Monday, July 2, 2007

Driven to Diesels

Ford could be the first to offer a light-duty diesel.

Automakers scramble to offer diesels in light-duty trucks


AutoWeek | Updated: 07/02/07, 8:39 am et

Ford: 4.4-liter turbocharged V-8 for F-150 and possibly Expedition in 2009
Dodge: 4.2-liter turbocharged V-6 for Ram 1500 in 2010
GM: 4.5-liter turbocharged V-8 for Silverado/Sierra pickups and Hummer H2 in 2010
Nissan: Iffy. May use V-6 or V-8 diesel in Titan pickup from International Truck and Engine Corp. around 2010.
Toyota: Iffy. Working with Isuzu to develop diesels. Diesel for Tundra might come from truck affiliate Hino in 2010, at the earliest.
DETROIT -- The Detroit 3 are racing to install fuel-saving diesel engines in their U.S. light trucks. Nissan and Toyota may be in the race, too.

Diesels are common in domestic brands' heavy-duty pickups. But fuel economy concerns and competitive pressures are prompting automakers to put them in light-duty trucks as well.

In 2009, Ford Motor Co. likely will be first to market when it puts a diesel in the F-150 pickup. Last month General Motors became the last of the Detroit 3 to commit to using a diesel in its U.S. light trucks.

News reports indicate that Nissan plans a diesel for its Titan pickup. Toyota officials have said they are exploring a diesel for the Tundra pickup.

Diesel engines, which boost fuel economy by 25 to 30 percent, can't get here soon enough for dealers who sell trucks. Diesels also attract customers because they can tow heavier loads and have higher resale value.

"That's what people have been waiting for," says Shaun Laird, new-truck sales manager at Hummer of Orlando in Altamonte Springs, Fla. "They'll want the diesel engine for both the added towing capability and the fuel economy."

Better mpg

For example, a Dodge Ram 1500 pickup with a diesel should improve its fuel economy from 15 mpg city/19 highway to 19.5 city and nearly 25 mpg highway. A diesel-powered Hummer H2 could get around 16 mpg or higher in highway driving. GM estimates the gasoline-powered version gets 13 to 14 mpg in a combination of city and highway driving.

GM plans to add a 4.5-liter turbocharged V-8 diesel engine to the H2 and light-duty versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.

The new engine will be a Duramax, but it will not share any parts with the current 6.6-liter Duramax that GM developed with Isuzu. GM says the new turbodiesel will produce at least 310 hp and 520 pounds-feet of torque and will be made in its Tonawanda, N.Y., plant, which is getting a $100 million makeover.

The engine will fit in the same space as the current gasoline small-block V-8. And, GM says, it could be used in other vehicles.

Nissan, Toyota diesels?

Nissan also appears to be gearing up for a diesel in its Titan. Japan's Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun newspaper recently reported that Nissan will use a diesel engine made by Ford's longtime diesel supplier, International Truck and Engine Corp. International and Nissan officials would not confirm the report.

Nissan spokesman Fred Standish says the company is considering a diesel engine for the Titan.

"If we determine there is a good business case for it, just like any other vehicle, we'll do it," he said. "It's pretty simple."

International's relations with Ford have been strained by a lawsuit and wrangling over price, quality and warranty issues. International is eager to do business with another automaker.

Spokesman Roy Wiley says International has two diesel engines ready to supply and is talking with other automakers. But he would not confirm a deal with Nissan.

"We have a V-6 that we have developed and a V-8, too," Wiley says. "It depends on where they want to put it, but we could get that in a vehicle in less than two years."

Toyota officials have said they want to make a diesel optional in the new full-sized Tundra pickup. Toyota has not said when a diesel would be available or who would build it, but the company is collaborating with Isuzu on diesels. Toyota also could use a diesel from its truckmaking affiliate, Hino Motors Ltd.

Pedal to the metal at Ford

Ford plans to launch a light-duty diesel in the F-150 and possibly the Expedition SUV in 2009.

The 4.4-liter engine is a larger version of the 3.6-liter turbocharged V-8 used in European market Land Rover Range Rovers.

International's lawsuit against Ford says Ford plans to build the engine in Mexico, but Ford officials aren't talking.

Ford officials also won't say who might buy a light-duty diesel truck or whether putting the diesel in an F-150 could cannibalize sales of the bigger, more expensive F-250. But they do make it clear they want to be first.

"Our 30 years of truck leadership is founded on having the most capable and innovative trucks out there," says Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood. "It's important to continue to be the leader by delivering on those principles."

Earlier this year, the Chrysler group confirmed that it will use at least one new engine from its diesel supplier, Cummins Inc., in the Dodge Ram 1500 pickup. The engine is a 4.2-liter V-6 that Cummins developed with the U.S. Department of Energy.

Early test versions cranked out 190 hp and an estimated 570 pounds-feet of torque. Cummins is developing a V-8 based on the same architecture.

Diesels = profit

All Detroit 3 automakers offer diesels in their heavy-duty trucks. The engines are popular and profitable.

About 40 percent of the 796,000 Ford F-series trucks sold in the United States last year were diesel-powered. Diesels are optional in Ford's F-250 and larger trucks.

Sales of GM's heavy-duty Silverado and Sierra diesels are capped at about 200,000 units annually because of production constraints at the Moraine, Ohio, plant. Dodge sold about 150,000 heavy-duty Ram pickups in 2006 with Cummins-built diesel engines.

A diesel costs a consumer an average of $6,660 more than a comparable gasoline engine. But after 4½ years of ownership, a diesel truck is worth $4,700 more than a gasoline-powered truck, according to a study by the Martec Group, a marketing and consulting firm.

Also after 4½ years, the diesel owner has spent about $4,200 less on fuel than the gasoline engine owner, Martec says. Last week the average price of a gallon of diesel fuel was $2.91, 7 cents less than for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline.

Diesel truck sales generate at least $1 billion in additional profits to the Detroit 3, Martec says.

Kevin McMahon, managing partner of the Martec Group's Detroit office, says automakers likely will charge between $4,000 and $6,000 for diesels in their light-duty trucks over the base engine. And they will make money, he predicts. Consumers, he said, will choose the diesel because it boosts resale value and offers greater fuel efficiency.

Says McMahon: "The (light-truck) customer today is losing ground on fuel efficiency because of the gasoline engine."

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