Ford Study Shows Electrification of Pickup Trucks Reduce Greenhouse Gases

Photo Credit: Jeremy Cliff

Pickup trucks are some of the most popular vehicles of today. Back then, most trucks on the road are running on gasoline. However, as technology improves the automotive industry, combustion engines in cars have never been the same.

But will the shift to electric vehicles significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the auto industry and transportation? Will all-electric cars help the environment? Will it benefit those who are looking to buy a new truck? Let us find out if Ford has found positive news from their study.

Role of pickup truck electrification

Being one of the most prestigious public universities in the United States, the University of Michigan explored the electrification of light-duty vehicles. They also studied its impact on the industry’s decarbonization. Ford has worked with them to analyze how electrification will decline greenhouse gas emissions. On March 1, they have published their findings in the online journal Environmental Research Letters.

Past studies have already compared different powertrain options to see the impact of vehicles with battery-electric and combustion engines on the rate of emissions. But the researchers from Ford and U-M extended their analysis to various vehicle classes.

The researchers analyzed battery electric vehicles (BEVs), internal combustion engines, and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) counterparts. They specifically studied full-size pickup trucks, mid-size sedans, and mid-size sports utility vehicles (SUVs) with the model year 2020. They ran a cradle-to-grave life cycle greenhouse gasses assessment in the U.S.

Fifty-eight percent of the transportation sector emissions come from light-duty vehicles in the United States. Ford and U-M studied the vehicle emissions for sedans, SUVs, and pickup trucks and analyzed their production process, use, and end-of-life stages. They have also checked the per-mile basis and over the total vehicle lifetime. Here are some of the methods in the journal:

Regional Variation

In terms of vehicle emissions during operation across the U.S., researchers used three major factors to account for variation:

  • Drive cycle
  • Grid emissions factor
  • Ambient temperatures

Charging and grid decarbonization

They also explored the effects of grid decarbonization and the time of charging. As an additional parameter, the researchers presented the particular time of day when charging occurs. The grid emission factors vary by location and time. They used hourly data from Cambium and calculated it using three charging schemes.

Importance of the study

The senior author, professor at the U-M School for Environment and Sustainability, and director of the university’s Center for Sustainable Systems — Greg Keoleian — explained the study’s importance. He said that their goal is to inform and stimulate climate action.

The study conducted by U-M and Ford shows a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The automotive industry can decrease GHG emissions by shifting from combustion engines and transition to electrified powertrains across all vehicle classes.

The researchers found that HEVs and BEVs have roughly 64 percent lower cradle-to-grave life cycle emissions for pickup trucks, sedans, and SUVs. It is lesser than the average greenhouse gas emissions of cars with internal combustion engines in the base model. They have also accounted for the differences in fuel economy, mileage, lifetime across the vehicle classes in the United States.

The bigger the fuel consumption of larger vehicles, the higher the volume of gases they emit. Compared to internal combustion engines, the electric powertrains resulted in greater total tonnage of emissions reductions.

Photo Credit: Automotive Rhythms

Does electrification help the environment?

In collaboration with U-M, Ford’s study shows the positive side of pushing electrification. It aims to help consumers understand the potential impact of electrification from an emissions-reduction perspective.

Automakers have started introducing electric versions of their popular vehicles. According to Cynthia Williams, the global director of sustainability, homologation, and compliance at Ford, shifting to electric cars can help accelerate the progress towards carbon neutrality.

Not all vehicles fitted with diesel performance parts and other upgrades can meet EPA emissions criteria. The best air quality possible will depend on the car, while some tuner products for diesel pickup truck engines are even illegal. Particular state agencies such as California Air Resources Board (CARB) aim to clean up the air and fight climate change to achieve and maintain health-based air quality standards.

The charging strategies can also improve in the coming years to further reduce the emissions on battery-electric vehicles. Based on the study, the average of 11 percent of emissions can be reduced when charging within the timeframe of the lowest grid emissions intensity.

Max Woody, a research specialist at the U-M’s Center for Sustainable Systems, said that the renewable energy resources and the EV deployment should be done simultaneously. Renewable resources can come from solar and wind.

Switching to electric cars has its flaws. During manufacturing, the production of EVs has larger GHG emissions than gas-powered cars. The emission mainly comes from battery production. However, the emission significantly decreases when more consumers buy and use them regularly. The EVs have lesser emission offset through their operation than those with ICEs.

For example, a Ford F-150 owner decided to switch to an F-150 Lightning. The electric truck version will have a greater impact on lower emissions than someone who drives a smaller sedan, even if it’s already electric-powered.

Photo Credit: Birgir and Bjorn Kristinsson

Cutting emissions

The public is concerned about the performance of battery-electric vehicles. Some people speculate that they may be underpowered. Many still believe that gas-running vehicles deliver more horsepower and torque efficiently. But researchers found that cars with ICEs outperform hybrids in 95 to 96 percent, while BEVs outperform gas-powered ones in 98 to 99 percent of countries.

Although, on average, the percentage savings is about the same across vehicle classes, replacing the internal combustion engine can save tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over the lifetime of these vehicles:

  • Battery-electric sedan saves 45 metric tons
  • Battery-electric SUV saves 56 metric tons
  • Battery-electric pickup truck saves 74 metric tons

The utility and functionality set the pickup trucks apart from other automobiles. They are highly customizable because you can put truck accessories for the interior and exterior or performance upgrades to enhance power, towing, and off-road capability.

However, what we know about pickup trucks will soon change. The study conducted by the University of Michigan and Ford indicates that electrification will transform the pickup truck sector and the whole automotive industry.

Little by little, the popular gas-powered sedans, SUVs, and trucks will soon have their hybrid or all-electric versions. Especially now that researchers found that replacing the vehicle’s ICE with a battery-electric result in greater total tonnage of greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

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