Ram 1500 first modern half-ton pickup with diesel
James R. Healey, USA TODAY2:35p.m. EST February 14, 2013
Chrysler's shocker: Ram 1500 to get V-6 diesel in the third quarter.
(Photo: Chrysler Croup)
- Coming the third quarter
- Automaker, analysts predict solid diesel sales
- Price, power, mileage not yet disclosed
Chrysler Group will announce Thursday that it will offer a diesel in the standard-duty Ram 1500 pickup in the third quarter this year, making it the first modern half-ton pickup in the U.S. market with a diesel power option.
That should attract a significant number of buyers, because while a diesel typically costs more than a gasoline engine up front, it uses less fuel, has greater pulling power, often lasts longer and has higher resale value — dollars-and-cents issues important to business users who account for many pickup sales.
Ram's internal studies show that "customers have been emphatically asking for this, thirsting for it, craving it," said Fred Diaz, CEO of Chrysler's Ram brand in a phone interview from Mexico (Diaz is also CEO of Chrysler de Mexico).
He wouldn't forecast sales, but said, "The business case (for Ram) is a positive one. This isn't just a little side note. We plan to do good business with the diesel."
That's because he thinks the pool of half-ton diesel buyers is deep. "This isn't a one-and-done or a fad," he said.
Diesels have been mostly limited for decades to heavy-duty pickups, the so-called three-quarter-ton and higher-duty models, which are more expensive than standard-duty trucks — even before adding the $8,000 or so price premium for the heavy-duty diesel option. And those trucks are larger, making them more cumbersome to drive and maneuver.
Being first with a standard-duty diesel pickup could attract 10,000 additional buyers the first year, more after that — if the price is right — predicts Jesse Toprak, veteran industry watcher at TrueCar.com.
He thinks Chrysler should "make a big noise" by offering the diesel at little or no price premium vs. gasoline engines.
That would be unheard of in the truck business — and unlikely in this case. "We think customers will be satisfied with the value proposition" after considering price, mileage and towing and hauling capacities, Diaz said.
He wouldn't comment on pricing, though, or give power and mileage ratings for the diesel. The engine will be a 3-liter turbo V-6 from Italy's VM Motori, which has supplied diesels to Chrysler since 1992. It's the same engine that Chrysler had said it would offer in the Jeep Grand Cherokee, starting in May.
In the Jeep, the diesel is rated 240 horsepower and 420 pounds-feet of torque. By comparison, Chrysler's well-known Hemi gasoline V-8 is rated 360 hp and 390 lbs.-ft. in the Jeep.
It's typical of diesels to have modest horsepower ratings and eye-popping, outsize torque. Torque is the low-speed power that gets heavy things moving and pulls them up hills and lugs them through challenging terrain. Horsepower is used for accelerating and passing.
Chrysler's move is unexpected. Industry buzz has been that Toyota or Nissan would be first with a standard-duty diesel pickup because those makers see advantages to diesels but have no heavy-duty pickups. Toyota showed its 2014 redo of the Tundra truck at the Chicago Auto Show earlier this month and no diesel is in the lineup. Nissan's overhauled Titan might, indeed, offer a diesel, but it's not due until next year at the earliest.
Ford Motor and General Motors have not disclosed any plans for half-ton diesel pickups. GM, alone among Detroit makers, plans to continue selling compact pickups for mileage-conscious and size-sensitive truck buyers.
But it will be no surprise if other pickup makers eventually put diesels into their half-ton models, to ratchet up their mileage as federal regulations for fuel economy get tighter. Cars and trucks have to hit 54.5 mpg in federal tests in 2025, which translates to about 39 mpg in combined city/highway driving on the vehicle's window sticker.
Chrysler's diesel supplier, VM, is half-owned by Fiat, which controls Chrysler, and half-owned by GM, which could make it also a potential source of diesels for GM's half-ton Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.
Chrysler hadn't planned to announce the diesel Ram for several months, but its hand was forced by a Jan. 24 memo to workers at its Warren Truck Assembly Plant in Michigan citing a "new diesel engine launch in July 2013."
The memo, from the plant's human relations office and obtained by the Detroit Free Press,
mentioned the diesel as one of several factors expected to make Ram 1500 a much bigger seller this year and, thus, require a 30%-plus boost in the factory's production.
Warren makes only the standard-duty (so-called half-ton) 1500, and it makes nearly all of them sold in the U.S. The memo said it would make at least 300,000 trucks this year, a record for the plant, and up from 227,000 last year.
The hoopla — and there's sure to be plenty — surrounding a Ram 1500 diesel launch could divert attention from General Motors' roll-out over the next few months of its redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups. Those trucks need a fast start to revive flagging sales of the current models that have required GM to spend more on incentives than it hoped.
The diesel Ram 1500 shouldn't hurt the GM trucks too much, said Jessica Caldwell, a top auto-industry analyst at Edmunds.com. "We know truck (brand) loyalty is very high."
But she said that Ram could benefit from the diesel half-ton: "There is demand on the consumer side for diesel products" that boosted diesel cars from 0.1% of the market in 2007 to 0.8% last year.
Caldwell said that small number is nevertheless meaningful. "A 0.7 (percentage point) market-share movement is not insignificant — especially in light of all the other advanced-drive vehicles that have come on the scene."