The Driver’s Seat: How Much Is Enough?
The Driver’s Seat
I am a huge fan of the diesel-engine power wars of the past two decades. In 1997, modern diesel pickups made about 225 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. Fast-forward to 2007 and these figures had jumped to 360 hp and 650 lb-ft. Remarkable as this was at the time, shooting ahead another 10 years to the present day finds light-duty diesel engines making 445 hp and 925 lb-ft. If the current trend continues, by the year 2027 we’ll find pickups on dealer lots making in the neighborhood of 600 hp and 1,250 lb-ft of torque from the factory. This is legit heavy-duty semitruck territory. So it begs the question of just how much is enough?
Before you fire up the torches and dust off the pitchforks, let me say again that I am a huge fan of these power wars, and I sincerely hope they continue on the current trajectory. However, the current class of ¾- and 1-ton pickups, when fully equipped, are already bumping dangerously close to a six-figure price tag. And when properly equipped, these same trucks can tow more than 30,000 pounds, which is a scary figure when you think that your neighbor down the road can pick one of these up and haul a house down the highway. Yeah, that same neighbor who hasn’t mowed the lawn in six months, borrowed your string trimmer anyway, and drank your garage fridge dry. You know the guy.
So what we’ve got now are pickups that few people can afford and that even fewer should be driving. This is where we’ve seen companies such as Nissan step in with trucks like the Titan XD. At 310 hp and 555 lb-ft from the available 5.0L Cummins engine, this pickup slots perfectly where diesel HD trucks were about 10 years ago. The XD tows a modest 12,000-ish pounds (depending on how it’s equipped) and costs about 10 to 20 grand less than a comparable Big Three ¾-ton. It’s also not surprising that we’ve been hearing murmurs out of the rumor mill that other companies are eyeing this space now as well.
With power, capability, and price all skyrocketing at a seemingly exponential pace, I can’t help but wonder where the top actually is. We know the biggest limiting factors to power output currently are engine cooling, transmission holding ability, and emissions compliance. The hurdles can all be overcome—at a cost. Then there’s the capability: Is there a need for a pickup that can tow more than the current 32,500 pounds that Ford claims with its F-450 Super Duty? This is already pushing dangerously close to medium-duty territory.
Here’s what I think I’d like to see. Someone needs to crack the 1,000–lb-ft ceiling, and I don’t think we’re too far off. My guess is that it’s going to be Ram with the next iteration of the 6.7L Cummins I-6 engine that we know is coming for ’19 or ’20. We suspect the next-generation 6.7L Power Stroke to show up in ’20 as well, and I bet it’ll best Ram by a few lb-ft. GM will be the last to answer and shame them all with a software update to the monster L5P Duramax. Check back in a few years and we’ll see just how close I got with this guess.
After we reach that mark, I’d like to see the return of the heavy 1/2-ton—think Ford F-250 (non–Super Duty), Silverado 1500HD, and such. Let them play in the space currently only occupied by the Titan XD. This will move brands to have a four-truck strategy instead of the current three, which only GM is playing in at the moment, and which Ford is returning to when the Ranger hits lots next year. This would also give consumers a broad range of choice to fit both their budget and need.
In reality, we probably have a better chance of getting the string trimmer back than seeing pickup prices come down and the power wars settle anytime soon. It’s probably best to just head back to the garage and refill the fridge.