Do pickups improve with each refresh and redesign? Do they gain in fuel economy, payload, and towing capacities, while their lifecycle costs improve as well?  - Photo via Depositphotos.

Do pickups improve with each refresh and redesign? Do they gain in fuel economy, payload, and towing capacities, while their lifecycle costs improve as well? 

Photo via Depositphotos.

“They don’t make ‘em like they used to.” Or perhaps, “They’re making them better than ever.” 

Do pickups improve with each refresh and redesign? Do they gain in fuel economy, payload, and towing capacities, while their lifecycle costs improve as well? 

That’s a tall order. We collaborated with Vincentric, the lifecycle cost experts, to find out.  

We decided to analyze half-ton, three-quarter-ton, and one-ton pickups from the 2019 model year against those from the 2012 model year — not that long ago for many small operators who still have 2012 models in their fleets. 

We chose popular fleet trim levels and options from 2019 and tried to align them as close as possible to the 2012 model year. We chose “work truck” trims: Chevrolet Silverado W/T, Ford XL, and Ram Tradesman (ST in 2012). 

We spec’d single-rear wheel, two-wheel drive trucks and towing with a standard hitch (not gooseneck or fifth wheel). We chose two engine sizes for the half-ton models.  

For the analysis, Vincentric calculated its standard eight cost elements: depreciation, financing, fees and taxes, fuel, insurance, maintenance, opportunity cost, and repairs. This analysis covers a 36-month period and each truck averages 20,000 miles a year. 

2012 Model Year Average Estimates, 3 Years 

  • Depreciation: $13,154 
  • Repairs: $961 
  • Maintenance: $3,790 
  • Insurance: $3,835 
  • Fuel: $10,792 
  • Total Cost of Ownership: $39,919 
  • Cost Per Mile: $.67 

Finance, fees & taxes, and opportunity costs calculated but not included. 

Cost Elements 

For each model analyzed, the invoices for the 2019 model year were about $5,000 to $7,000 more than the 2012 model year. Yet out of the 12 model sets, in only two comparisons did the total cost of ownership for the 2019 model come out higher than their 2012 counterparts (one was greater by only $169). 

In aggregate, maintenance costs contributed the biggest negative impact to the 2019 TCO figures. That isn’t surprising, as newer technologies are more costly to maintain.  

However, maintenance costs have a much smaller impact than depreciation and fuel, which account for the top two costs of ownership. The newer trucks hold their values better than they did seven years ago — a testament to build quality and trucks’ greater longevity.  

For an apples-to-apples comparison, fuel was calculated with today’s prices for both model years. In this category, truck manufacturers have engineered significant improvements. This resulted in an aggregate average gain of $1,252 over the 2012 models. 

Both the repairs and insurance categories saw negligible overall increases over 2012.  

Spec Improvements 

In each model comparison, payload and towing specifications improved with the later models, making the fuel economy improvements seem even more remarkable.  

2019 Model Year Average Estimates, 3 Years 

  • Depreciation: $15,327 
  • Repairs: $968 
  • Maintenance: $4,278 
  • Insurance: $3,879 
  • Fuel: $9,540 
  • Total Cost of Ownership: $38,298 
  • Cost Per Mile: $.64 

Finance, fees & taxes, and opportunity costs calculated but not included. 

In fact, looking at the three-quarter ton models in 2019 compared to the one-ton models from 2012, in each case the smaller 2019 models beat their elders in towing capabilities. This wasn’t the case in when looking at the newer half tons compared to the older three-quarter tons, primarily because we spec’d the half tons with gas engines and the three-quarter tons with diesels.  

For fleets that need to tow, there is enough of an overall improvement in the later models that it makes sense to see if their duty cycles can be met with the newer models. The savings in total cost of ownership by stepping from a one ton down to a three-quarter ton is substantial.  

Payload capacities saw more even gains in each class over the two model years.  

This analysis is frankly theoretical, as many factors change for fleets over seven years.  

Pickup truck buyers today have options that can send the capitalized cost of a pickup soaring into the $70,000 range, easily. In looking at this analysis, fleet operators with an eye to the bottom line should be happy to know that certain work truck models will provide an increasingly favorable total cost of ownership — while delivering capabilities greater than they were able to provide in the past. 

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