The push continues for diesel-powered pickups

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It’s really not surprising to me at any rate that a concept pickup truck recently developed by Nissan and displayed at the Chicago Auto Show is powered by a prototype 2.8-liter “small package” diesel designed by Cummins.

In the end, it’s a no-brainer for diesel still offers the bottom-line combination desired by any truck owner, be it for a pickup or highway tractor: fuel economy and power.

Case in point is Nissan’s Frontier “Diesel Runner” mid-sized concept pickup truck, based on a Frontier Desert Runner 4x2 model. Fred Diaz, senior VP for the U.S. sales & marketing and parts & service operations at Nissan North America, noted the OEM crafted this mid-size concept to gauge “market reaction” to a Nissan-branded mid-size diesel-fired pickup. It’ll also help plot a “potential future direction” for the Frontier as well, he noted.

[To view more photos of the Frontier concept pickup, please click here.]

It’s also not surprising that this midsized diesel-fired pickup concept comes hard on the heels of Nissan’s partnership with Cummins Inc. to provide a 5.0-liter turbo diesel V8 in the next-generation Titan full-size pickup, which will arrive in calendar year 2015.

Indeed, Cummins developed a prototype 2.8-liter 4-cylinder diesel engine producing nearly 200 horsepower and more than 350 lb.-ft. of torque for the Frontier “Diesel Runner” concept; an engine that simultaneously delivers a reported 35% in fuel economy versus a gasoline V6-powered 2014 Frontier 4x2.

[Just for fun, check out the new TRD Pro series off road package introduced at the Chicago Auto Show for Toyota’s 2015 model Tundra and Tacoma pickups, as well as its 4Runner SUV, by clicking here.]

Diesel is also at the heart of fuel economy gains achieved by Ram Trucks for its EcoDiesel-powered 2014 Ram 1500 pickup.

The new 3.0-liter EcoDiesel developed by Chrysler for its Ram Trucks division – which is 50-state compliant with Tier2-Bin 5/LEVII emissions regulations – recently gained a 28 mpg rating from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from its highway-cycle testing, along with a 23-mpg combined city/highway rating, for the half-ton Ram 1500.

Reid Bigland, president and CEO of the Ram Truck division, also noted that the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel surpasses the 25 mpg mark set last year by Chrysler’s gasoline-fired 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 in the Ram 1500 pickup while cranking out peak torque of 420 lb.-ft.

He pointed out that several new design avenues helped the EcoDiesel achieve the 28-mpg mark, including an engine block and bedplate made from lightweight compacted graphite iron (CGI) along with MultiJet 2 common-rail fuel-injection system that can accommodate up to eight fuel-injection events per cylinder cycle. This mitigates noise and improves low-speed throttle response, while also reducing fuel consumption and emissions, Bigland said.

On the emissions front, the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel features both selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and high-pressure cooled exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) technology just like any big-rig diesel does, along with variable swirl intake ports and a variable-geometry turbocharger.

“Overall, the Ram 1500 Eco-Diesel has outstanding pickup truck capability – such as towing a maximum of 9,200 lbs. – combined with compact-car-like fuel economy,” Bigland stressed.

Of course, the engine alone in the Ram 1500 pickup’s case doesn’t solo credit for its fuel economy performance. Chrysler’s TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic transmission gets a nod, too, as do the truck’s active grille shutters that optimize air flow for improved aerodynamics, electric power steering (EPS) system that relieves the engine from constantly turning a hydraulic pump, and what Bigland called “thoughtful material-use strategies” for leveraging lightweight aluminum for components – such as hoods – that do not compromise truck capability.

It’s worthy to note in all of this that Ram Trucks and Cummins just reached the 25-year mark in their long diesel engine/pickup truck partnership, dating way back to 1989 when the Dodge Ram 3500 came equipped with a  5.9-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel engine producing 160 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. of torque.

[At a ride and drive hosted by Ram Trucks last year, the OEM put a 1983 “old-timey” Ram pickup on display that featured a Cummins diesel before Chrysler and Cummins formalized their partnership. To view more photos of that truck, restored by the engineering wunderkinds at Cummins, click here.]

By contrast, the 6.7-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel available in the Ram 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty pickups and Ram 3500, 4500 and 5500 Chassis Cab trucks delivers up to 385 hp and 850 lb.-ft. of torque.

It’s also interesting to note that the Cummins diesel engine option has an 85% “take rate” on Ram Heavy Duty pickups, Bigland noted.

That tells me at least that diesel has got more than enough legs to keep on powering pickups for some time to come.

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