Ford In Wait And See Mode For Diesel F-150
Ford is taking a wait-and-see attitude when it comes to introducing a light-duty diesel engine for the F-150, as it evaluates continuously changing market conditions.
"We’re TBD on diesel-engine timing (for the F-150)," said Doug Scott, Ford's truck and SUV marketing manager. "We can go either way."
Ford had previously announced that a diesel would be available for the F-150 by some time in 2010. In April, the company showed its dealers a 4.4-liter V-8 diesel engine that was said to have 9 percent more power, 15 percent more torque and 20 percent better fuel economy than the F-150's 5.4-liter V-8 gas engine. That engine is rated at 320 horsepower and 390 pounds-feet of torque and up to 14/20 mpg city/highway, according to the EPA.
Scott pointed to a continued premium at the pump for diesel fuel as the primary reason for re-examining the business case of a light-duty diesel engine.
"Even though fuel prices have fallen recently, the (price) differential between gas and diesel hasn’t changed," Scott said.
According to AAA, current national average fuel prices are $3.125 for regular unleaded gasoline and $3.795 for diesel, or a 21 percent premium for diesel over gasoline. That cost difference negates much of the fuel-economy advantages diesel engines have versus gas engines, which are around 20 to 30 percent, depending on the application.
"If it continues to cost 20 percent more to fill up a truck with diesel than regular gas, we're trying to answer the question whether it makes sense to the under 8,500 pounds (gross vehicle weight rating / light-duty) customer," Scott said.
Diesels have long been the powertrain of choice in heavy-duty pickups because of their superior fuel economy and pulling power versus gasoline engines, but the recent rise in fuel prices, plus the thousands of dollars in hardware costs being added to diesel engine prices in order to meet new federal clean-air standards, have pushed acquisition and operating costs to new highs. Diesels also cost more than gas powertrains because of their sturdier construction, necessary to handle high engine compression and torque loads. Those costs have reduced diesel penetration in heavy-duty pickups from around 70 percent to around 55 percent, as heavy-duty-truck buyers have opted for lower-cost gas engines.
The high cost of diesel and slowing truck sales are forcing other manufacturers to examine their plans for light-duty diesels, too.
Toyota recently shelved plans for a light-duty diesel version of the full-size Tundra that had been promised by 2010.
General Motors spokesperson Susan Garavaglia said GM is committed to delivering a 4.5-liter V-8 diesel engine for its 2010 model year light-duty pickups, but that the company is evaluating all future product plans.
"For frequent towing, diesels make the most sense," said GM executive director of diesel engineering, Charlie Freese. "Diesel fuel efficiency increases under load [compared to gas engines]. When you're using a diesel engine's full utility towing, it gets 40 to 70 percent better fuel economy (than a gas engine), easily overcoming any price difference (at the pump). If you constantly tow big loads, which is what most diesel buyers do, over 40,000 miles a loaded diesel engine will pay back $7,000 versus a comparable gas engine, assuming 8 mpg with the gas engine and a 50 percent gain in fuel economy for the diesel engine."
Don Ufford, chief engineer for Ford Truck Engineering, said he thinks Ford's new EcoBoost engines may be the right solution for light-duty diesel F-150 buyers.
EcoBoost engines use direct injection and turbocharging to improve operating efficiency and power. Ford has promised EcoBoost engines will be available in the F-150 in 2010.
"EcoBoost gives you better fuel economy and low-end torque, like a diesel," Ufford said. "It also has a lower acquisition cost. Other companies don’t have the luxury of offering this option to their buyers."