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Baker Institute expert urges focus on larger light-duty trucks and SUVs to reduce gasoline use, emissions

Larger trucks and SUVs with powerful, high-displacement engines are the low-hanging fruit for any policymaker seeking the most efficient path to reducing gasoline use and the associated emissions, according to an issue brief by an expert in the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

The brief’s author, Gabriel Collins, the Baker Botts Fellow in Energy and Environmental Regulatory Affairs, suggests that capital investments focused on the larger vehicles Americans favor can most rapidly save the largest quantities of fuel and avoid more emissions at less cost.

Thirstier vehicles offer the highest return on fuel efficiency investment. Data: Edmonds, Fueleconomy.gov, Ford-trucks.com, Toyota. Collins (2017) Click to enlarge.

The brief explores Environmental Protection Agency ratings versus real-world fuel economy and how more efficient pickup and SUV engines are affecting gasoline demand and growth. The brief also looks at how gasoline demand could be impacted as improved engine technologies cycle into a growing portion of the US vehicle fleet and offers suggestions on policies that could accelerate this process.

The speed and scale of economic, energy and environmental returns on investments to improve internal combustion engines are magnified by the fact that this path allows us to leverage existing fueling infrastructure that was built at great cost—and, which generally speaking, has worked very effectively for decades.

From a policy perspective, the data shown here suggest that dollars invested in research to improve internal combustion engines and promote gasoline-based hybrid vehicles are likely to yield larger—and faster—returns than investments in pure electric vehicles. The bigger question is whether policymakers will be willing to confront the political optics of appearing to ‘double down’ on gasoline, when doing so in fact represents the rational first step down a longer road toward a lower-oil use and lower-emissions propulsion future.

—“Seeking Scalable, Cost-effective Reductions in Gasoline Demand and Tailpipe Emissions? Focus on Pickup Trucks, Not Priuses”

US sales of large passenger vehicles have boomed for most of the past decade, Collins said. Yet despite continued reliance on gasoline propulsion in the US and a trend toward larger, more powerful vehicles, the 7.6% rise in vehicle miles driven from February 2012 to February 2017 yielded a gasoline demand increase of only 3.8%, the brief found.

Better engine technology likely underpins much of the rising gasoline consumption efficiency on US roads, and the big, powerful pickups and SUVs cherished by many American drivers are at the center of the action.

—“Focus on Pickup Trucks, Not Priuses”

“The likely gasoline demand reduction from replacing 1 million 2007 F-150s (i.e., the old V-8 engine models) with the truck’s 2017 3.5 liter EcoBoost edition is the same as 576,000 drivers turning in their 2017 Toyota Corollas (or other similar small, highly fuel-efficient cars) for Tesla Model 3s, which use no gasoline at all.”

For every 100 miles driven, improving the fuel economy of a single Ford F-150 by five miles per gallon can theoretically achieve the same volumetric gasoline savings that would be accomplished by making a six-miles-per-gallon improvement to six Priuses, Collins said.

Focusing on SUVs and trucks also acknowledges the reality that when truck owners get new vehicles, they typically move into another truck or SUV, often of the same brand and type—not a compact car. As such, turnover in the existing pickup and SUV vehicle stock is likely to be a more powerful driver of fuel economy gains, especially in the next five years, than adoption of smaller or totally new vehicles such as electric vehicles.

… In fact, the most likely future is one with two coexisting vectors where gasoline gets used more efficiently—in many cases as part of a hybrid-electric powertrain.

—“Focus on Pickup Trucks, Not Priuses”

Collins conducts a range of globally focused commodity market, energy, water and environmental research. His current focal areas include evolutions in the global gasoline market, shifts in China’s domestic oil consumption structure, Texas water governance and the food-water-energy nexus.



I said since long to buy a small gas serial hybrid car and sell or put to scrap your big fat f-150 along your big boat and trailer. quite often these folks pass me on the highway at 75 mph while i drive at 50 mph.

Stop asking for research grants, the small e-note from nissan is already invented. The thing is to convince peoples to buy it and keep it. Ask leonardo di caprio and al gore and sjc, harvyd to promote it for free like im doing it here.


a; Imagine if you had a speed limit in mpg rather than mph!
(It would have to be implemented by the manufacturer.)

OK, it is not at all practical. Instead of saying, I got stuck behind a granny in a Nissan Micra, you would say, I got stuck behind some oik in a Dodge Ram.

Anyway, nice to see someone running the numbers and suggesting you fix the most productive targets, rather than the easiest or most visible.

The same applies to reducing pollution in cities, find the worst offenders and concentrate on them. Don't bother converting gasoline cars to electric, get rid of ancient diesel buses and trucks (if necessary with newer diesel trucks), but just get rid of the really bad ones.


This is an example where EPA regs fail within common sense. If they chart the best bang for the regulation buck, both for consumer, manufacturer, and their cost they would go to low mileage vehicles. Meaning have minimal regs on high Mpg vehicles. They don't pollute much. Savy. Let the regulations be the penalty for suffering low mileage and the bait for high mileage.


Delivery trucks have not been required to improve mileage. They get 5 mpg around town when they could get 10. Think of all the deliveries now that shopping is point and click.

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