The Ford Escape Hybrid is the most fuel efficient vehicle among all pickups and SUVs researched by The average annual fuel cost for the hybrid is under $1,000.
updated 7/14/2005 8:04:10 AM ET 2005-07-14T12:04:10

Americans are clinging to their favorite kinds of vehicles — pickups and SUVs — despite rising gas prices and the high emissions of some trucks.

In June, General Motors had its best month for U.S. sales since September 1986, thanks to an incentive program in which customers paid the same price for vehicles as GM employees. The company's sales increased 41 percent from last June — but truck sales were even stronger than that, increasing 68 percent from June 2004. According to GM, the company's 382,601 truck sales in June set an all-time industry record for one-month truck sales.

Why have truck sales been so strong? For one thing, according to a July 5 report from Merrill Lynch buyers have "shunned concerns about high gas prices and the environment."

Selling the deal — and not necessarily the vehicle — may also be a factor — at GM and other U.S. automakers. At DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler subsidiary, incentives increased by 1 percent in June — but incentives on trucks increased by 17 percent.

Although trucks have done well recently (the term "light trucks" includes pickups and SUVs), Americans have loved the vehicles for a long time. That's because pickups and SUVs come in an amazing variety of configurations and have excellent cargo utility.

Some buyers, however, are beginning to consider alternatives to the larger, fuel-thirsty vehicles as the price of oil increases. But don't despair: Saving money at the pump doesn't mean you have to give up on SUVs and pickups. While you may have to sacrifice a bit of vehicle weight or engine size, there are plenty of fuel-efficient choices at your dealer's lots.

If you buy the most fuel-efficient pickup on the market — Ford Motor'sRanger or its twin, Mazda's B2300 — you will be getting fuel economy that compares favorably with that of some compact cars. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Ranger costs as much to fuel for a year as a Volkswagen Golf compact with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine and four-speed automatic transmission. The Ford Escape Hybrid SUV costs even less to fuel.

The slide shows showcase the most fuel-efficient pickups and SUVs. Our source for these rankings is the EPA. We have arranged the rankings based not on miles-per-gallon (MPG) statistics, but on annual fueling costs. This is because we could not determine whether city or highway mileage was more significant, and a list of the most fuel-efficient cars based on city mileage would be different from a list of the most fuel-efficient cars on the highway.

In the rankings, we only allowed one entry per vehicular nameplate. If you go to the EPA's Web site for fuel-economy statistics and call up the list of pickups with the lowest fueling costs, you will find first place belongs to the Ranger and B2300 with manual transmissions, and that second place belongs to the Ranger and B2300 with automatic transmissions. To avoid repetition — and to include a variety of fuel-efficient trucks — we only allowed a nameplate,such as the Ranger, to appear once on our list. Therefore, second place on our pickups list goes not to the Ranger, but to a four-way tie between other vehicles, including Toyota Motor's Tacoma.

In the EPA rankings, certain models have strange classifications. For example, the EPA lists Chrysler's PT Cruiser and Subaru's Forester and Baja as SUVs. We think the PT Cruiser and Forester are more like wagons and the Baja is more like a pickup — but for the sake of consistency, we have deferred to the EPA's definitions and included the above-mentioned vehicles on the SUV list.

A final note about the EPA: The organization may not have tested every model on the market. For example, Toyota's new Highlander Hybrid SUV is not in our slide show because at press time its fuel-economy figures were not posted on the EPA's list of SUVs. The EPA is the authoritative source for fuel-economy data, as some manufacturers estimate gas mileage in generating their own vehicle specifications. If the EPA did not list a particular model's fuel economy, we did not consider including that model on our list.

Americans are keeping SUVs and pickups at the top of their wish lists, and appear willing to tackle high fueling costs for the privilege of driving them. What may surprise you is that you can own a pickup or SUV with reasonable fueling costs.

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