Do you have a feeling that hybrid pickup trucks are a rare sight and not something you are likely to come across? You may very well be right. Judging from the current market situation, it seems like these vehicles are not entirely in touch with upcoming trends. Because of their emphasis on load capabilities and utilitarian usability, pickup trucks usually focus on power rather than fuel economy. Although pickup trucks differ greatly from traditional hybrid vehicles, this technology can have its use here, as well. In this article, we will see if there are any such vehicles, and analyze upsides and weak points of this technology when applied to pickup trucks.
Why are there no true hybrid pickup trucks yet?
As hybrid pickup trucks seem to be so rare, many of you may wonder if they even exist. The key reason for this is within design features and usual applications, as pickup trucks differ from other vehicle types. Most family cars and SUVs spend the majority of their time as commuter vehicles, meaning they need to be lightweight and fuel-efficient. On the other hand, pickup trucks tend to carry or pull heavy loads and double as a work vehicle. To cope with these requirements, pickup trucks use a strong and sturdy construction and powerful engines, which significantly increases overall weight. This makes them less suitable for hybrid or electric applications, as batteries and motors would have to be enormous.
Still, this doesn’t mean there are no attempts and even some successful examples present on the market today. Electricity and pickup trucks even mated together back in the 90s when Ford released its electric version of the popular Ranger. Although it was only given as a lease vehicle for fleets, the Ranger was the truck that proved that the concept had potential. Over the years, many other manufacturers designed and produced their versions, using several approaches and incorporating various ideas. With striking emission regulations that put emphasis on fuel efficiency, we can expect an increase in hybrid pickup trucks on the market soon. Not only is the battery technology improving fast but hybrids can also meet the customers’ needs without worries about the charging infrastructure or the battery range anxiety that comes with all-electric vehicles.
Hybrid technology applied to pickup trucks
Most cars offer hybrid technologies in different configurations, using batteries providing the longest range possible. As powering a car requires an extensive amount of energy, batteries and electrical components in full-hybrid vehicles are larger and more expensive. Unlike them, current production pickup trucks only come as mild hybrids that use lower voltage and less complicated configurations. Instead of moving the vehicle on its own, the system uses stored electricity only to support the engine while starting and speeding up. It also charges the battery while coasting or braking to improve fuel-efficiency.
How hybrid systems work on pickup trucks?
The starting point of hybrid systems used in trucks like the Dodge Ram or the GMC Sierra is a combined motor-generator unit. This is a unique belt-connected device that replaces the alternator and doubles as both electric generator and motor. Using this configuration instead of a pancake motor between the engine and transmission is less expensive and also easier to maintain.
The heart of the system is the engine management system that uses the motor-generator unit for several things. It creates electricity to charge the battery pack and power the traditional system as we see in most hybrid vehicles. Furthermore, it can also disengage itself when the engine is under load, giving you maximum power while speeding up or overtaking. This is not the only power assistance feature, however, as it also delivers additional torque on low engine speeds. And when braking, it can generate power more aggressively, providing a mild form of regenerative braking. Lastly, the hybrid system also replaces the starter motor during the start-stop cycle, allowing for a more seamless operation.
Are there any plug-in hybrid pickup trucks?
Among the best-selling vehicles in the United States, pickup trucks take the top three spots. Unfortunately, these are also the highest polluters in the automotive industry. With such a significant impact on the environment, it is of the utmost importance to make pickup trucks as eco-friendly as possible. While most manufacturers are currently developing trucks with plug-in hybrid technology, none of them are yet available.
Luckily, plug-in hybrid pickup trucks are just around the corner. The Tesla Cybertruck or Rivian R1T, for example, are coming to the market by the end of 2020.
However, having a classical drivetrain configuration and an abundance of space makes pickup trucks ideal for aftermarket upgrades and modifications. Several companies take new vehicles and equip them with strong batteries and powerful electric motors. Unlike mild-hybrid variants, the electrical system in these pickup trucks has enough power to drive the vehicle on its own. Drivers can charge them using a domestic AC outlet, or plug them at any standard charging ports for faster fill-ups. Depending on the driving style, increases in fuel economy can go up to 50% when coupled with regenerative braking.
Regardless of the make or model, most aftermarket plug-in hybrid pickup trucks use a similar setup. There is a battery pack together with controllers and other accessories mounted under or inside the cargo bed. With the electric motor mounted at the transmission output side, this installation has no effect on vehicles’ factory warranties. While the combustion engine makes them flexible, the electric motor improves fuel efficiency and reduces emissions. Hybridized trucks are then a suitable solution for individuals and companies that want to meet sustainability targets.
Because of their emphasis on load capabilities and utilitarian usability, pickup trucks rarely come in hybrid form. The fact that they carry heavy loads makes them less suitable for hybrid or electric applications. Nonetheless, this technology is already available in mild form on some pickup trucks available today. Brace yourself, though, as electric pickup trucks are coming soon in a dealer near you!