Pickups guzzling less
Gains made by popular Ford F-150 pickup make big difference in usage
More efficient Ford F-150s help drive a drop in gasoline demand.
You can thank Ford F-150s for the softening demand for U.S. gasoline this year.
While it would be easy to assume that the proliferation of hybrid gasolineelectric cars, such as the Toyota Prius, could account for slipping gasoline consumption, a new paper from Rice University says the answer lies in gas guzzlers.
Manufacturers keep improving the fuel efficiency of the most popular American vehicle, the pickup. They’re small improvements, just a few miles per gallon per year. But they’ve had an outsize effect on total U.S. fuel consumption, said the paper’s author, Gabriel Collins, an energy fellow at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.
Five years ago, the most popular vehicle in America, the Ford F-150, might have gotten 16 or 17 mpg. The Prius, on the other hand, averaged more like 46. The F-150 used about 6 gallons of gas to go 100 miles. The Prius — about 2.
Ford and Toyota both improved their vehicles. F-150s now get about 20 or 21 mpg; Priuses, better than 52.
And that means F-150s have shaved gasoline usage by a gallon over 100 miles, or about 17 percent, while the Prius still averages about 2 gallons used per 100 miles. It would take six new Priuses, Collins said, to equal the savings from one new F-150.
In addition, Americans buy four times as many Ford F-series trucks each year — about 800,000 — as they do Priuses, which typically sell about 200,000 a year. In 2016, they sold fewer than 140,000.
“For better or for worse, a big chunk of American drivers like large, powerful vehicles,” Collins said. “So if you can find a way to make those vehicles more efficient, that’s really low-hanging fruit.”
It’s part of the reason why refiners and the oil industry are looking overseas to emerging economies such as India and China for future
Fuel efficiency Miles driven rose 8 percent since 2012 but gasoline consumption rose 4 percent. Source: Rice University
U.S. gasoline consumption fell from an average of 9.3 million barrels per day to 8.7 million between 2007 and 2012, a period that included a recession, steep job losses and $4-a-gallon gasoline. With millions of Americans out of work and driving less, total mileage fell from 253 billion miles in 2007 to 246 billion in 2011.
Then mileage and consumption started to slowly rise again. Collins found, however, that the gasoline consumption didn’t keep up with driving.
Americans drove 8 percent more between February 2012 and February 2017, according to Collins. Meanwhile, gasoline demand rose at half that rate, or about 4 percent.
More recently, gasoline consumption has consistently slipped below last year’s level, according to the Energy Department, even as gasoline prices have fallen to their lowest in more than a decades.
Over the past four weeks, average gasoline consumption fell by 0.3 percent compared to the same period a year ago, the Energy Department reported Wednesday.
Fuel efficiency in Ford’s F-15 pickup has improved about 17 percent in the past five years.
It takes about six new Priuses for the gains in fuel efficiency made by Toyota on the hybrid vehicle to equal the gains made by Ford for one new F-150 pickup during the past five years.