By Tim Esterdahl, for GM Authority.
What’s better for your half-ton truck – a turbocharged diesel V6, or a turbocharged gasoline V6? If you’re a Ram fan, the new Ram 1500 EcoDiesel probably has you thinking turbo diesel V6 engines are the way to go. If you’re a Ford fan, you likely answered turbocharged V6 gas engines (aka EcoBoost) are the best.
The fact is, there are pros and cons to both options. A lot of evidence suggests that GM will eventually go the half-ton diesel route, and that decision begs the question: Which truck engine strategy is better, GM’s diesel or Ford’s EcoBoost?
Gasoline vs Diesel 101
For more than a decade, half-ton truck consumers have been asking for a diesel option. The main reasons are simple:
• Diesel engines produce more low end torque than gas engines
• The fuel economy of diesel engines is better than gas
• The resale value of diesel trucks is higher than gas trucks, as diesel engines are more durable
Also, depending on where you live, diesel fuel may also be cheaper than gasoline.
Gas engine advocates, on the other hand, have argued that:
• The return on investment for diesels is simply is too long to justify, as diesels cost more up-front,
have higher maintenance costs (especially with the advent of DEF and mandatory regeneration cycles)
• Future diesel emissions requirements will make diesel-equipped trucks extraordinarily expensive
• There’s a lot that can be done to improve gasoline engines, from variable valve lift and timing to twin-turbos and direct injection.
While both sides of the gas vs. diesel argument have merit, recent sales excitement over Ram’s new EcoDiesel V6 (aka VM Motori 3.0L) trucks indicates strong consumer demand for diesel half-tons. Specifically, Ram sold 8,000 EcoDiesel trucks in just three days. That made the new EcoDiesel 1500 the hottest vehicle Ram has ever had, according to the brand.
GM (which originally owned VM Motori and commissioned the engine that Ram’s EcoDiesel is based on, go figure) has stated that it plans on offering a diesel engine on the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon next year. When you combine the presence of a diesel in the Colorado with GM’s promise to offer “mid-cycle powertrain enhancements,” it doesn’t take much to believe that GM will be putting a diesel in the Silverado and Sierra as well.
Future Truck Market Dominance and Profits at Stake
Love them or hate them, Ford innovates. While GM’s latest trucks are nothing to sneeze at (they are consistently under-rated by an automotive media that fawns over technology), Ford’s decision to build an aluminum bodied F-150 for 2015 is a game changer. A few years ago, Ford’s push on its EcoBoost technology changed the game as well, as consumers came to expect better fuel economy from their trucks (at least on the sticker, as the EcoBoost doesn’t often meet consumer expectations in the real world) with no trade off in power.
Ford’s position in the market makes its decision not to offer a diesel half-ton in the foreseeable future a significant one. On more than one occasion, Ford’s leadership has also commented about limited demand for diesels in half-ton trucks. Basically, Ford seems to argue that consumer interest in a diesel half-ton is limited and turbocharged gasoline engines offer more promise. But the early take rate on the Ram EcoDiesel has so far proven otherwise.
Ford’s decision to eschew diesel engines in their half-ton trucks (at least, until a mid-cycle refresh) is both a blessing and a curse for itself. On one hand, it gives GM a way to differentiate itself from Ford. On the other, Ford is going to be the only truck manufacturer that doesn’t offer a diesel half-ton, as it looks like Toyota and Nissan will be joining GM and Ram in offering diesel engines in the next 2-3 years. Ford’s uniqueness on this front gives them the opportunity to paint themselves as an innovative automaker who “goes their own way,” something a lot of truck buyers will appreciate. Or maybe not – perhaps consumers want diesels and will buy them elsewhere.
But the bigger picture here is that Ford and GM have staked out their positions, and as a result someone is going to win and someone is going to lose. A win will secure market share, boost profits, and fuel future investment. A loss will have the opposite effect, as the losing automaker(s) will have to hustle to develop a new engine family.
Will Ford’s gasoline only position win the day, or will GM’s expected investment in diesel take first place? Who knows. Outside of Ram’s limited experience with their 3.0L EcoDiesel, it’s hard to make a case either way.
We’ll just have to wait and see.