Ford charts winning path according to study

9 March 2016 [Santa Rosa, California] – Regardless of whether Dieselgate is an isolated event, or if in fact there is wider industry adoption for these heinous practices, there is no doubt that Dieselgate revelations have cast a shadow on diesel powered vehicles in 2016. The new perception is that diesel engines are cleaner than they were decades ago, but still not clean in relative comparison to their refined gasoline counterparts. According to a study released today by the Automotive Science Group (ASG), there are instances where the combustion efficiency gains from advanced diesel technologies can provide net benefits in reducing CO2-equivalent emissions (CO2-e), but such a vehicle doesn’t show up in the 2016 Truck lineup in North America. 

True to form, ASG found diesel configurations touting best in class fuel economy ratings in both the Mid-size and Full-size light-duty truck categories for 2016. But what does this metric really mean for modern truck buyers –  is the diesel option a better financial choice, is it an environmentally preferable choice? Individuals and fleet buyers alike seek transparency in this regard, in fact organizations with Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) policies are mandated to get this right, particularly those that are stewards of public funds. In a bid to address this lack of transparency, ASG released findings today from its fifth annual study known as the Automotive Performance Index (API).  

ASG assessed the different technologies of choice in this transitioning truck marketplace:  gasoline engines combined with advanced lightweight vehicle designs, and diesel engines that inherently increase vehicle weight. ASG’s life-cycle assessments enable vehicle performance comparisons across different technologies. Diesel fuel, for example, has higher energy content per gallon than gasoline and typically delivers higher MPG ratings, but due to the higher density of diesel, the fuel releases more emissions per gallon combusted. This disadvantage can be overcome in diesel configurations by greatly improved fuel economy, but according to ASG, the diesel fuel economy gains observed in the 2016 light-duty truck market are not sufficient to overcome the carbon deficit.

RAM, General Motors and Nissan have adopted diesel engines in 2016, with the RAM 3.0L Ecodiesel, GM 2.8L Duramax diesel and the Nissan Titan XD leveraging the 5.0L Cummins diesel. Meanwhile Ford has steered clear, opting for lightweight aluminum intensive truck designs absent the diesel engine. Toyota’s chief truck engineer has been clear too that Toyota will not be in the diesel camp, but a hard light-weighting push has yet to be seen in the Tundra and Tacoma line-up.

In the Full-size truck category (Crewcab), the RAM (3.0L Ecodiesel) offers the highest combined MPG rating at 23 MPG, however, the Ford F-150 (2.7L EcoBoost) with only a 1 MPG deficit actually delivers a life-cycle carbon footprint that is 8% smaller than the RAM’s, a savings of nearly 20,000 pounds of CO2-e emissions, according to ASG’s 2016 study. ASG found the 2016 F-150 to hold the smallest life-cycle carbon footprint of any full-size truck in the North American market.

The F-150 aluminum design is key to Ford’s elevated performance, which not only reduces environmental burdens associated with raw material mining and processing, but with reduced vehicle weight, less power is required to physically move the vehicle, encouraging the use of the smaller fuel efficient engine found in the 2.7L EcoBoost. 

The idea of light-weighting is not revolutionary in and of itself, it’s common sense that can be illuminated by basic physics. What is groundbreaking however, is Ford Motor Company’s ability to implement its light-weighting strategy with economies of scale that makes the F-150 not only price competitive, but in fact the industry leader with the lowest combined purchase and operating costs of any full-size truck in 2016 (3.5L V6), according to ASG’s study. All things considered, ASG named the Ford F-150 the Best All-Around Performance Full-size Truck of 2016.  

In the Mid-size Truck segment, the Chevrolet Colorado (2.5L) gasoline powered truck leads the vehicle segment, outperforming the new and highly anticipated diesel configuration for the Colorado and GMC Canyon, along with the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. With the GM 2.8L diesel gaining only 2 MPG (combined city/highway) over the 2.5L gasoline engine, while adding 440 pounds to its curb weight, the diesel fuel economy gains are not sufficient to offset the higher emission factor for diesel fuel, with the diesel option producing 4% more CO2-e emissions over the truck’s life-cycle.  

Further, ASG found that the cost premium diesel demands at the pump cancels out the fuel economy gains from an economic view, with diesel fuel costs over the first 5-years coming in slightly higher than the gasoline option. The diesel variant also costs $5,250 more at purchase than the comparably equipped 2.5L model, leading to a combined 14% cost premium for the diesel option when assessed over the first 5-years of ownership.

With these facts in mind, the diesel does have advanced utility for truck buyers that require greater towing capabilities beyond the limits of the 2.5L. In this respect, buyers are wise to consider the 2.8L diesel over the 3.6L V6 engine, with the diesel delivering a 4% life-cycle CO2-e benefit. The diesel will also save over $500 in fuel costs over the V6 in the first 60-months of ownership, however the diesel still costs 9% more than the V6 variant given the $3,730 price premium paid at purchase.  

In 2016, it’s the Chevrolet Colorado (2.5L) that is ASG's Best All-Around Performance Mid-size Truck of 2016. When the Mid-size Truck category features a lightweight aluminum design in future years, the North American light-duty truck marketplace will stand to be disrupted again. 

Colby Self
Colby Self