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Cat Diesel Powered Pickup - Catspiracy

Diesel Strokes

It's only a matter of time. For all I know, a deal has already been inked and some lucky light-truck engine bay is going to be filled with the glow of Caterpillar-Yellow paint. When it comes to diesel engines, no other brand has the instant recognition and reputation of Cat. And that name is global. With the diesel-powered boom the mainstream is going through, I have to wonder how long it will be until you and I can buy a truck with a "Powered by Cat" badge on the door. If I had any inside knowledge on the matter I'd be spilling it, but I don't, so I can't. It just seems too good a match for some OEM not to seize the opportunity and make it happen.

Chevy and GMC won't do it. GM's Powertrain division has too much diesel expertise now for them to ever justify buying an engine from someone else. That wasn't always the case though. I remember hearing reports back in the mid-1990s that GM had looked into using diesel engines from Caterpillar and even John Deere. In the end, none of the existing diesel engines made sense because GM independent front suspension design doesn't work well with engines that weigh over 1,000 pounds. Even if a lightweight Cat engine was developed, GM couldn't justify buying 100,000-plus engines a year from someone else. That's way too much money (profit) to be sending outside the company.

If Dodge hadn't locked up the Cummins 5.9L so early in the game I'd say it'd be the most likely to offer a Cat diesel in a 31/44-ton truck. Dodge knows that a lot of its customers buy Ram pickups because it's the wrapper that everyone's favorite engine comes in. Would Dodge diesel truck owners pick a Cat over a Cummins? Yeah, I think they would.

From a business standpoint, Dodge sells enough diesel trucks to get Caterpillar's attention, yet not enough for Dodge to justify building its own diesel. If Dodge and Cummins ever had a falling out, I'd bet money that Cat would be the engineers' next choice. Some of you may remember that Dodge trotted a 7.2L Cat-powered Power Wagon concept truck around the show circuit back in 1998.

Those were different times though. In today's world, I'm sure DaimlerChrysler bean-counters would force Dodge to buy an engine from within the company and go with a Detroit Diesel-branded engine. Wouldn't that be cool?

Now, with Ford, things could get interesting. If the revised International 6.4L isn't a hit with diesel truck buyers, I think you're going to see Ford divorce itself from the Power Stroke brand. Most people don't realize that Ford sells more diesel trucks than Chevy and Dodge combined. Those numbers dictate that Ford should have the business case to build its own diesel engine. We know it's going to build the F-150's new 4.4L V-8 diesel, but that engine won't have the brand appeal of a Caterpillar-powered Super Duty. Whoa...did you feel that? Almost gives you chills just reading those words, doesn't it?

Ford would seem to have the most to gain from a joint venture with Caterpillar. You can already get a Cat engine in the F-650, so you know they've at least talked about the possibility. The problem, at least from the numbers I've seen, is that Cat doesn't typically build 150,000 of one type of engine in a year. International, on the other hand, will build close to 370,000 6.0L engines this year. It always comes down to dollars with matters like this, and Cat just might not be able to offer Ford a cost-effective solution to its diesel problem.

If you're a dyed-in-the-wool, red, white, and blue kind of person, you may want to stop reading here. Because the more I think about who will be the first to offer a Cat-powered pickup in the U.S., the more I think it could be Toyota. For years, the Big Three have been scared to death of a 31/44-ton Toyota pickup. We saw, and many of us laughed, when it released its T100 in 1993. Seven years later, Toyota showed us it was serious about building trucks when it launched the Tundra. General Motors appears so threatened by the release of the '07 Tundra that it moved the launch of its own redesigned Silverado ahead by months just to get it on the lots before the new Toyota hits the scene.

There's no question that Toyota is serious about offering a diesel in its new truck, but no one seems to know where that diesel engine will come from. Toyota traditionally doesn't buy engines from anyone. But if you were them and needed to burst into the American 31/44-ton truck market with instant approval from all the opinion leaders and bench races across our lands, whose diesel would you want sitting between your fenders? Darn right you would.David Kennedydavid.kennedy@primedia.com

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