Last week, Ford North America Product Communications Manager Mike Levine tweeted a photo of the digital instrument readout of the forthcoming Ford F-150 diesel, showing – among other things – an average fuel economy reading of 24.9 miles-per-gallon for the prior half hour of use. Ford says it’s targeting a highway fuel economy rating of 30 mpg or greater for the new-for-2019 F-150 diesel, and it seems the automaker could exceed that target; one of the five bars in the efficiency readout shows a high of around 35 mpg.
Fuel economy isn’t particularly high on the average US truck buyer’s wish list – especially now, with gasoline and diesel prices relatively low. But efficiency does matter to fleet buyers, who must consider the metric as they attempt to establish which vehicle offering in a given segment offers the lowest cost of operation, and Ford would undoubtedly like to clinch the right to brag about selling the most fuel-efficient full-size truck on the market.
New Power Stroke 3L diesel is super quiet, has great low-end torque and is a fuel saver on demand. 10-speed continues to impress. pic.twitter.com/zO1xR8zEFB
— Mike Levine (@mrlevine) March 7, 2018
For comparison, the 2018 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel is rated by the EPA at 27 mpg highway, regardless of whether it has two- or four-wheel drive. It’s unknown whether the all-new Ram 1500 diesel will receive a significant boost in the fuel economy department, or whether it will offer the same eTorque BAS hybrid system as the gasoline-powered versions of the truck.
The Ford F-150 diesel will arrive this summer, propelled by a turbocharged, 3.0-liter diesel V6 and a 10-speed automatic transmission that was co-developed with General Motors. After it launches, it will have to face down not only the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, but diesel-fueled versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, as well. Both of those trucks will be powered by a turbocharged diesel I6 displacing the same volume, and backed by the same 10-speed automatic.
Maintenance costs of the back end cleanup systems are too high for a diesel, in any size.
I love diesels, but would have to agree with the first comment. If I were a crazy person and were in the market for one of those super crew, $55K+ pickup trucks; like one with Platinum or Limited trim; then I could easily be swayed in to spending only a couple more grand for a diesel that doesn’t cost much more for more mpg, acceptable performance and great torque, but do those crazy people care about more mpg unless it is the fastest and most capable and most refined? As a crazy truck buyer, I’d just as soon spend $2,000 less and get the standard engine; a 3.5L Ecoboost with 130 more horsepower and 30 more ft-lb torque with still decent mpg and not worry about diesel exhaust fluid or diesel reliability concerns even though, as a crazy person, I don’t care how much money I spend. I mean, if I’m crazy enough to buy a pickup truck like that, why wouldn’t I get the top-performing engine that comes standard at that level that’s cheaper and higher performing and still not a gas guzzler as compared to the competition. Those top-billed trucks are so heavy and massive that a 245ish horsepower doesn’t seem like it’d be pleasing to drive regardless of the torque level. But there will be just a few in this group who much prefer the character of a diesel, and this group will get what they want at any price, so we’ll see a few decked-out PowerStroke F150s in a few months.
Now for group 2 who have a choice of a diesel 1/2-ton from Ford. This would be those who choose the diesel in Lariat or King Ranch trim, in super cab or super crew for $4,000 extra. The premium is more, and the starting price is lower with a lower-level standard engine, but we’re still talking about a minimum of $47K for a PowerStroke super cab, 2WD pickup in Lariat trim versus the standard 2.7L Ecoboost where the price will be at least $4K cheaper with 80 more horses and 40 less ft lbs of torque; or, in the case of the King Ranch, it’d be the standard 8 cylinder or the diesel for $4K, or the 3.5L as another option, but the latter would be a cheaper option. The 2.7L has an mpg rating that currently meets or beats, not only all gas-powered full size trucks but the score of compact trucks with gas engines. Even those with base four cylinders. For example, the standard duty and 2WD F150 with the 2.7L Ecoboost is rated at 20 city and 26 highway; better than a 180 ft-lb torque, base Tacoma or base Frontier or base Ridgeline with a V6, and this F150 combination is tied with the base Colorado or Canyon but with about double the peak torque. The V8 has a poorer mpg rating, but is the horsepower King for the vehicle and is the current V8, non-hybrid mpg champ in the class; still ahead of the all-new Ram Hemi that did not improve mpg for 2019 on the non-etorque version, so as for mpg and the F150 with a V8, at least until the new GM twins arrive, you can’t do better than F150. So in this group, the diesel is going to be by far the most expensive option, and is not the highest performing, as the V8 gets the highest max payload rating and the large Ecoboost gets the highest tow rating; and the 2.7 (in the case of Lariat) has good mpg with cheaper fuel and no DEF, has limited capability options, and even has a near-diesel-like demeanor, as torque peaks at only 2750 in the latest 2.7L with the ten speed. But, in this group, those who really want a truck to work and work often and put lots and lots of miles on his or her truck, pulling trailers within the PowerStroke tow limit, the PowerStroke might make sense, especially considering that either Ecoboost will get horrible mpg working hard and often, and the V8 won’t be a great fuel miser in any circumstance comparatively speaking.
And this brings us to the last group, because the second group who might have a good reason for opting for a diesel are really the ones who belong in group three but aren’t allowed. People who need a truck for it’s work value instead of bling and connectivity and luxury appointments as the priority. This is where a diesel really shines for mpg the most and has it’s highest opportunity with little or no sacrifice in capability. High mpg seekers could find the most promise in the lowest stance, smallest wheel/tire combinations, in smaller cabs, with higher gearing and 2WD. These are the prospective customers who would want this truck with a diesel, but these are also the most price sensitive or value conscious customers, so that creates an economic dilemma, and so Ford or anyone else can’t offer a diesel to these prospective customers. But for fleet customers, they will have a chance to buy a super cab XL with a 6 1/2′ bed or an 8′ bed with a diesel for a few thousand added to a low starting price. Not exactly the same value or worth that it’d be with standard cab choices, but still a good value if the miles driven at high utility levels are needed.
We have to keep this in perspective. If manufacturers were offering 4.5 liter six cylinder diesels with 500 ft-lb torque and 285 horsepower for $4,000 and up to 28 mpg on the highway with max payload and/or torque for the segment, and they could make this happen and still offer a decent payload rating without exceeding the GVWR for half-ton trucks (unlikely; case in point Nissan Titan XD), then these trucks would have value. Or, if we took it the other direction, and manufacturers were offering 3.0L six cylinders for $4K, and were offering them in the lower sized trucks and 2WDs and in the lower trims where they belong, then that also would provide value to the customer. But what Ford and everyone else is doing is trying to make us think these are a heavy-duty diesel option, and that we’ll pay a premium price for higher duty and improved mpg, but they’re not heavy-duty-type engines for their class. At least they’re not stretching it as much as in the full-size van class where GM is trying to sell a 2.8L 4 cylinder diesel with 181 horsepower; Ram, a 3.0 I4 Ecodiesel with 160 hp; and Ford a 3.2 I5 with 180 hp, in full size, 3/4-tons that weigh at least 6,000 pounds; and at least a $5K premium. That makes even less economic sense than the pickup truck diesel concept.
Two points: (1) If the diesel addition to the domestic pickup truck brands becomes a big success; then GM will likely be in the best position. They have the advantage of not only the latest and greatest engine design for the segment; Ram’s VMI engine and Ford’s Lion engine have some age; but they also have domestic design and production advantage. If there is a good amount of volume sold of the new Duramax, even though this had to be a much higher initial investment as compared to Ram and Ford, they will likely have the lowest cost per unit, due to shipping savings and ease of controlling distribution and production scale ups and downs, but also an advantage, because, since it’s newer, they likely have some cost savers with regards to materials and technology advancements. GM has lately been using solenoid injectors and cast iron blocks. And when you add in an inline design to the mix, even though this one may be GCI as opposed to cast iron, it sounds like a less expensive engine, but they’ll have to sell a bunch of them to get that cost savings realized.
And the first point leads to the second point. Even though GM has become America’s light-duty diesel provider since VW quit and gave up their title in the wake of dieselgate, and even though GM has taken advantage of some cost saving concepts with their latest diesels, there is no evidence so far that GM is going to pass on any of those cost savings to the consumer based on the current Cruze, Equinox/Terrain, and Colorado/Canyon diesel price premiums. So far, it appears that they are pocketing that extra savings and therefore, the take rates are very low, which is unlike the former VW 2.0 TDI power train, which had very high take rates in those vehicles. Maybe the cheating was helping their bottom line, but I sort of doubt it. It is my understanding that the cheating was used to quieten the idling decibel level, so it was sort of a NHV enhancement and had little to do with lowering costs of the TDIs; it had more to do with improving their marketability.