What This Country Needs… (No, I’m not dead)

Back in November of 2006 I wrote an entry on what I thought this country needed was a good mini-pickup truck that had a diesel engine.  I also wrote to Ralph Gilles of Chrysler Corporation with the same idea.  He was good enough to honor my email with a thoughtful reply where he articulated the realities of the costs of diesel engines given the ULEV requirements on them.  Diesel engine also require more costly fuel injectors more costly fuel pumps, more costly and larger catalytic converters, etc.  All these could result in another $2000 in costs that would have to be passed on to the buyer.

All true, but with today’s cost of fuel ballooning with no end in sight (including diesel fuel) the era of “Joe Everyday” driving a full sized pickup truck is gone.  Just ask Ford how many F150’s (once Ford’s biggest seller) they expect to produce and sell this year.  The full size pickup truck is still a necessity for the true business truck or someone who can still afford to haul a boat, but more and more a mini pickup truck makes much more sense.

It allows for the utilitarian capabilities that a regular pickup truck provides, but in a package that can weigh far less.  Weight, as we all know, has a direct effect on gas mileage.  Combine a mini pickup truck with a diesel engine and you could have a real winner.  Imagine being able to park your pickup truck in your garage and get 30% better mileage than a gasoline version.

As for the cost of developing an engine for the mini pickup a company like Chrysler could always partner with Isuzu.  Mitsubishi did so when they decided to enter the Thailand market in 1957.  GM is looking to sell off Isuzu at this point anyway, so their small diesel engines could be the most valuable asset they have – perfect for a company like Chrysler, given their own troubles.

So I’ll say it again – Americans are a ripe market for mini pickup trucks with diesel power.  Make them in 2WD and AWD and keep them as light as regulations will allow.  Don’t load them up with luxury that belongs in a $40K+ car.  Let the aftermarket customizer do that if customers want.  People fill find them excellent commute vehicles as well as perfect for weekend runs to the home supply store or hardware store.

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6 Responses to What This Country Needs… (No, I’m not dead)

  1. Judy says:

    Or hauling Great Danes around in (under a cap of course)!! Okay, a tall cap.

  2. Tim says:

    Welcome back to the world of the living Jim! 🙂

    Funny you should mention that, the auto-makers are on a start to fulfilling your dreams.

    GM is planning a 310HP/520TQ 4.5L turbo-diesel V8 that has 25% better fuel economy.

    Subaru will have diesel versions of their sedans and wagons in Europe soon, and U.S. not long after. I personally want a stripped Subaru Legacy/Outback wagon 5-speed diesel…

    But a little more near-term, and more cost effective than diesel, is a smaller displacement, turbocharged, direct injected engine like the turbo-four Ford is rumored to put in the F-150.

    Here’s another thing to consider about increasing the number of diesel vehicles on the market: what refining capacity do we have dedicated to diesel? Not nearly as much as gasoline I’d imagine. Light pick-ups and utility vehicles are one thing, but with diesel passenger cars expected from most manufacturers, increasing that demand could do some interesting things to the fuel market…?

  3. jimsgarage says:

    Tim –

    It’s great to be back. You are quite right about the US refining capability. In Europe the refineries are designed to produce about a 50/50 mix of gasoline (petrol) and diesel fuels. The US refineries were designed to favor an 85% mix of gasoline. So if demand goes up in the US for diesel fuel as more diesel vehicles get sold – well it is likely the price for diesel will go up.

    So why don’t the US refineries just change their production mix to 50/50? Unfortunately that would require a massive capital investment in a redesign of a refinery facility. It might still happen though. Certainly if environmental concerns take a back seat to the need for fuel some new US refineries could be built and a few converted.


  4. Noel says:

    Glad to see you back, Jim. I was beginning to think you’d fallen off the edge of the Cape.

    FWIW, back in about 1980 VW had a Rabbit pickup truck and as I recall there was a diesel version–sort of an El Camino of Rabbits. Didn’t sell many, but like all Rabbits of that vintage, it wasn’t a very good vehicle.

    Let me play devil’s advocate here. I will probably be annoying.

    On the other hand, why have a pickup truck? I live in a semi-rural area on a partially wooded lot and regularly (almost weekly) need to haul away brush and yard debris, bring home mulch, stone and landscaping materials, as well as lumber and stuff for house projects. I had a Chevy S-10 for a few years but it was the 3rd vehicle in the household and I got tired of maintaining and insuring it.

    So when it died I bought a utility trailer. Five years later, I find it much better than a truck. OK, it is not quite as convenient, but it holds far more (especially compared to a small-size truck) and I don’t have to drive around in a truck. It tows just fine with up to 2000 pounds of whatever and I’m still in something that’s nice to drive, as opposed to being a in boring appliance.

    I understand the practicality of a truck and they are unbeatable for many things, but for the average person who doesn’t really *need* a truck most of the time, a trailer makes more sense. I know some people just prefer to drive trucks and some get their ego stroked by being in a truck (whatever floats your boat), but that’s another issue.

    Anyway, Jim’s right that for “truck people” small diesel trucks would make a lot of sense. So would “full-size” diesels. I think we’ll see this shift over the next few years, but I hadn’t realized the issues with refining capacity. Diesel cars and small trucks are all over Europe and everyone moves around just fine, but diesels are normal there. One big difference is that many of the trucks are smaller. When they have to haul a lot of stuff, many tradesmen use trailers with their trucks. The smaller size is a good thing, IMO, and brings me to my final (probably annoying) point about trucks.

    What I’d really like to see is for pickups (and SUVs for that matter) in general to be smaller. Most of them are far too big, in my opinion, and all are a nuisance on the road. You can’t see through them, they are generally rolling road blocks, and too often the people driving them are either oblivious to other drivers or use the size of their truck to intimidate other drivers.

    Still small to mid-size trucks do fill a need, and we’ll probably see a lot more of them. And I bet we’ll see more with diesels before too long.

  5. Dan Paquette says:

    GM, Ford, and Chrsyler are all expected to offer diesel in their 1500/150’s potentially for the 2010 models years or soon after.

    There was even rumor that the Dakota was going to get a small diesel, which quite franky would turn it into a beast of a truck.

    I’ve now owned my dakota for ten years. Before that, I had another Dakota and before that, an S-10. The Dakota definately has served me well even though it is not a mini-pickup. It has had the best blend of power, and size *for me. The only reason I consider getting a full size is for towing a future camper and the fact that my truck gets used as a truck. If anything, though we own just two vehicales now, the Dakota in a way, is already the 3rd vehicle. It may be a stretch to call it the 3rd vehicle, but my wife and I mostly share her car, and the truck stays parked sometimes for 4 or 5 days before it moves anywhere. It’s not that I’m trying to save gas, as the price of gas doesn’t bother me too much (perhaps because my truck doesn’t move much). I just use the car for it’s remote start to get the AC going a minute early, and for the Xm radio, and the automatic no fuss run to the store type thing.

    I really hope they put the diesel in the Dakota as it would become a more viable towing platform. Ironically though, the newer V8s they are putting in the full size trucks are getting the same mileage as the V6 in my Dakota, and the newer genration V6 in the newer Dakotas.

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