The movement that’s bringing ever-greener vehicles to our highways is in hyperdrive today, with enormous focus, funding, engineering, and production devoted toward decarbonizing transportation at all levels. In today’s pickup field, this increasingly means the addition of batteries and electric motors to the powertrain in hybrid or full electric configurations.
Other approaches to increasing efficiencies and reducing carbon emissions are also being taken through more traditional methods, like improving combustion engines and transmissions, lightweighting a pickup’s body and frame, and improving aerodynamics and rolling resistance. Pickups employing these diverse strategies are all considered in the Green Truck of the Year™ program since there is no single pathway to greater environmental performance.
What's Important to Truck Buyers
The pickup truck is a unique proposition in the ‘green’ car field. While its uses are pretty expansive – from highly functional personal use vehicles to high horsepower, ‘stump pulling’ workhorses – there are some givens when we talk pickups. We know this well because of the many years Green Car Journal writers and editors have spent working at pickup and off-road magazines in the past. Trucks must serve their core missions, seamlessly. Their job is to work hard, play hard, tow dependably, and haul what’s needed. They can serve as family vehicles these days with ease, so car-like comfort, connectivity, and style are paramount…even as they deliver the high functionality and improved environmental performance buyers demand.
Through the Green Truck of the Year™ program presented at the San Antonio Auto & Truck Show in Texas, it’s Green Car Journal’s mission to identify the pickup that best represents environmental performance while balancing the core needs of pickup buyers. Among the cornerstones of Green Truck of the Year™ analysis is weighing the merits of pickups integrating the latest efficiency technologies, balanced with cost, value, functionality, performance, and other factors. Also considered is a model’s availability to consumers, since the ability to actually buy and drive more environmentally positive models on our highways is as important as the ‘green’ technologies and capabilities they champion.
These are more complex issues today. We’ve seen order banks for some new or popular pickups like the Ford F-150 Lightning and Ford Maverick unexpectedly close for the model year, which means consumers are no longer able to buy one. Price is also an important consideration. While annual price increases for new models are a tradition in the automotive market, sudden and significant price spikes are not. Today’s reality is that materials costs and supply are wild cards in the auto industry, with silicon chips and especially materials for electric vehicle batteries major issues. How an auto manufacturer chooses to deal with this, such as Ford’s $12,000 increase in the entry level cost of its F-150 Lightning, has a direct impact on a vehicle’s affordability and availability to buyers. All this is taken into consideration in determining the Green Truck of the Year™.
Green Truck of the Year Finalists
Pickups that made the cut as finalists this year included the Ford F-150 Lightning, Ford Maverick, Hyundai Santa Cruz, RAM 1500, and Toyota Tundra. Each, in its own way, offers features and powertrains allowing pickup enthusiasts the opportunity to drive with greater efficiency and lower carbon emissions. Because of their commendable environmental achievements, these five finalists are recognized with Green Car Journal's 2023 Green Car Product of Excellence™ distinction.
Ford F-150 Lightning
The Ford F-150 Lightning is a champion of electrification. Powered exclusively by lithium-ion batteries and electric motors, this finalist features zero-emission travel of 240 to 320 miles before requiring a charge, depending on battery pack. F-150 Lightning does this while carrying on the Ford F-150’s reputation for dependability, durability, and performance. In fact, the F-150 Lightning’s acceleration and performance is stellar. It can haul up to 2235 pounds and tow up to 10,000 pounds, though towing or hauling heavy loads can significantly decrease the driving range of this all-electric pickup. The Lightning starts at about $52,000, though Ford’s order bank for this model is now closed.
Ford’s Maverick also brings efficiencies and carbon reduction to the pickup market, but in a different way. Starting at just over $22,000, this more compact pickup offers a standard 2.5-liter hybrid powerplant that nets up to 42 miles per gallon in the city, or a more powerful 2-liter EcoBoost engine. Maverick speaks to those who want a pickup with a smaller physical footprint that still fulfills a pickup’s expected mission, which it does handily. Clever engineering means the Maverick’s four-and-a-half foot bed can still carry a 4 by 8 foot sheet of plywood, with its multi-position tailgate at its halfway position and the plywood resting on top of the pickup bed’s wheel wells. Like the F-150, the order bank for the Ford Maverick has closed.
Hyundai Santa Cruz
The Hyundai Santa Cruz is another example of a downsized pickup with high efficiency. Described by its maker as a Sport Adventure Vehicle, the Santa Cruz features a functional pickup bed that’s just over 4 feet in length, with the bed offering hidden bed storage and a lockable tonneau cover. It’s powered by a 2.5 liter four-cylinder achieving up to 26 highway miles per gallon, or a more powerful turbocharged 2.5-liter four, and comes in front- or all-wheel-drive. It can tow up to 3500 pounds and has a payload rating of 1500 to 1750 pounds. Santa Cruz offers a starting price of $25,500.
With an entry point of just over $37,000, the RAM 1500 is a stylish and highly functional pickup that fits a variety of needs, whether at the worksite or the campsite, trailer in tow. It’s offered in Quad Cab and Crew Cab choices, with two- and four-wheel drive, two pickup box lengths, and eight trim levels. Gas and hybrid power options offer 305 to 702 horsepower and include a 3.6-liter eTorque V-6, 5.7-liter eTorque HEMI V-8, and 6.2-liter supercharged V-8. This pickup’s efficient 3.0-liter EcoDiesel is a fuel economy champ at 33 highway mpg. RAM 1500 offers a dedicated work ethic with the ability to tow up to 12,750 pounds and carry payloads up to 2300 pounds.
Introduced in its third generation last year, the Toyota Tundra offers rugged styling and a broad range of capabilities. It’s available with two efficient twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter engines, the 389 horsepower i-FORCE V-6 or a 437 horsepower i-FORCE MAX V-6 parallel hybrid. It can tow up to 12,000 pounds and carry payloads up to 1920 pounds, with a driving range that can reach 700 miles. Tundra offers a wide range of features, amenities, and advanced driver assist systems and is available in Double Cab or CrewMax choices with two- and four-wheel drive,
RAM 1500: Green Truck of the Year
Green Car Journal’s 2023 Green Truck of the Year™ is the RAM 1500. This pickup presents an excellent choice for buyers seeking a stylish and hard-working truck that offers efficient hybrid engine choices, plus the ability to tow and haul loads within its substantial ratings, with no limitations.
RAM 1500 features handsome styling, loads of connectivity and driver assist features, and the kind of comfort and functionality appreciated by everyday drivers and those who use their hard-working pickups on the job. Performance is a given. The 3.6-liter eTorque-powered RAM 1500 delivers up to 26 highway mpg with a driving range approaching 600 miles, while the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel nets 33 highway mpg and a driving range of 1,000 miles. Highway driving is a joy and off-roading an adventure if you’re so inclined. Importantly, this pickup’s capabilities dependably meet all the needs of personal, work, and recreational use, confidently delivering the substantial hauling and worry-free towing capability so many truck buyers expect and demand.