The rest of the civilized world has diesel light trucks, though they’ve never really been made available in the United States. However, that’s set to change in coming years, with at least one scheduled to hit dealerships in the near future.
GM first to offer diesel light trucks
If you think about it, diesel light trucks would be a better option for most people than half-ton pickups. A lot of people who own Silverados, Ram 1500s and F-150s don’t need the capacity of the vehicle that often, but the parts of their lives that do require them mean they are willing to sacrifice the expenditure of gasoline in the interim periods.
But what if you didn’t have to?
That’s where diesel light trucks could fit in. Diesel engines produce more torque per unit of displacement than gasoline engines, though less horsepower, and typically get better fuel economy. It would be relatively easy, therefore, to put a diesel engine in a light pickup that makes the truck capable of a full-size trucks’ hauling, without the need for the hulking body and fewer trips to the pump.
The first automaker that’s going to offer the option is General Motors, which is introducing a 2.8-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder in the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon in late (calendar, not model year) 2015, according to Road and Track. Output is a rather pedestrian 181 horsepower but an astonishing 369 foot-pounds of torque. By comparison, the 5.3L V-8 in the Silverado only makes 14 ft-lbs more.
Nissan to follow
The next maker to sell diesel light trucks in the United States is Nissan. According to AutoNews, a diesel-engined Frontier – Nissan’s quarter-ton pickup – was shown off in February 2014 at the Chicago Auto Show, featuring a turbodiesel four-cylinder with basically the same specs as GM’s upcoming oil-burner. It’s a 2.8-liter, with about 200 horsepower and “more than 350 foot-pounds of torque.”
It’s possibly the same supplier – though Chevrolet’s will be branded a Duramax – as diesel engines get shared between automakers. For instance, the diesel engines in Chrylser’s Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500 EcoDiesel are made by VM Motori – which, according to Car and Driver, is half-owned by GM.
Nissan is also slated to offer a 5.0-liter diesel V-8 in the next generation Titan half-ton, though that unit is sourced from Cummins.
Join the civilized world already
Toyota already makes diesel light trucks. The Hilux – the light truck that Toyota sells worldwide and pokey British motoring show “Top Gear” was famously unable to destroy – is offered with a diesel…just about everywhere. However, Toyota is reticent about selling diesels in the States because they don’t sell that well.
That covers basically all of the makers in light truck segment. Nissan, Toyota and GM are the only companies selling them here. Ford won’t bring the global Ranger here. Ditto the VW Amarok. Land Rover makes a pickup truck version of the Defender, but it isn’t know if the Defender will even be sold here when the next generation debuts.
Diesel engines could, potentially, reinvigorate the segment, since they offer truck-like capacity for work with car-like fuel economy, and you can actually get the damn thing in a garage. They’re equally good for tradesmen for the same reasons. The question is whether they’ll catch on.