The Final Word by Chuck Swann

Chuck Swann, Senior Editor

The Final Word by Chuck Swann

As if you needed a reminder, this is Transportation Month at Paperitalo Publications. So what are we to make of that signal transportation showcase, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit? According to Mike Ramsey, a contributor to Forbes bi-weekly news magazine, it was all about pickup trucks--pickup trucks and commitments to build electric vehicles.

Driverless trucks already have made it on to the roads--at least, in a minimal introductory fashion. But electric trucks? Hard to see them coming. At the present state of electromotive development, it would require a battery as big as the truck itself to haul a 40,000-pound load any distance. Perhaps we will see the entrance of hybrid trucks, with some kind of internal combustion engine to get the load moving at speed and an electric motor to keep it moving. Or not. At this stage, nobody knows.

Two thirds of all new vehicles sold in the US are light trucks (pickups and SUVs). Ramsey observed that trucks and electric vehicles don't have to be mutually exclusive, but the market for electrics and hybrids today doesn't have much overlap with the pickup crowd. He said, "You can almost feel the ambivalence flowing from the automakers as they set about spending billions on designing electric vehicles, and at the same time prepare to sell gas-thirsty new pickups that are a curiously American affectation."

Until the Japanese invasion of North America, with some German inroads on the Atlantic side, the American "Big 3:" Ford, General Motors and Chrysler dominated the automobile markets. But even the Big 3 left the sure-enough load-hauling market to a few specialized big-truck manufacturers. Can they always do this? What happens when a truck buyer wants an electric engine, rather than a Cummings diesel?

On the four-wheeler front, Reuters' news service reports that Ford will increase its planned investments in electric vehicles to $11 billion by 2022 and have 40 hybrid and fully electric vehicles in its model lineup. Ford said it would bring a high-performance electric utility vehicle to market by 2020. General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen have outlined aggressive plans to expand their electric auto offerings. GM has said it will add 20 new battery electric and fuel cell vehicles to its global lineup by 2023. Toyota is racing to commercialize a breakthrough battery technology to cut the cost of making electric cars.

But what about the big trucks, auto guys? Better hurry. China, India, France and the United Kingdom all have announced plans to phase out vehicles powered by combustion engines between 2030 and 2040.

Chuck Swann is Senior Editor of Paperitalo Publications.