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In defense of pickups and vans

True, most of them inhale gasoline, but that doesn't mean they aren't the right thing to be driving.

By doubleace May 16, 2011 8:48AM

This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.

"If you tell people that we can make these vehicles so much more efficient that they won't need to compromise on their vehicle, in my view that's a lie." -- MIT professor John Heywood.

"We still need to have pickup trucks." -- Gloria Bergquist, vice president of communications, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

While most people support a national goal of reducing oil consumption, 94% named a high purchase price as a deterrent to choosing an "environmentally friendly or green" vehicle. --Consumer Reports survey.

There it is: the simple truth, from three different perspectives, stuck at the end of an informative Washington Post story on the Obama administration's plans to increase fuel-efficiency standards.


Americans are not morons. Families and businesses alike realize that high gas prices -- 14 states average above $4 a gallon as of today -- are suffocating them as they drive around in their low-mpg vehicles. But so, unfortunately, would the alternatives. Post continues after video.

Look around you at the Toyota Prius owners. Anecdotal evidence indicates they are older, comfortably middle class, have no children at home and don't do much hauling (or if they do, they use their second vehicle). Insurance comparison site says that, based on the information given by more than half a million people shopping for insurance, the average Prius owner is 50, the same as its average mpg.

Of course a small hybrid works for them, but they're a pretty skinny demographic. Hybrids made up less than 2% of U.S. auto sales in April.

So what was selling last month, as gas prices hurled upward? According to Motor Intelligence, 1,800,691 cars of various sizes were sold. However, Americans also bought 1,726,694 vehicles in the light-truck category, which includes pickups, vans and SUVs. The two biggest sellers, as always, were the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado. Pickups. Big pickups.


Car buyers didn't do this because they are stupid, rich or simply in love with anything big and shiny. For the most part, those pickups and vans were purchased because they were needed.

Notice all the white pickups on the highways?  Most of those are business trucks. They're white because that is the best background for displaying the company name and advertising. Also, dirt shows less on a white vehicle, reducing the need for constant washing. Same with white vans.

The job of a pickup or van is hauling. So businesses do the math.


They can buy a 2011 Ford F-150 that retails for $22,790, can carry 1,830 pounds of cargo and tow 8,300 pounds and gets 16 city, 22 highway on gas. Or they can buy a Ford Ranger for $18,050 that can carry 1,160 pounds, isn't recommended for towing and gets 20-25 mpg. Businesses differ, but it's just a guess that gas has to get a lot higher than $4 to offset the F-150's versatility.

For anyone who owns a house, a pickup is mighty handy -- and maybe essential. A Ranger is fine for the small stuff -- dump runs, picking up bags of fertilizer, saving on delivery charges -- but if you have to tow a boat or a trailer, you need a bigger truck.

How about family vans? Again, needs probably dictate choosing one of these over a standard four- or five-seat car. If you have two or more kids and plan to do any serious driving, there's just not room enough for everything in a sedan.

The popular Toyota Sienna is a van that starts at about $24,000, seats seven, gets 19-24 mpg and has about 40 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row of seats down. The Honda Odyssey, another big seller, is pricier at $27,000, gets 18-27 mpg and has slightly less cargo space.

Consider the Mazda5, a vehicle that Consumer Reports drools over. It seats six, gets 21-28 mph, and both the second and third rows of seats fold down to create extra cargo space. What's more, it can be had for $19,000. It has negatives, however: it's a bit underpowered, road noise is bothersome, and the third row of seats realistically is roomy enough only for children.

None of the trucks or vans mentioned above get 30 mpg. The only way that can be accomplished is to build them smaller and lighter. If you do that, you have the Ford Ranger or the Mazda5, nice vehicles but maybe just not what you need.

Needs or economy? It's a decision with no easy answer.

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