The Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner Powered by Cummins is a concept project truck created by Nissan, based on a Frontier Desert Runner 4x2 midsize pickup and highlighted by a Cummins diesel powerplant, hence the Diesel Runner title. Introduced during February’s 2014 Chicago Auto Show, this technical study aims to gauge the market’s reaction to a diesel Nissan midsize truck and help strategize the direction of the next-generation Frontier.
The Cummins engine powering the Diesel Runner is a 2.8L four-cylinder turbodiesel adapted for the midsize Nissan 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 V-6 2014 Nissan Frontier.
The transmission mated to the 2.8L Cummins is a ZF 8HP70 eight-speed automatic. If this sounds familiar, it’s because this transmission, used by Chrysler under its trademarked name of TorqueFlite, comes standard in the Ram EcoDiesel 1500. Payload and towing capacity are expected to be on par with the V-6 Frontier. While the Cummins engine and ZF 8HP70 transmission are not a plug-and-play combination for the Frontier, many of the key components for this project originate from a production 2014 Desert Runner Frontier, including the body, chassis, wiring harness, and radiator.
Nissan Design America in San Diego, California, in conjunction with the Nissan Global Design Center in Atsugi, Japan, designed the Cummins-powered Diesel Runner. A bold paintjob and Cummins logos distinguish the exterior of the truck without creating an overly ostentatious look. The Arrest Me Red high gloss paint adorning the front receives its inspiration from the eye-catching red of Cummins engines. The modern Matte Silver covering the body expresses the body-on-frame steel chassis foundation of the Frontier, and the carbon-fiber film-coated accents on the chin spoiler, mesh grille, roof rack, tonneau cover, and tailgate spoiler point to exceptional performance and efficiency. Recessed Cummins Turbo Diesel badges on both front fenders add style while continuing the Cummins theme. So as to not overdo a good thing, the tailgate and rear are left clean, with the exception of the Nissan logo centered above the tailgate handle.
The see-through hood is not an illusion or fancy photography, as the red-themed engine bay remains visible via a partially transparent acrylic hood insert. The red engine cover, strikingly visible through the revealing Cummins-logo’d hood and lit up from underneath, proudly shows off the Cummins badge before merging into black carbon sides.
The Diesel Runner rolls on Frontier PRO-4X 16-inch six-lug wheels and BFGoodrich Rugged Trail T/A tires, customized for the concept via Arrest Me Red paint and satin black for the rear wheels, and silver paint and satin black for the front wheels. Contrasting brake caliper colors -- red for the front and silver for the rear -- add subtle detail to this rolling experiment.
The interior is a clean extension of the red and silver exterior. The carbon-fiber theme is worked into the gray accent-stitched leather seats, door panels, and instrument panel, while red hues and red-tinted gauges tie in the red theme. Atop the C-cluster resides a trio of diesel-specific gauges encapsulated in a red three-gauge pod, the middle gauge indicating boost. The theme is continued through the shifter knob and steering wheel, down to the embroidered floor mats.
While the application of this 2.8L Cummins in a Frontier is new, the collaboration between Cummins and Nissan dates back to 2010 and includes a major third party, the United States Department of Energy (DOE). The Cummins and DOE-backed project was called ATLAS, which stands for Advanced Technology Light Automotive Systems. In the course of this project, the Nissan Titan was used as a platform for clean diesel four-cylinder engines. (Recall that a ’10 Titan was the test mule for the 2.8L, back in April 2011.) Valuable research and testing conducted during this time contributed to the concept Diesel Runner Frontier of 2014. Another vehicle, presumably a Frontier, is currently undergoing demanding real-world testing.
“I look at it as a one-two punch. To be able to have that kind of affiliation and partnership with a brand like Cummins and put it together with a great brand like Nissan, and then put it in our two trucks -- I think that sends a message to the truck world and to truckers across the U.S. that we are serious about our trucks,” says Fred Diaz, senior vice president, Sales & Marketing, Parts & Service, U.S.A., Nissan North America, Inc. (NNA). “We are going to create that awareness and create the buzz that makes truckers come in and take a look at us.”
The midsize truck segment, into which the Nissan Frontier falls, seemed to be on its way to extinction as a handful of manufacturers simply discontinued a midsize offering. With sizes, fuel economy, and price points that fell just short of its ½-ton counterpart, the midsize seemed to have less and less to offer. Even though the segment had dwindled down to the Nissan Frontier and the Toyota Tacoma for model year 2014, Nissan has always considered the Frontier an important part of its product portfolio. Sales for the Frontier were up 13.4 percent for 2013 as the Frontier gained some market share.
“Frontier continues to be a huge success story for us, with more than 60,000 units sold in 2013,” Diaz continues. “Nissan has always valued the midsize pickup segment, and with this technical study project, we are looking to explore what is possible for the next-generation Frontier. We are always looking for ways to engage our customers, innovate, and take the segment in an evolutionary direction.”
Looking ahead to 2015, this somewhat lazy lull in midsize pickup presence and creativity has been attacked by a surprising resurgence of options -- including diesel. With GM reviving its midsize twins for 2015 and teasing a 2.8L diesel offering for 2016, it is perfectly plausible to believe that Pierre Loing, vice president, Product Planning, NNA, wasn’t just blowing smoke when he said, “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.”
Although the diesel Frontier is seen here as a mere project concept, it is a serious powertrain consideration for Nissan, which is undoubtedly eyeing the Frontier’s potential diesel midsize competition. The questions remain as to whether or not Nissan can make it happen, and how soon. And perhaps the most important query at the end of the day is the market feasibility -- whether there will be enough consumer demand.
“Will we build it? Well, we want to see what the public says and what they tell us they think about this truck.”
— Fred Diaz, senior vice president, Sales & Marketing, Parts & Service, U.S.A., Nissan North America, Inc.