrink as the standards increase. Rather than being dictated mostly by what people want, he says the market will become dictated by those who need the capabilities of a truck.
Although there are alternatives to large, body-on-frame SUVs, truck buyers have few other choices. “When it comes to construction — pickups, specifically — there aren’t many alternatives,” Luke told PickupTrucks.com. “If you need to carry a certain amount, whether it be a certain load or a certain volume or geometry, you just need that capability. With a smaller pickup, you’ll either have to pull a trailer or take two trips. People who use these things for work quickly do the math. They know what is the most effective way to do it.”
In 2005, Honda debuted its Ridgeline pickup, the only unibody pickup on the market. Although it’s based on a typically lighter and more fuel-efficient platform, Luke says GM’s answer to the crossover-based pickup actually came four years earlier in the form of the Chevrolet Avalanche. “We can provide that [configurability] on a full-size frame vehicle and, in most cases, the better fuel economy,” said Luke.
Although Chrysler said it is still working on development of a smaller unibody pickup truck for fuel efficiency, Luke says that full-size trucks’ fuel economy can still be greatly improved without hybridizing the trucks or losing capability. Luke said GM is looking at aerodynamics, mass, and tires as three of the major factors in fuel economy. You can bet direct-injected engines are on the list as well. He said that a diesel light-duty truck likely isn’t on the table due to the substantial cost involved.
Although technologies are emerging to improve fuel efficiency without a hybrid system, GM’s 2-Mode hybrid pickups are nothing to scoff at. They are still capable of towing up to 6100 pounds and hauling a payload of just over 1500 pounds. Those numbers are around 4600 and 500 pounds less than its non-hybrid counterparts, but still enough for many people. GM also says those numbers will improve significantly with the next-generation hybrid pickup.
To read more of Luke’s thoughts and to see the full interview, head over to PickupTrucks.com.