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Caught In The Middle - Final Gear

The 1/2-Ton Diesel Pickup

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Being immersed in the world of pickup trucks as long as I have makes it not surprising that conversations between friends and family oftentimes gravitate to this subject. Throughout the past eight years, I have driven just about every new truck that’s made its way to the dealership—along with a few that never will. I like it when people ask me which truck they should buy or what my opinion is of a particular make or model. It’s actually a bit flattering, because it means someone trusts my opinion. I’m not sure anybody has actually followed my advice completely, but I hang out with a bunch of broke guys just like me, so I digress.

Recently, the topic of conversation has been the new wave of diesel ½-ton pickups. It really has people talking, and most of them seem to have a pretty polarized opinion, one way or the other. A quick glance at the comments section of posts about the new Ram 1500 EcoDiesel or Nissan Titan Cummins on our Facebook page proves this and leaves me disgusted and slightly worried about society as a whole—but that’s a topic for another day. Having now driven an EcoDiesel-equipped Ram and, for what it’s worth, touched a Cummins 5.0L V-8, I’d like to share my thoughts on this emerging market segment.

Currently, it’s the Cummins crowd that is up in arms over these two new trucks. The Ram 1500 doesn’t have a Cummins, so it’s no good; and the Titan is getting a Cummins, but it’s not a Ram. It’s that shortsightedness that is going to keep a lot of people from enjoying and appreciating what great trucks these can potentially be.

The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel
Let’s take a look at the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel first. No, it doesn’t have a Cummins—but it doesn’t need one. Many people mistakenly think Cummins engines are somehow tied exclusively to Ram trucks, but, alas, they are not. Looking at the new 2014 Ram trucks lineup from a business standpoint, we can begin to see why the 3.0L VM Motori engine was selected instead of the 5.0L Cummins that was proposed years ago. With a full portfolio of trucks—from ½-ton to commercial—the EcoDiesel-equipped Ram doesn’t need to be a powerhouse. It fills the need of the truck owner who tows a boat on the weekend, hauls motorcycles to the desert, and then drives the truck to work during the week. This owner demands versatility and great fuel economy and doesn’t need the ability to tow a house.

This is why the EcoDiesel makes the most sense. Buyers who need more power can be steered toward a 2500 equipped with the 6.7L Cummins, while those who don’t can take the EcoDiesel option. With Fiat (Ram’s parent company) owning a large stake in VM Motori, Ram is able to keep engine cost affordable. But if Ram had chosen the Cummins 5.0L V-8 instead, power output would have been closer to the diesel engine already available, package cost would be higher, and fuel economy would be lower—all of which negate the benefits of a smaller diesel pickup for a company with an already full HD portfolio.

Nissan Titan and Cummins
Which brings us to truck number two: the Nissan Titan. This one is easier to explain. With the folks at Ram passing on the 5.0L V-8 from Cummins, they were free to shop it around to other automakers. Even though no power figures have been released yet for the pickup application, Nissan did say the engine would produce greater than 300 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque, which is comparable to the 275 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque max output of the commercial version of the ISV 5.0 engine. Since Nissan doesn’t have a heavy-duty truck line, offering the more powerful Cummins engine in the ½-ton makes sense, unlike in the case of Ram. In Nissan’s lineup, if customers want near-HD capability, they can be pointed toward the Cummins-powered Titan. If it’s economy they’re after, the Cummins V-8 wins here, too, over the Titan’s standard gas V-8 and probably even the company’s smaller Frontier. In this scenario, with Nissan not offering a true HD truck, the smaller-displacement Cummins makes far better business sense fitted in the Titan than in the Ram 1500.

Everyone Else
Seeing as only one ½-ton diesel is currently available (the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel) and one slated for 2015 (the Nissan Titan), all of this is purely speculation and personal opinion. I think the light-duty diesel pickup is going to catch on. And following the same model that appears to have been set by the early adopters, I believe Ford and GM would do well to offer a smaller-displacement, lower-power, high-fuel-economy diesel engine in their ½-ton pickups. And this would leave a diesel-powered Toyota Tundra to compete with Titan in the newly developed heavy ½-ton segment.

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2 comments
neal mllius
neal mllius

I find as I grow older that unless your in the large engine size class , the technology bugs that come on these newer engines make diesel vs gas a wash. Just bought my wife a new 2014 cruze diesel with the hope that it will hold some trade in value. These smaller Diesel engine internals might last a long time but I suspect they will start nickel and diming in all other departments. The extra initial price and the extra price at the pump doesn't equally the double the mpg or power like it does with the large motor class. I am kind of excited to see some smaller lighter diesel motors entering the market though. Hoping to put one in my 59 jeep someday !

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