Texas is the largest truck market in the world, and it’s not just construction workers, farmers, and urban cowboys driving pick ups. It’s become a lifestyle choice.
Trucks are a more expensive and less fuel-efficient option than sedans, and if auto manufacturers want to capture the more environmental and economically conscious Millennial market, that will need to change.
Against that backdrop, auto executives, journalists and representatives from local companies attended the unveiling of the 2015 RAM 1500 EcoDiesel, the winner of the event’s first-annual Green Truck of the Year Award. It’s a pickup truck that offers the only advanced, fuel-efficient diesel engine in the light-duty truck category.
Ron Cogan, editor of Green Car Journal, presented the award, designed by the publication to showcase environmental progress in the auto industry.
“There’s been an increasing interest in trucks, and it’s a particularly good year to launch the award, which calls to mind a time when legacy Chrysler, Ford and GM brands were fierce competitors,” he said. “Determining which should be the finalists is what our vetting process is all about.
“We’ve participated in the Green Car of the Year award for a decade, but this is our first year for trucks, and today, we honor the vehicle that best exemplifies what can be achieved,” Cogan said.
Robert Hegbloom, president and CEO of RAM trucks, said the RAM 1500 EcoDiesel delivers 28 miles per gallon, a three-liter diesel, 240-horsepower engine, and a second-to-none interior showcasing the latest technology.
“This truck offers all the attributes our customers are asking for,” he said. “It’s a sound alternative to any other vehicle on the market in terms of features, functionality and improvement.”
Other truck features are active aerodynamics, including grill shutters that close for less drag at highway speeds, as well as an eight-speed automatic transmission and an air suspension system that lowers the truck at higher speeds to optimize fuel economy and emit a lower amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
Motorists can fuel up the truck with B20 biodiesel made from soybeans, contributing to fuel economy without sacrificing load capacity, Hegbloom said. There are two stations in San Antonio that serve the B20 blend, both located outside Loop 410.
This year’s edition of the popular show offers buyers and car lovers a glimpse of some of the hottest trends in today’s auto market, from the popular economy of the Toyota Camry to the sleek but functional Toyota Sienna minivan. Luxury lovers will not be able to resist the classic suite of British cars, including Bentleys, Aston Martins and the Rolls-Royce Wraith, with its sleek dashboard and star-studded interior ceiling – a car that goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.3 seconds. You might not be able to afford one of these vehicles, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying an up-close look.
Automakers know the latest model truck or car is not a priority for most Millennials, especially those living in the urban core, where a bicycle can get you to the neighborhood coffee shop just as quickly as a car, at no expense to the individual or the environment.
Many Millennials aren’t interested in owning a car or truck, much less a Lexus. A recent study conducted by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund Frontier Group examined how the generation born between 1983 and 2000 are less car-focused than previous generations of young people. Transportation behaviors and trends continue to change in ways that reduce the time people spend driving.
Between 2001 and 2009, the average number of miles driven by 16-34 year olds dropped by 23% as people took fewer trips, made shorter trips, and a larger share of trips were made via public transit, carshare, rideshare, bikes, and walking, the report stated.
It’s clear that socioeconomic shifts, from unemployment and falling incomes among young people due to the Great Recession, are at play, but the youthful shift away from driving is paralleled by other changes in lifestyle and family values that are happening with time. Americans have been getting married later and having children later almost continuously since the 1960s and have continued to do so during the first years of the economic recovery. They are more attracted to urban living, “walkable” communities, and openness to the use of non-driving modes of transport than older generations, too, the report stated.
Interestingly, the report also cites the availability of technology as a way to enable young people to substitute virtual activity for activities that might once have required a physical trip. While drivers have benefited from GPS navigation for years, it’s only been in the last several years that parallel services have been available to transit riders. In an increasing number of cities, transit riders can use smartphone apps to navigate the transit system, plot routes, and even find out at what time the next bus or train will arrive.
It’s no secret that cell phones and driving are two forms of technology that don’t mix, however – a strange parallel development in our technological world that perhaps has prompted speculation about the arrival of the self-driving cars of the future, and what this might mean for auto companies who are looking to capitalize on the youth market once again.
Farm equipment manufacturers began offering tractors, planters and harvesters with real-time kinematic technology (RTK) –tractors that literally drive themselves – in the mid-2000s in an industry where there are ironically far fewer risks of collision than exist in the roadways of cities.
In the meantime, to connect with a younger market, automakers are offering today’s potential buyers incentives that their parents and grandparents didn’t have when they bought their first car – technology, short-term leases with low to no down payments, new safety features, fine-tuned GPS, and more.
Where automakers have historically looked to create a chic status symbol for the road, they’re now turning to the interiors to develop more intuitive sound systems, heated seats, steering wheels, ventilation and other modern amenities.
“Today’s young buyer is all about the technology,” said Jose Luis Contreras, general sales manager at Lexus of San Antonio. “Adding more technology to a vehicle is also one of the biggest challenges.”
To address this, the company is integrating interior systems to be compatible with iPhones and iPads and hiring vehicle delivery specialists to talk people all the way through current technology and eventually into the self-driving cars that will appear somewhere down the road.
Newer Lexus features include lane-keep assist through radar-dynamic cruise control and automatic speed adjustment, as well as new technology built into safety features.
Ultimately, Millennials will look to affordability and reliability when making a decision about buying a car, he said.
Chevrolet sports the Colorado, which offers customers all the traditional features of a mid-size pickup along with easy maneuverability in urban driving, plus notable fuel efficiency.
“The Colorado’s strengths are technology, interior quietness, fuel economy and payload and touring,” said Craig Eppling, regional communications manager of General Motors. “It’s an outdoors-oriented sporty concept for a vehicle, which often appeals to younger drivers.”
About 20% of GMC sales come from the Sierra and heavy-duty pickup trucks, including the Sierra HD, the Acadia and the Yukon XL, he said.
The new 2015 GMC pickups also can be equipped with OnStar 4G LTE technology to create a vehicle hotspot and enable the driver to connect to up to seven different devices, including tablets, phones, computers, and game consoles.
Other car companies are also focusing on their vehicles’ interior amenities, offering wireless phone chargers, newer plugs and outlets, temperature gauges, DVD, Bluetooth and Blu-Ray systems with HDMI inputs.
Other finalists for the Green Truck of the Year included the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado, the 2015 Ford F-150, the 2015 GMC Canyon, and the 2015 Ram 1500 HFE.
The San Antonio Auto and Truck Show will continue tomorrow from 2-10 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m.-10 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Other featured events include opportunities for visitors to ride in and drive new vehicle models, a display of seven generations of Corvettes by the Texas Corvette Association, a classic car collection by Alamo City Rods, the Chevy College Challenge and appearances by the Spurs Coyote, the Spurs Silver Dancers and ESPN radio host and former Spurs player Antonio Daniels.
*Set/featured image: RAM Truck Brand President and CEO Bob Hegbloom, San Antonio Auto Dealers Association President Pam Crail, and Green Car Journal Editor and Publisher Ron Cogan stand after the presentation of the 2015 Green Truck of the Year award at the San Antonio Auto and Truck Show. Photo by Katherine Nickas.