Time used to be that toughness was the only attribute a pickup needed. Squared off on all four corners like concrete blocks, Fords, Chevys, and Dodges serving on the commercial front lines needed no more finesse, efficiency or functionality than a hammer or chisel: They were tools powered by big block engines so they could get all manner of work completed.

Now, however, things are changing. In addition to toughness, power, performance, and reliability, owners across the spectrum are also demanding fuel efficiency along with far more subtle features such as improved interior configurations to support the “mobile office” function pickups now fulfill.

Demand for alternative fuel options are on the upswing, too, note pickup OEMs, especially for bi-fuel systems capable of operating on compressed natural gas (CNG) and gasoline but not necessarily from expected quarters. Bob Hegbloom, director of Chrysler’s Ram Trucks division, says the demand pattern for the company’s new bi-fuel 2500 HD pickups unveiled in March shifted unexpectedly right from the start.

“We originally laid it out as a big fleet play, a truck that large fleets operating 50 to 100 vehicles or more would be the most capable of utilizing as they had more resources to address CNG refueling infrastructure needs,” he explains. “But right away, we started getting calls from our dealers for a ‘retail’ option so they could sell these bi-fuel trucks to small fleets operating, say, five vehicles as well as individual buyers. That was a piece of the demand picture we weren’t prepared for. It was just surprising how fast demand for such alternative fuel options spread.”

Ram’s bi-fuel 2500 HD pickup will be sold in a crew cab configuration with either a long or short bed for $47,000, the company notes. Powered by a 5.7L Hemi V8 engine linked to a 6-spd. automatic, it comes equipped with two CNG tanks providing 18.2 gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE) worth of storage secured in the pickup’s bed to its frame. The truck also comes with an 8-gal. gasoline tank that can be upgraded to a 35-gal. option by Canadian customers.

Hegbloom says the reason for the interest in such a bifuel platform is pretty simple: cost. With diesel engines and mandated emissions control systems adding in some cases $10,000 to the base sticker price of a heavy-duty pickup, fleets and individual buyers alike are exploring any number of options to help drive down the all-important total cost of ownership (TCO) calculation for their vehicles. That includes looking at alternative fuels, such as natural gas, that can potentially deliver significant savings over the expected lifecycle of heavy-duty pickups without compromising their tool-like characteristics, says Brian Raithsburg, F-Series Super Duty marketing manager for Ford Motor.

He notes that Westport LD, a wholly owned subsidiary of Canada-based Westport Innovations, is one of six qualified vehicle modifiers (QVMs) that will be providing a bifuel system for Ford’s F-250 and F-350 SuperDuty models. Westport will be providing its WiNG Power System.