As we noted in our roundup of most popular stories last year, the topic of covering pickup trucks turned controversial on Green Car Reports this year.
It started with a story on how what technologies we expect to be used for the 2015 Ford F-150 to boost its fuel economy from the current 18 mpg combined to 22 mpg combined or higher.
That drew enough negative comments that we wrote another piece, explaining why we cover pickup trucks on the site--which drew even more comments, more than 380 as of today.
Faithful reader and commenter John C. Briggs of Boston chimed in to ask what possessed U.S. drivers to buy full-size pickup trucks if they're mostly going to be used for single-person commuting, and rarely actually carry anything in the bed.
2011 Chevrolet Volt plugged into Coulomb Technologies 240V wall charging unit
And he offered up as an example a colleague who commutes in a Ford F-150 every day, as a single occupant with nothing in tow, costing him $4,000 to $5,000 a year in fuel.
This fellow uses the truck to its full capacity only once a month during weekdays, if that--clearly an expensive choice of commuter vehicle.
We suggested that Briggs actually interview him, to ask why he drives an F-150 and not something more fuel-efficient--and Briggs did exactly that.
As he wrote, "I discovered that our thoughts, like most things humans do, are complex. I was too fixated on his F-150 pickup to realize that in his heart, he is really an environmentalist who loves the outdoors and doing outdoor activities."
Let's be clear; this is a profile of a single person among the many millions who drive pickup trucks daily. As such, he can hardly represent the whole owner body.
But as Briggs discovered, even those who love their pickups for what they offer may turn out to be fascinated by the idea of driving an electric car--if still remarkably uninformed about the options for actually buying one of the 15 plug-in vehicles now on the market.
Here's what Briggs wrote after interviewing his F-150-owning colleague (we've edited and condensed his text slightly):
2014 Ford F-150 Tremor
The short answer is that he loves his truck: He likes the feel of the big vehicle, the highly adjustable seating position, and the fact that it can tow his boat (which he doesn't actually own) and his snowmobiles (which he is selling).
He likes the fact that it can carry a lot in the back (something he does often on the weekends). It just feels really cool to him, and although he didn’t say so, I get a feeling that he feels a sense of respect for his truck when he hangs with the boys.
They inevitably brag about larger engines and four-wheel-drive, which he does not have in his truck. You get the sense of his joy related to his truck from the big smile on his face when he talks about it. In short, it is a passion.
So what about other vehicles? He has owned some sports cars in the past, and loved them as well for their power and the engine noise he grew up with. He enjoys spirited driving in both large and small sports cars. But, now that he's married, with a kid, sports cars don't fit into his life well.
Why not a compact car? A Toyota Corolla, say? When I asked him, immediately a frown formed on his face. His passion for trucks and sports cars was wiped away and replaced by contempt for vehicles that only people “that don’t give a $#@&” about cars buy.
2014 Ford F-150 Tremor
2014 Ford F-150 Tremor
He said the seats in cars like that seem too small, and the interior too confining, for his 6-foot 220-pound frame. Sure, they're practical--but he would never drive one, and it turns out that goes double for a hybrid. He might take a hybrid truck, though.
My final try was to ask, What if you could get your hands on a compact electric car with a 60-mile range ... would you drive that to and from work?
“In a heartbeat,” he said--and the smile returned to his face.
What? Why? He turns out to be an environmentalist, albeit one who drives a full-size Ford F-150 pickup truck. He loves the idea of driving on electricity, saving money, and charging at work (the employer will likely pay for the electricity).
To him, electric cars are just cool, in a way that clearly interests him from many perspectives: technology, economics, and environmental. But the out-of-pocket costs seem to be his top-of-mind concern, perhaps not surprising with a young family.
ECOtality Blink DC fast charger plugged in
But, I objected, what about all those things you told me were great about the F-150, and everything that was wrong with compact cars?
Turns out he's willing to set all those things aside, because of the perceived benefits of electric cars.
As a Ford man, it also turned out he didn't know that Ford sells a Focus Electric battery-electric compact hatchback, let alone the details of its 76-mile rated range or the 2014 price of $35,200 (possibly less than he paid for his F-150).
He feels that a rated 100-mile range is good, admitting that the psychological effect of a three-digit number is better than two--although he said perhaps 75 miles might be enough.
As for price, he wants an electric car to pay for itself in less than three years--but, compared to the gasoline version of the same car, not to his 18-mpg-or-lower pickup truck.
He's willing to ignore the cost of electricity completely--indicating that he understands its very low per-mile cost versus gasoline--but he wouldn't do compare the total driving costs of his gasoline F-150 versus the Focus Electric.
But the size of that compact car, which he'd told me would be too small for him? If it were electric, he said, it would be fine--and that he has even commuted by motorcycle in the past.
In the end, I concluded that he loves both kinds of vehicles--but for very different reasons. And I don’t think he will be the only one.
So let's throw it back again to our readers and commenters: Are there ways you can think of to work on educating and persuading this pickup driver that a plug-in electric car could work for him? And what would you offer him to replace those things an electric car couldn't do?
Leave us your thoughts in the Comments (and, as always, please keep it polite).