Detonation: Benefiting from the Power War
Being a fan of engines that make a lot of power, I’m really excited about the horsepower and torque war that’s currently being waged between the Big Three diesel-truck manufacturers. Ford, GM, and Ram are making huge efforts to one-up each other in the heavy-duty-pickup segment.
Honestly, I don’t think their horsepower differences really matter too much when the amount of power they are making today is fully taken into consideration. The “war” seems to be more about bragging rights, no matter how short-lived they may be. This “who has the most power right now” competition is only part of the equation. The companies are building trucks that are also amazingly plush and more technologically advanced than ever.
If the truck market didn’t have multiple manufacturers vying for your money, the industry as a whole wouldn’t be so competitive. With no competitors to contend with, the manufacturer that produces “the” product people need and/or want (car, truck, engine, and so on) has less initiative or reason to be innovative and push boundaries with its products. It would control the market with the same old thing.
While competitiveness between the diesel-truck manufacturers has been ongoing for a long time, only recently has the battle reached its current level. In 2016, Ram upped the ante in the torque arena, when the 6.7L Cummins powerplant in its heavy-duty rigs hit the 900–lb-ft mark. The following year, Ford’s 6.7L Power Stroke pushed max torque to 925 lb-ft (with 440 hp), which outdid GM’s new 910–lb-ft 6.6L Duramax L5P in the torque realm, but not horsepower. The GM powerplant mustered 5 more horses than the Ford.
Then, in 2018, Ram came back with 385 hp and 930 lb-ft of torque, while Ford brought 935 lb-ft and 450 hp to the game. Not to be outdone, in 2019, Ram broke the four-digit torque barrier with 1,000 lb-ft and 400 hp. Of course, the war is far from over. I’m sure this will continue, as Ford is already teasing its next-generation Power Stroke engine. Performance data should be announced in late 2019, and we will see if Ford raises the stakes. In my opinion, it seems GM doesn’t have as much concern about numbers as Ram and Ford do right now. But, you never know when they might step up. All these new engines have a lot of potential.
Achieving the horsepower and torque the Big Three’s diesel engines are producing today, while still meeting emissions requirements and being efficient, is not easy. Getting to this level takes research, engineering, and development of new technologies that include other facets of the drivetrain.
Torque supremacy isn’t the only prize in the fight. The manufacturers also continue to increase their diesel rigs’ towing capacity. The towing capability of 1-ton dualie pickups is pretty crazy, with Ford’s big rig able to tug 35,000 pounds and Ram’s heavy-duty 3500 raising that limit by 100 pounds (both with gooseneck trailers). GM is the current ringleader in this arena, boasting a maximum of 35,500 pounds. That is a lot of weight to put behind a pickup.
Truck builders are not relying on mechanics alone. New rigs also continue to get nicer on the inside. The interiors of the higher-end models are plush, with leather seating and inserts that put them more on par with luxury cars than pickups. Interior technologies such as the infotainment centers, sound systems, instrumentation, and even climate controls are now at a higher level. Trucks are no longer the last platform to get new technologies, as manufacturers are trying to outdo each other in that space, too. Getting into one of these top-of-the-line rigs reminds me more of driving a Cadillac than a pickup that’s built for doing work. Well, except for their ride, but even that has improved.
Manufacturers also continue to improve trucks’ on-road handling—both empty and loaded. A lot of money goes into improving suspension and chassis architecture. Many of the chassis improvements also come from the mission to increase payload and towing capacities.
Another benefit of a competitive marketplace is that although it sometimes may not seem this way, it helps keep prices under control. Yes, new trucks are not cheap, but imagine what the prices might be if there was no competition. Buying a new truck might be more in the same ballpark as investing in an exotic sports car. On the other hand, no competition could mean trucks would be more like Henry Ford’s Model T: inexpensive, simple, and only available in one color.
The domestic pickup-truck battle is not just relegated to heavy-duty diesels. Half-ton and midsize rigs are also getting in on the action with new diesel engines, trims, and levels of sophistication. The way I see it, the future for the trucks we love looks like it’s going to be more powerful and comfortable as time goes on.