Making the Case for a Diesel Ram Power Wagon
Impassioned calls for Ram to drop the Cummins 6.7-liter inline-six diesel into the Power Wagon are not new, nor is Ram’s response. I recently spoke with Jeff Johnson, Ram’s brand manager for heavy duty trucks, who unequivocally stated, “Ram has no plans to offer the Power Wagon with a diesel.”
Johnson pointed to the increased weight of the 6.7-liter Cummins versus the 6.4-liter Hemi V8 presently under Power Wagon hoods, as well as the difficulty of engineering the front end to accommodate both the diesel’s cooling requirements and the truck’s standard 12,000-pound winch.
We accept the reality of these challenges. But could Ram overcome them?
Absolutely, though Ram’s engineers have determined the cost outweighs the benefits. Even setting my enthusiast hat aside, I am not confident that bypassing this opportunity altogether is the best choice for Ram.
According to Cummins, the B-series 6.7-liter turbodiesel weighs 1,100 pounds. The 6.4-liter Hemi currently found in the Power Wagon weighs in around 500 pounds. Ensuring this three-quarter-ton pickup maintains its off-pavement agility with a 500-lb weight penalty over the front axle is no small matter. And Ram already had to compensate for the 130-lb Warn winch tucked into the front bumper. The Power Wagon is undeniably mass-challenged.
There are, however, untapped weight-reducing measures available to Ram that do not involve structural changes or exotic materials. For example, the steel hood and front fenders could be made of aluminum. This change would not only shed mass but provide the opportunity for additional visual distinction versus the standard Ram 2500 (see Raptor). There is also weight to shed in some of the suspension components, radiator, and wheels. And the winch could be specified with synthetic line versus the wire rope presently wrapped around its drum. Taken together, a modest light-weighting effort could shave more than 150 pounds.
Let’s remember that the Power Wagon is not a desert pre-runner. It is, according to Mike Manley, head of the Jeep and Ram brands, “an off-road, all-access pass.” And a 300-400 pound weight penalty, though unwelcome, is not going to materially alter the capabilities of this 7,000 pound truck. Power Wagon is not the lithe ultimate fighter of the off-road world; it’s the heavyweight boxer.
Full-size truck engine bays are no longer something you can step into. Just try adding a dual-battery setup to any 2017 truck. It’s no longer a simple bolt-in project. The same can be said of the space between the radiator fan and bumper, particularly when adding an intercooler. Ram is correct when they say there is no space to accommodate the fan, radiator, intercooler, and winch in a current diesel-powered 2500 truck.
Heat is one of the biggest threats to diesel engine performance and longevity, making Ram’s caution well placed. Nonetheless, the stock intercooler is prime for replacement with a unit combining larger end tanks, a denser core, and higher quality materials. Air flow could also be more actively managed through a reconfigured bumper. And much like the proposed changes to the bodywork, a new front bumper would give Ram a chance to further visually distinguish the Power Wagon from its HD stablemates.
Ram could even afford to push the bumper out an inch or two. Its current 33.6-degree approach angle is already the envy of the pickup market (Raptor’s is 30 degrees; an F-250 4×4, 20 degrees). The current stealth-look front bumper could also be re-contoured to accommodate an improved approach angle to counteract a modest increase in depth. As with the light-weighting measures and revised intercooler, model-specific engineering would come at a cost to consumers. Nonetheless, truck buyers have signaled their willingness to spend more. According to Kelly Blue Book, the trim escalation war continues with full-size pickup average transaction prices climbing over $46,000 last year.
Checking the Cummins diesel box on your Ram 2500 order costs $9,200. As eye-watering as that number is, more than 80 percent of Ram HD buyers opt in. A recent visit to my local dealer showed 15 Ram 2500s on the lot, every single one a diesel. For Ram, the strong take rate on diesels equates to a massive uptick in revenue versus gas-powered rigs. If every HD buyer had opted for a 5.7 or 6.4-liter gas engine in 2016, Ram would have foregone $1.3 billion in revenue. That’s 1 percent of the Italian-American automaker’s annual global revenue. And then there are the consumers who purchase a Ram HD based largely on the availability of its Cummins engine. It’s difficult to estimate how many fewer pickups Ram would sell were it not for the 800 lb-ft monster lurking under its hood. To call the Cummins engine a big deal for Ram is an understatement.
What would the sales prospects be for a Cummins Power Wagon? If a diesel Power Wagon were available, it would cannibalize sales of some other Ram 2500 trucks, though at a higher transaction price. And despite the legendary loyalty of truck owners, a diesel Power Wagon would attract some buyers who would otherwise select a Ford, GM, Toyota, or Nissan product. All in, a diesel Power Wagon would attract more buyers, but remain a niche truck. So while the diesel Power Wagon would generate more revenue for Ram ($100 million-plus annually at an 80-percent take rate), the financial benefits alone may be insufficient to justify its development. But there are other reasons truck makers greenlight projects like this.
Ford is the overall leader in full-size pickups but, despite offering dozens of grilles and engines, it does not own every niche. For example, Nissan put the Cummins 5.0-liter V8 in the Titan XD to target the white space between the Ram 3.0-liter EcoDiesel and the big 6.6 and 6.7-liter diesels. And while Ford is busy racing through the desert at 100 mph, Ram has an opportunity to extend its leadership in the HD off-road space. The wider the lead Ram builds, the longer it can keep the HD Off-Road niche to itself.
The biggest, the most, the best — this is how full-size trucks have been advertised for decades. Consumers absorb the message, then visit a dealer. They may not drive out with the only dedicated heavy duty off-road truck with diesel power capable of towing 18,000 pounds. But it does not matter what they take home, as long as the message resonates and they visit a Ram dealer. An improved Power Wagon would wear a stronger halo.
What to Expect
Changing a major system such as an engine in a highly engineered product like an automobile, which contains more than 30,000 individual parts, is a complex undertaking. One change cascades into another, and then another. Going diesel means switching from the 68RFE automatic transmission to the 66RFE, which in turn may necessitate revised skid plates, driveline, and other adjustments. Nonetheless, the auto industry has overcome these complexities, and produces thousands of configurations and component combinations on the same production line every day. Neither the engineering nor the production constraints are sufficient justification to prevent a diesel Power Wagon from becoming a reality.
An all-new heavy duty Ram is due out in 2018/2019. Declining to make the modest investment necessary to put a Cummins in the current generation Power Wagon is probably a sound business decision. And all the changes required to incorporate the Cummins into the Power Wagon with minimal compromise will come at a cost that will be easier for consumers to swallow if it arrives as an all-new model. Not only that, but denying the possibility of a diesel Power Wagon is marketing 101.
If consumers were aware that Cummins motivation was on the way, sales of current model Power Wagons would suffer. So, don’t hold your breath for any announcements soon, but know that Cummins power is a realistic possibility in the next-generation Power Wagon.
[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles]
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I agree with a lot of what the author has to say. Financially, it might be tough a proposition to engineer and sell a diesel Power Wagon, though with the offroading/overlanding market the way it is, I'm sure they would sell just fine. But certainly in terms of market presence and reputation, FCA has a lot of reasons to build a diesel version. Ram's pickup sales lag behind those of Ford and GM's. I'd argue the decision for Chrysler to merge with Fiat has something to do with that, but I'd also argue that Ford and GM have done a much better job of fostering and developing their reputation with consumers. A lot of people buy Ford F-150's not because they necessarily need the capability or understand how the vehicle is built, but because they are diehard "Ford guys" (loyalists if you will). Dodge, now Ram (under FCA's management), used to have the same reputation back in the day, largely because they were one of the first companies to put a reliable diesel in a North American pickup. I think FCA's current management of certain brands (Jeep and even Ram) has dissuaded a lot of traditional buyers and newcomers. The fact that Ram still uses the reputable and reliable Cummins inline 6 diesel is one of the main reasons that its HD pickups sell so well. The trucks themselves have had questionable build quality at times (I think it has improved in recent years), but the venerable 5.9L Cummins, and the 6.7L that followed it, is what kept Ram viable in the truck market. They should put a Cummins diesel (whether it be a 6.7L inline 6 or 5.0l V8) in the Power Wagon to cement their reputation and dominance in the HD offroad segment. I get the argument for the gasoline engine option: lighter weight, better packaging, ect. But aftermarket companies, like AEV, Carli and Thuren, have demonstrated that with the right suspension setup, the big, heavy diesels can handle themselves just fine offroad. Those companies, which have a fraction of the budget that FCA has, have been able to make the 3/4 ton diesel work offroad...FCA should be well capable of doing the same. As for comments on here claiming that modern gasoline engines make a diesel Power Wagon irrelevant offroad or for general 4x4 use, I'd say you're out of the loop. The rest of the world has recognized the greater utility (namely better torque and fuel economy) that diesel offers in truck usage. For the longest time, diesels in North America were relegated mostly to towing and highway use. With the GM Colorado/Canyon, Ram 1500 ecodiesel, and future arrival of diesel variants for the new Ranger, F-150 and Jeep, diesels are starting to become more prevalent in all segments of the truck/SUV market. Their emissions, while problematic in the past, have seen significant improvements over the last few years, as have their fuel economy and overall reliability. I've no doubt the manufacturers will continue to improve upon these designs. The simple reality is that any work a gasoline truck is going to do will be done more easily and more efficiently by a diesel variant. Modern emission systems, as complicated as they are, haven't changed that.
Detroit Diesel could build a better Diesel than Cummings with more HP and Torque