Slow truck sales, the fact that diesel fuel still costs more than gasoline, and tougher emissions standards driving costs up won't stop Chrysler from offering a light-duty diesel engine in the Dodge Ram 1500. While Ford and Toyota have put their half-ton diesel efforts on hold, Chrysler is betting its new diesel will deliver new customers.
"It still makes sense to offer a light-duty diesel," said Frank Klegon, Chrysler's executive vice president of product development. "We think from the total perspective of the regulatory environment, fuel efficiency and other things down the road, diesel is still going to be an element that's important in this market, and that customers will be attracted to a diesel light-duty truck."
Chrysler has partnered with Cummins to develop the new light-duty diesel. The two companies have cooperated since 1988, when they introduced their first diesel for Dodge truck buyers. Cummins builds the 6.7-liter six-cylinder diesel engine for the Ram 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickups, and the Ram 3500, 4500 and 5500 chassis cab trucks.
Klegon said the new engine will have different characteristics than the 6.7-liter heavy-duty motor. Fuel efficiency will be a priority over towing performance (which heavy-duty buyers crave), and it will use a "V" architecture instead of an inline cylinder layout.
There's also speculation that the new oil-burner will have a 5.0-liter displacement, from information photographed on an air-conditioning coolant replacement sticker in the 2009 Dodge Ram 1500's engine compartment.
According to Klegon, Chrysler has no plans to offer the new diesel engine in Ram 2500 and up trucks as an entry-level, heavy-duty oil-burner. "It will be exclusive to light-duty," Klegon said. "It fits (in the heavy-duty), but that's not our plan."
Gaining new light-duty Dodge Ram customers is critical to the engine's business case. Klegon said it would be financially challenging if Ram pickup truck owners with gas engines switched to diesel, because higher costs for the diesel powertrain and emissions hardware provide "substantial, positive (profit) margins for new buyers, but they're less than the margins of gas-powered pickups."
Klegon also affirmed Chrysler's commitment to a hybrid version of the Ram, promised for the 2010 model year, even though the company recently canceled its Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen Hybrid SUVs only two months after production started.
"The Ram Hybrid is still on track," Klegon said. "We're excited about applying what we learned from Aspen and Durango (hybrids) to the Ram."
The Hybrid Ram will arrive before the light-duty diesel, he said.