Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens all are talking about banning diesel vehicles from their city centers by 2025. Copenhagen and several German cities are considering the same. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles could cut back its diesel engine models by 2022.
The backlash against the fuel since Volkswagen admitted rigging its cars to fraudulently pass emissions tests is growing in many parts of the world, threatening to send diesel the way of the tyrannosaurs.
But sitting in a 2018 Ford F-150 Diesel atop Dinosaur Hill outside Fruita, Colo., it’s hard to understand that the fuel could ever become extinct.
In fact, diesel is only beginning to take its place in the full-size light-duty pickup truck segment. Diesel engines will be available in both the all-new Ram 1500 and Chevrolet Silverado 1500. Ford will ship its first-ever diesel-powered F-150 to dealerships this month.
Pickups are bringing diesel back from the brink.
The 2018 Ford F-150 Diesel is powered by a new 3-liter Power Stroke V6 engine making 250 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque. Its Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy rating is 22 mpg in city driving, 30 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg overall — the highest ever for a light-duty pickup.
The truck has a maximum towing capacity of 11,400 pounds and a maximum payload capacity of 2,020 pounds.
And it packs a lot of range. A 1,086-mile drive from Denver to Los Angeles required only one fill-up of the truck’s 26-gallon tank.
Dinosaur Hill provided an inviting break in the journey. During the late-afternoon stop, the sky turned purple and orange over adjacent cliffs. Paleontologists uncovered many of the largest creatures to walk the earth, including a 70-foot Apatosaurus, here in the early 1900s.
One thing that unites large animals is the amount of fuel they have to consume. Scientists estimate that sauropods like Apatosaurus ate up to 880 pounds per day to sustain their energy.
Trucks are growing heavier these days, but automakers learned a trick that eluded the dinosaurs: use less energy. After 290 miles of driving from Denver to Fruita the F-150 Diesel averaged an even 30 mpg.
By the time it crossed the Rocky Mountains and reached Richfield, Utah, that evening, the figure dipped to 28.9 mpg over 477 miles. The F-150 Diesel achieved 28.1 mpg for the trip.
Ford engineers aimed to achieve maximum fuel economy with the F-150 Diesel. But they also prioritized towing and off-road capability to ensure owners can use the truck for a variety of activities.
“Customers are doing ‘truck stuff’ more than ever,” said Brian Bell, marketing manager for the F-150.
They enjoy outdoor activities such as boating, camping and exploring national parks, he said.
As many as 75 percent of F-150 owners use the truck for towing, Bell said. But few tow regularly. Most consider themselves novices.
For those owners, Ford offers a feature called Pro Trailer Backup Assist. The driver rotates a knob the shape of a hockey puck next to the steering wheel. Rather than learning to maneuver the truck in a way that manipulates the trailer, the “puck” tricks drivers into thinking they are controlling the trailer.
Towing experts may find it frustrating. However, it is intuitive for rookies and eases the anxiety typically associated with learning to back up a trailer on the spot. In an F-150 King Ranch Diesel the truck deftly positioned a 24-foot horse trailer in tight parking quarters.
The truck’s technology, lighter overall weight from the aluminum body and the extended range of its new 3-liter Power Stroke engine make the 2018 F-150 Diesel a multi-faceted tool for excursions.
“Let’s help them get more confidence to go boating when they want, camping when they want and go places they wouldn’t typically go,” Bell said.
Up on Dinosaur Hill the F-150 Diesel looked down over the Colorado River. The river is popular for activities like fishing, hunting and kayaking. It runs through national forests and other public lands that are experiencing record crowds.
No one is sure why more Americans are flocking to the outdoors, Bell said. It could be that millennial drivers are searching for fresh experiences or that the Internet has made it easy to research and plan trips.
One contributor could be that light trucks — a segment that includes crossovers, SUVs and pickups — like the F-150 have become well-rounded vehicles that no longer suffer from drawbacks in ride quality and fuel economy.
Ford attempted to bring a diesel engine to the F-150 before. In 2008 the company prepared a 4.4-liter turbodiesel V8 at the same time General Motors developed a 4.5-liter diesel for its Silverado 1500.
But the large engines were better for towing than fuel economy, Bell said. When the Great Recession hit and diesel fuel prices rose the engines were canceled. Advancements in engine technology, as well as the lighter aluminum body, gives Ford confidence that the F-150 Diesel will find a niche. The automaker expects a 5 percent take rate for the diesel among F-150 sales.
“There’s a true customer market for this,” Bell said. The fuel system, oil pan and foam encapsulation on injectors were all tuned to improve refinement and make diesel more palatable to the general public.
Ford engineers, many of whom also work on the larger 6.7-liter Power Stroke turbodiesel V8 engine in Super Duty trucks, said they sometimes forget they were driving a diesel engine. That is a bit of a stretch. The accelerator pedal noticeably transmits more rumble to the driver’s foot than gasoline versions. Roll the window down under acceleration and a screeching turbo whine is distinctive.
But the F-150 Diesel offers an impressive package. The F-150 Lariat 4×2 Diesel driven to Los Angeles carried a base MSRP of $43,875. That includes a $2,400 premium over Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 and $4,000 over the 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 gasoline engines.
The 2018 Ford F-150 Diesel is a new take on an old idea. Thanks to improved technology, refinement and efficiency it’s no longer in danger of becoming a fossil.