What in the world is going on? Once upon a time there was the mini truck, and it was awesome. Then, in the early and mid-80s in the United States, there was the naturally-aspirated and turbocharged diesel mini truck, and that was still awesome. Then, in the mid to late-90s, the mini truck began to get rounder, but it was still awesome. Then, in the mid-2000s, the mini truck ate too much and swelled into a midsize truck. Then, by 2014, the Nissan Frontier and the Toyota Tacoma were the only descendants of the mini truck era. But is that the end of the story? For the “true” mini truck, yes; those days are over.
However, the midsize segment continues, and in fact, a somewhat lazy lull in the action has been recently attacked by a resurgence of diesel rumblings, the latest from Nissan. Could this be? It’s been thirty years since we’ve seen a United States diesel “mini” truck from Nissan, with the 61 hp/102 lb-ft of torque 2.2L SD22 in the Datsun 720 from 1982 through 1983 and the 70 hp/115 lb-ft of torque 2.5L SD25 from 1983 through 1985. After discontinuing its Colorado and Canyon, GM will reintroduce a new generation of these models for the 2015 model year, with plans of a diesel offering in 2016. And now we’re hearing of a Cummins in a Frontier!
It’s called the Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins, and it’s a concept project truck created by Nissan to gauge the market’s reaction to a diesel Nissan midsize truck and to help strategize the future direction for the next-generation Frontier. Set to be introduced at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place in Chicago, the concept is based on a Frontier Desert Runner 4x2, with the addition of a diesel powerplant, hence the Diesel Runner title.
The use of a Cummins is not surprising, given the recent partnership with Cummins Inc. that resulted in the 5.0-liter turbo diesel V8 to be used in the next-generation Titan. However, the Cummins in the concept Frontier is a different engine – a 2.8-liter 4-cylinder turbo diesel, actually once tested in the Titan but now adapted for the Frontier and designed with future emissions standards in mind. Power figures estimate nearly 200 hp and more than 350 lb-ft of torque, with a 35 percent increase in fuel economy over a two-wheel drive V6 2014 Frontier.
Actually, collaboration between Nissan and Cummins stems back to the 2010 U.S. Department of Energy project called “ATLAS” (Advanced Technology Light Automotive Systems), where important research helped shape this project’s Cummins engine. In fact, you may remember this particular 2.8L from August 2011's Direct Injection editorial and this article from the September 2011 issue: New Cummins 2.8L Four-Cylinder Diesel Engine. Could this 2.8L, once slated for the 1/2-ton, find its home in a Frontier beyond this concept?
The transmission mated to the 2.8L is a ZF 8HP70 8-speed automatic. (Think Ram EcoDiesel. Could we also see the ZF 8HP70 behind the 5.0L Titan?) Although the engine and transmission are not “plug-and-play” for the Frontier, many of the key components, including wiring harnesses and the radiator, are from a production 2014 Desert Runner Frontier.
The “Arrest Me Red” exterior paint, the Cummins Turbo Diesel badges recessed into both front fenders, and the partially transparent acrylic hood that shows off an oversized Cummins logo and red-themed engine bay confirmation that the Diesel Runner is not bashful in sharing its Cummins powerplant. Word has it that a separate, perhaps more subdued, development Cummins Frontier is undergoing rigorous real-world testing.
“We hope consumers in Chicago and across the U.S. will let us know what they think of the prospects of a diesel engine in this segment.” Per the request of Pierre Loing, vice president, Product Planning, Nissan North America, let’s give Nissan some positive feedback regarding the Cummins-powered Frontier Diesel Runner! Let’s see it beat the diesel Canyon and Colorado to the market.