A Glimmer of Hope for the Climate Conscientious at This Year's Auto Show

Greener trucks and Ford's bold EV goals

by Charles Griffith, Ecology Center Director of Climate & Energy 

For those of us concerned about the climate impacts from automobiles and their reliance on fossil fuels, this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit revealed a glimmer of hope.  Automakers promised better fuel efficiency and lower emissions from their trucks. And, Ford took a bold stance in announcing its big plans for an electric future for its autos. 

In the era of cheap gas, pickups are still the most abundant sellers. And, it’s no surprise that they are a major focus for automakers trying to make headway in the quest for a more substantial slice of this highly profitable market.  Fortunately, most of the new truck reveals include new technology that promises to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions:  from Chevy’s lighter and more efficient Silverado with its new dynamic engine management system to the more aerodynamic Dodge Ram with eTorque electric-assist.  Ford is even bringing back its smaller and more fuel-sipping mid-sized Ranger with a new 10-speed transmission.  

While we won’t know the specs for the new models until they get a little closer to market introduction, it’s important to recognize that even a small upward tick in truck fuel economy can result in fuel savings significantly higher than a comparable mpg improvement for top mileage cars.  With so many trucks out on the roads, fuel-efficient trucks are a high priority that will lead to important gains for the environment.   

Even more optimistic was Ford’s announcement of its plans to invest in an electric future for its automobiles. Many have been waiting as the Motor City’s oldest automaker has been quietly re-building its vision this past year under new CEO Jim Hackett, while cross-town rival GM marched ahead with its “zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion” mantra that has included its own bold electric and autonomous vehicle commitments.  (For more on GM, see our last issue of BBM news.)

Ford declares it will invest $11 billion over the next few years to develop 16 fully electric and 24 hybrid and plug-in vehicles by 2022.  It says it even plans to make its most iconic vehicles EVs—perhaps a fully electric F-150 to accompany its upcoming hybrid version?   

To accomplish this task, Ford’s new chief of autonomous and electric vehicles, Sherif Marakby, has assembled a new “Team Edison” that is bringing together people in technology, product development, marketing and advanced manufacturing from across the company into a new space in Detroit’s up and coming Corktown neighborhood.  As a bit of a tease, Ford showed a video at its Auto Show press reveal that suggested how Team Edison will be inspiring an all-electric performance SUV coming in 2020.

Again, we’ll have to wait and see what new products make it into production, but all ambitious projects must start with bold commitments and plans. And apparently, it’s no accident that today’s record truck sales are helping to finance tomorrow’s future automobiles.  From my standpoint, that makes this year’s Auto Show much more significant than the usual new product reveals. 

Published on January 30, 2018