New Light-Duty Diesel Pickups Break the Mold
Shain Sproul, a rodeo rider and farmer, washes his three-quarter-ton diesel Nissan Titan XD. He uses his Titan truck to tow a 40-foot stock trailer for 10 horses. Photo by Keith Cizowski, Nissan North America.
Three diesel pickups that have entered the market in the past several model yearshave brought diesel engines — that typically dominate higher truck classes — down to lower truck classes.
The newest of these trucks, the 2016 Nissan Titan XD, arrived at the end of 2015 as a middle-ground offering between the three-quarter-ton (250/2500) and one-ton (350/3500) pickups. The Titan XD provides greater horsepower and torque for hauling trailers and carrying payload than similar half-ton models at a comparable price. Nissan has said it’s aiming for the “white space” market between the levels of buyers seeking greater capability without moving up to the larger size.
Chevrolet and Ram entered the market with smaller diesel trucks with an aim on fuel economy. Part of the reason for the growing popularity of smaller diesel pickups is due to falling prices for diesel fuel.
In the summer of 2015, Chevrolet introduced a Colorado mid-size pickup powered by a 2.8L Duramax diesel. The truck can tow 7,700 pounds and retails for $3,730 more than a similarly equipped Colorado with a 3.6L V-6 LFX gasoline engine that can tow 7,000 pounds.
Powered by a 2.8L Duramax diesel engine, Chevrolet's Colorado mid-size pickup can tow 7,700 pounds. Photo by Paul Clinton.
In late 2013, Ram introduced its 1500 EcoDiesel as the first diesel-powered half-ton truck with a fuel economy rating of 28 mpg. In early 2015, Ram refined the truck by announcing the 1500 EcoDiesel HFE (High Fuel Efficiency) that carries an EPA-rated fuel economy of 29 mpg on the highway. The truck went on sale on April 1.
While the diesel-powered Colorado and Ram 1500 EcoDiesel aren’t expected to see wide use in fleets, they underscore the rising popularity of lighter-duty diesel trucks that offer greater capacities, better fuel economy, and higher resale value than gasoline counterparts.
Commercial fleet users will typically move higher up the pickup truck food ladder when adding diesels for heavier jobs, and the premium price tag is always a factor for consideration.
“The need for a larger, more capable truck will typically lean in favor of a diesel solution,” said Dan Tigges, commercial product manager of General Motors Fleet. “While it’s true they offer better fuel economy and long-term durability, the capability and economy also comes with a significantly higher up-front cost.”
Nissan’s Titan XD squarely enters the work-truck market seeking to give some users more than they have and exactly what they need, according to Brent Hagan, manager of product planning at Nissan North America.
“It’s offering the capabilities of a three-quarter- ton truck but with the operating costs of a half-ton truck,” Hagan said. “They don’t want to spend the money to go up to a three-quarter-ton truck, but they need more than a half-ton.”
Equipped with a Cummins 5.0L V-8 turbo-diesel, the Titan XD tows 12,314 pounds with a maximum payload capacity of 2,091 pounds. The engine produces 310 horsepower (hp) and 555 pound-feet (lb.-ft.) of torque. The Titan XD will also be offered in king and standard configurations as well as a 4x4 option.
This spring, Nissan will offer the Titan with a 5.6L V-8 gasoline engine making 390 hp and 401 lb.-ft. of torque. Later this year, Titan will release a 1/2-ton version.
Nissan is targeting smaller fleets with the Titan XD, such as contractors and landscapers who they say need to tow about 12,000 pounds every day. Hagan said the company isn’t offering a “stripper.” Rather, Nissan added creature comforts such as standard cruise control, door locks, power windows, and push-button starting.
“For commercial customers who are doing a lot of towing, this is a great fit,” Hagan said. “What we heard from customers is, ‘We don’t need 900 pound-feet of torque.’”
Prior to launching the truck, Nissan gave it to several fleets for real-world testing, including Jack Daniels and Shain Sproul, a professional rodeo rider and farmer in Las Cruces, N.M.
Sproul tows a 40-foot stock trailer for 10 horses with his three-quarter-ton short-bed diesel. He used the Titan XD for this job. Sproul grows alfalfa and hay on his farm outside of Las Cruces and also raises horses. He also needs to tow his harvest into town for sale.
“Everything was wonderful,” Sproul said. “The transmission held, and I liked the features on the truck.”
Diesel-powered trucks appeal to fleets with heavy towing jobs, and domestic truck manufacturers have seen these trucks filter out into commercial settings.
Ram offers its 2500 with an available 6.7L Cummins turbo-diesel that can tow 17,980 pounds with a payload of 3,160 pounds. The engine generates 370 hp and 800 lb.-ft. of torque. The Ram 3500 offers the same engine with different power ratings and capacities, including 385 hp and 900 lb.-ft. of torque offering 31,210-pound towing and 6,720-pound payload capacities.
The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel HFE (High Fuel Efficiency) carries an EPA-rated fuel economy of 29 mpg on the highway. Photo by Vince Taroc.
“We see wide fleet use of our Ram 2500 trucks equipped with the Cummins diesel,” said Nick Cappa, a Ram Truck spokesman. “The three-quarter-ton truck with the Cummins provides the greatest capability and weight ratings, useful in businesses that require pushing, pulling, and hauling. Volumes of these Cummins-equipped Ram customers are found in tree service, construction, landscaping, and agriculture.”
Chevrolet offers its Silverado 2500HD with a 6.6L V-8 Duramax turbo-diesel that generates 397 hp and 765 lb.-ft. of torque. It can tow up to 18,000 pounds. The 3500HD equipped with the 6.6L V-8 diesel can tow up to 23,200 pounds.
Ford offers its 6.7L Power Stroke V-8 turbo diesel with its F-250 and F-350 pickups. When added to the F-250, the engine produces 440 hp and 860 lb.-ft. of torque and can tow up to 12,500 pounds. The F-350 can tow up to 19,000 pounds.
Heavier towers typically choose Ford’s diesel engine, said Mike Levine, Ford’s truck communications manager.
“It speaks to the heavy upfits or heavy trailers that fleets are expected to pull every day,” said Levine. “A class 2, 3, or 4 pickup truck that pulls a trailer every day is going to be more efficient with a diesel than with a gasoline engine.”
Diesel engines may require fleets to pay a premium, but they also hold their residual value better than gasoline trucks. Diesel trucks typically generate higher maintenance costs, as well, for parts that wear out sooner due to the increased stress, such as tires, suspensions, and engine components.
Diesel trucks offer “about 25% greater fuel efficiency,” according to Anil Goyal, vice president of automotive valuation and analytics for Black Book. “Even with the higher diesel price, it tends to come down to the same or better with diesel fuel costs. If maintained properly, although there is a higher cost on the maintenance side, diesel trucks have a longer lifetime. We’ve seen the diesel truck hold better retention value than the base gasoline model.”
On average with the 2500/3500-level truck, a diesel engine would cost about $8,500 more than a comparable gasoline-powered model, Goyal said. After 36 months, a customer could recover $5,500 of that value. After five years, a customer could recover $4,500.
In the end, fleets have many factors to consider before choosing a diesel-powered pickup, but the vehicle can provide lasting value.
“Fleets that work their vehicles hard in stop-and-go driving and carrying heavy loads, for instance, will get a better return from diesel,” GM’s Tigges said. “Fleets that buy vehicles more frequently, or drive mostly highway routes, might be better served by a gasoline-powered pickup.”