Chevrolet, Ford, Ram offer fuel-saving technology on pickup trucks

The new Chevy Silverado is gaining attention for its in-your-face looks, which seem to be a bit polarizing.

It's also getting attention for something new under the hood: a four-cylinder engine.

"It's been decades since there was a four-cylinder engine in a full-size Chevy pickup," said Chevrolet spokesman Shad Balch.

Actually, 1928 was the last time a Chevrolet truck had a four-cylinder. Though to be fair, way back then trucks weren't exactly full-size as we know them today.

So to find the new turbocharged four in a truck of this size is pretty significant, and part of a push for better fuel economy. The truck's mileage isn't earth-shattering on paper, in the low 20s. But there's more to it than just raw numbers.

"It's a four cylinder that puts out 310 horsepower, which is more than the V6 engine that it replaces," Balch noted.

The new 2.7-liter four is a ground-up design just for trucks, and will even drop down to two cylinders when power demand is low, like when cruising on the freeway with no cargo. Chevrolet calls this Active Fuel Management and it happens seamlessly so the driver never even knows it's happening.

The new engine will also shut off completely when the vehicle is stopped, to further save fuel. There's a button on the dash to switch this function off.

Going smaller in displacement and adding turbocharging has done very well for Ford in recent years. The optional EcoBoost V6 engines are now in more than 60 percent of new F150 pickups. Back in 2010, for example, Ford only sold F150 models with V8 engines.

The Ram pickup truck brand is trying to improve fuel efficiency as well, but going about it in a different way for now. The 2019 Ram 1500 has a 48-volt mild hybrid system called eTorque, standard on the V6 and optional on the V8. The electric motor takes a bit of the load off the gas engine, and it's good for a 2 mpg improvement across the board.

One or two miles per gallon might not seem significant on a per-truck basis. But keep in mind, the industry as a whole sells well over 2 million new full-size pickups each year in North America. And trucks tend to stay on the road for many years. So in a big picture kind of way, the small savings of fuel in each truck actually add up to big savings in the grand scheme of things.

These new powertrain offerings are part of a big-picture evolution of pickup trucks and their energy use. Someday, we could even see trucks that are very different.

"At some point, these kinds of trucks will be electrified. They'll be running on batteries and produce no emissions at all. But for now, this is the technology that matters," added Balch in regard to the new smaller Silverado engine.
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