It wasn’t so long ago that diesel engines conjured images of black smoke belching trucks with exhaust stacks sticking out the sides.
That’s changing swiftly thanks to cleaner-burning engines in the same tow-happy trucks. In fact, Cummins and Chrysler announced the 2 millionth diesel engine for its RAM truck brand yesterday. The unit marking that milestone won’t, itself, see service. Instead it’s bound for a tour of the U.S. with Cummins — permanently.
“Sort of a waste of power…” Chrysler media relations manager Eric Mayne said jokingly. With 350 hp and 800 lb-ft of torque coming from the engine, he has a point.
Modern diesel engines have come a long way, not the least of which being the unit Cummins builds for Chrysler. For 2013, Cummins-powered RAM trucks boast best-in-class torque, 10 percent improved fuel economy and dual-inlet “Ram Active Air,” which adjusts induction according to driving conditions for optimal performance.
But where diesel used to be a term relegated to life under a truck hood, there’s a different story to be told. Diesels are finding new favor among U.S. consumers seeking efficient transportation.
Long the favorite in Europe for the same reasons, technology couldn’t readily translate across the Atlantic. Differing regulations meant that diesel vehicles in Europe didn’t comply with U.S. standards, but as the Euro 6 regulations roll out, that’s set to change.
“As Euro 6 becomes mandatory in Europe by 2014, you’ll see a convergence of the technologies between the U.S. rules and Euro 6, which I think is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring about diesel in the U.S. at a relatively inexpensive price,” Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said recently. ”Diesel has been maligned intentionally here in the States for a long period of time. Diesel has never been defended as being a viable alternative fuel source.”
Outside the Chrysler world, other automakers are rushing to offer diesel cars and SUVs. Both Audi and Mazda confirmed plans to offer such engines during the L.A. Auto Show.
Meanwhile, Chrysler will offer a diesel-powered Grand Cherokee in 2014. So it seems the defense has arrived.
Is that enough? It’s not entirely clear, but with the government’s corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards climbing to a minimum 54.5 mpg in 2025, the pressure is mounting.
“I think there were a lot of rumors that spread in the market about diesel being a dirty fuel and so on, which is absolute junk because I think when you look at the emissions coming out of diesel, out of the Euro 5 diesel engine and ultimately now in 2014 by the Euro 6, you’ll see that the level of emissions you’re getting out of diesel engines are probably lower than you’re getting out of gas,” Marchionne said.
Cummins’ partnership with Chrysler began in 1985, and more than a year ago the Columbus, Ind.-based manufacturer announced its plan to hire 7,000 new engineers in anticipation of increased diesel demand. Much of that demand stems from markets like China and South America, but where else could Cummins be aiming its newly-harnessed engineers? Marchionne’s guess is probably better than most.
“And so our solution to the mileage issue and our solution to compliance with the 2025 (CAFE) standards is not the silver bullet solution. We need to play them all. So diesel is part of it,” he said.