The Death Of Domestic Half-Ton Diesels
They were supposed to be the fuel-sipping, tow-friendly alternative to the thumping V-8 gasoline offerings and they were. The only problem was that, when compared to more powerful gasoline options, no one really bought them. Add in the high upfront costs that accompany compression ignition, frequent emission system failures and the high costs associated with fixing them and you get vehicles that become increasingly hard for automakers to justify building. We’re talking of course about half-ton diesel pickups. Once thought to be the way forward in meeting CAFE standards and getting away from a ½-ton history mired in sub-20-mpg fuel efficiency, in the end diesel half-tons weren’t desirable enough to be the answer.
Below, we’ll spell out why diesel half-tons are on their way out, but also shed some light on why GM’s 3.0L Duramax option looks like a keeper (at least for now). Then we’ll delve into why the ¾-ton and larger segment is full steam ahead when it comes to diesel propulsion—along with an in-depth look in the near future at why the heavy-duty pickup segment continues to thrive in the face of diesel half-ton extinction.
The 3.0L Power Stroke’s Dilemma
From the get-go, the 3.0L Power Stroke had an uphill climb as far as sales were concerned. The reason? At the time it was introduced in 2018 the F-150 lineup already had three solid engine choices to choose from in the 2.7L EcoBoost, the 5.0L Coyote V-8 and the vastly-popular 3.5L EcoBoost—plus a base 3.3L V-6 that saw sales success in work truck trim and fleet-type operations. Then came another option, the 3.5L PowerBoost V-6. With the 3.5L power plants commanding more than 60-percent of F-150 sales, the popularity of the smaller 2.7L EcoBoost and the V-8 die-hards opting for the 5.0L Coyote, we suspect that Power Stroke F-150’s accounted for roughly 5-percent of sales.
Compared to the V-8 gasoline options available in the Ram 1500, Chevrolet Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500 and the F-150 (as well as the 400hp 3.5L EcoBoost), the six cylinder, half-ton diesels are noticeably underpowered. While torquey, they pale in comparison to the kind of acceleration you get with a Hemi-powered Ram, a 6.2L-equipped GM or a 3.5L EcoBoost (or 5.0L Coyote) F-150. Then there is the reality that, despite their low-rpm torque making for effortless lug-ability when attached to a trailer, no diesel-powered half-ton can out-tow the premium gasoline engine option within its own ranks. Long story short, there is no wow-factor in owning a half-ton diesel. Rather, you got a docile, fuel-sipping pickup that can “almost” tow what its siblings can.
The Casualties (Ford And Ram)
Almost as quick as it appeared, the 3.0L Power Stroke diesel option disappeared from the F-150 lineup. That 2018 to 2021 window represents the shortest half-ton diesel production run in modern history (so long as the 3.0L Duramax continues production). Across town in Auburn Hills, Ram is killing the 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 option in January of 2023, after nine years of production. Even after an increase in power to 260 hp (from 240 hp) and 480 lb-ft of torque (vs. 420 lb-ft) and the addition of a 33-gallon tank boosting an EcoDiesel Ram 1500’s range to more than 1,000 miles, the DOHC VM Motori engine is getting the axe roughly one month from now.
Emissions System Failures
One big issue for half-ton diesels, which may have actually been the nail in the coffin for their sales failures, lies in all the emissions system-related problems. Exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), diesel particulate filter (DPF) and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems, all necessary to curb NOx and particulate matter pollution, brought with them a load of complexity—and unfortunately a host of shortcomings. While sensor failure accounts for most issues, a non-functioning exhaust aftertreatment system can mean a truck that won’t perform (and in some cases won’t even run), along with considerable downtime until fixed.
Other Causes Of Death
There’s no denying that the upfront cost of a diesel powertrain is high. Much of this stems from the cutting-edge technology featured on a modern diesel engine, but its emissions control systems (namely exhaust aftertreatment) run up the price of a compression ignition power plant considerably. Obviously this added cost is passed on to the consumer which—along with the premium you pay for diesel maintenance, repairs and the fuel itself—makes the diesel option virtually incapable of paying for itself in the long run. Another dagger into the heart of the half-ton diesel came with the limited options that were offered with the diesel option. For one example, F-150 owners could never order the 3.0L Power Stroke in conjunction with the available 36-gallon fuel tank, which would’ve made a 1,000-mile highway range possible.
The Lone Survivor: GM’s 3.0L Duramax
Unlike Ford and Ram, GM is keeping its half-ton diesel option alive. In fact, for 2023 the 3.0L Duramax will boast a GM-estimated 305 hp and 495 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers are up from 277 hp and 460 lb-ft on ’20-’22 model years. So far, the all-aluminum inline-six diesel has been met with rave reviews from owners and vehicle testers alike, with many drivers reporting fuel efficiency numbers better than 30-mpg on the highway. In 2022, max towing capacity for Duramax-equipped Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 models increased to 13,300 pounds when properly equipped—the same maximum available to 6.2L-powered versions. In both towing capacity and engine design (I-6 vs. V-6), GM has bucked the trend that has arguably limited the potential of half-ton diesels thus far. We hope they continue to offer the 3.0L Duramax for years to come.
Pivoting Toward BEV’s
You can feel it from afar via today’s automotive headlines or up close and personal at your local dealership, but no matter where you see it there’s no denying that battery electric vehicles are poised to kill off internal combustion engines in a phase-out type of takeover. And while BEV’s aren’t a threat to diesel in the ¾-ton and larger truck segment, Ford and GM have already introduced their BEV half-tons, with Ram positioned to do the same in 2024. Major changes are afoot in the half-ton pickup segment and the future doesn’t look bright for compression ignition. In fact, we may never see them offered again in an F-150 or Ram 1500.
The ¾-Ton And Larger Segment—A Safe Haven For Diesel
As mentioned, the diesel option in the ¾-ton and larger truck segment remains strong at the present time. In this category, where each manufacturer builds a truck capable of towing in excess of 30,000 pounds, only a large displacement (400-plus ci) diesel makes this feasible. In these 40,000 GCWR situations, the fuel efficiency, durability and 1,000 lb-ft of torque a diesel brings to the table make it the sole engine option for buyers that work their trucks hard. If the range issues are ever solved in the BEV market, look for electric to infiltrate the ¾-ton field as well, but for now we expect diesel to continue to dominate this segment.
More From Driving Line
- For a closer look at the one remaining diesel power plant in the half-ton class, read up on the inner-workings of the 3.0L Duramax right here.