Diesel. Grand. Coming.
Jeep has confirmed rumors that the elusive diesel-powered Grand Cherokee is bound, once again, for the U.S. market. The diesel Grand will be available as a 2013 model and will be powered by the same Fiat-designed and VM Motori-built 3.0L V-6 that the international-market Grand gets. Expect more than 230hp and 400 lb-ft of torque in U.S.-spec trim. Call us crazy, but we wouldn’t be surprised to hear an official announcement of a U.S.-spec diesel Wrangler before the end of the year.
At the recent North American International Auto Show in Detroit, we ran across a vehicle in the Nissan booth calling itself the “Nissan Pathfinder Concept.” Clearly, the Pathfinder concept represents the heritage of the Pathfinder in name only. Instead of allowing the Pathfinder nameplate to die with dignity, the new Pathfinder will trade body-on-frame construction for the car-based chassis of the Infiniti JX and lose the two-speed transfer case and any sort of real off-road capability. Fortunately for enthusiasts, the Xterra will carry on as Nissan’s last true off-road SUV and will continue to be based on the body-on-frame Frontier pickup, which is due before 2014.
Questioning The Top:
Continuing our series of interviews with top automotive executives, we sat down with Doug Scott, Truck Group Marketing Manager of Ford Motor Company and discussed the state of Ford Trucks.
FW: Ford is currently a leader in applying new technologies to trucks. What technologies and features do you see as important to the growth and success of the brand moving forward?
Scott: Our customers consider the truck a tool. We are driven by customer mentality to continue to make that tool more productive. We are going to pursue all of the technologies available to us to make that truck a more productive tool.
FW: Over the last decade as trucks have become more capable, we have seen a commensurate increase in size and weight. As new regulations kick in, will we see a time where we will start having to shrink size and weight, potentially losing capability, to meet these requirements?
Scott: Our approach, like with EcoBoost, is to deliver an end solution. With EcoBoost we gave the customer more performance, more trailer tow capability, and we gave them better fuel economy. That is a formula for success, and that is the kind of formula we will be pursuing going forward. I don’t envision us giving the customer less in terms of capability or size of the truck.
FW: Has the advent of pairing direct injection with smaller displacement turbocharged engines essentially replaced the idea of a light-duty diesel in the 1⁄2-ton segment, specifically the F-150, or will Ford be relying on gasoline technologies to get the economy and capability customers demand?
Scott: First off, you can never close the door (on diesel) and the company’s position has been to look at different powertrain technologies to fit different customer needs and I don’t think that differs here … so I would never say no, there is never a prospect of a light-duty diesel. Now having said that, the beauty of EcoBoost and the reason you sell 109,000+ in less than a full year, is that it is very accessible. The price position, especially compared to diesel, is very favorable. So right now I think it is the right strategy for the market to provide an engine that offers 420 lb-ft of torque and up to 23mpg on the highway, and yet for only $895 dollars over the 5.0L (V-8). I think that is a pretty good value proposition. So again, the door is open, but we think EcoBoost is doing a great job for us right now.
FW: Is EcoBoost primarily a small-displacement technology, or will we see it expanded to V-8s?
Scott: I wouldn’t necessarily put any limits on it, I think there are certainly other opportunities for the application of EcoBoost and we’ll be evaluating those.
FW: This trend of capability wars in the fullsize truck segment is reminiscent of the muscle car power wars of the ’60s and ’70s. Do you see that ending or will we continue to push the envelope as far as the customer will accept it?
Scott: I can remember when we introduced the 6.0L Power Stroke diesel and at the time we were talking about 500 lb-ft of torque, and now today we are at a best-in-class 800 (lb-ft of torque) and people would have thought, “Are you out of your mind?” The customer continues to tell us, “I want more,” so that’s where our mindset is. So we are thinking about what is beyond 800 lb-ft. This is just an example of the whole truck space where the customer wants more capability, whether it is towing, hauling, engine performance, fuel economy—they just want more.
FW: Considering the success of Raptor, why hasn’t Ford developed an off-road-centric SUV, a neo-Bronco if you will, to compete in that space knowing that the Ford customer is an avid off-roader and may want a body style beyond Raptor to fit their needs?
Scott: We have looked all along at other opportunities, but I think it becomes a prioritization issue. It’s not so much that a need isn’t recognized or an opportunity isn’t recognized, it’s how can you prioritize that within the whole portfolio of vehicles that we need to bring to market. And do you have all of the engineering resource, and obviously the funding resource to pursue those opportunities. Generally you don’t and you end up prioritizing. We have certainly learned more about the potential in the off-road space as a result of Raptor and I would say the watchwords are “stay tuned.”
FW: As the F-150 has stayed true to the leaf sprung rear suspension, competitors such as Ram have brought coil-sprung rear suspensions to market. How has that affected Ford, and is it a credible threat in the 1⁄2-ton market?
Scott: The best feedback that we could get is the market performance feedback and when you look at our market performance over the last two years, our share of the 1⁄2-ton pickup market is basically at a 10-year high with F-150. So I think that is pretty clear validation that prioritizing capability, yet delivering a very good ride, has been the right decision for us. So I think that is the proper validation that our choice on the suspension technology was the right way to go.
FW: Has the commitment GM has made to the Colorado’s return spurred Ford to reconsider the Ranger’s return to North America?
Scott: We think that what’s happened in that—I am going to call it compact, but frankly most of the players there are midsize trucks—is that the midsize truck idea is a difficult proposition from a customer standpoint because of the overlap in price and fuel economy. Our customers have made the decision that a fullsize is a better value proposition when you consider how close the fuel economy is and how similar the price is. So what the customer is telling us is that the opportunity, if there is one, is in a true compact where you can really deliver that significant difference in price and fuel economy, and as always, we are looking at those opportunities.
Anyone who has recently been in the market for a Wrangler knows how long the wait can be to get just the one you want. In 2011, Jeep sold an incredible 122,460 Wranglers to eager customers here in the U.S., while another 26,278 Wranglers were churned out for international customers—an increase of 30 percent and 10 percent over 2010. With the plant running two shifts that total 20 hours a day, six days a week, there isn’t much room for an increase in output, but Jeep and the UAW have agreed to push out 100 more Wranglers per day by summer.
Last year Ford sold one F-Series truck every 54 seconds.
BFGoodrich Tires claimed its 25th overall Baja 1000 win.
Toyota is said to be engineering a Prius-like hybrid drive system for the next-generation Tundra, due in 2014.
Shot in the Wild
We found this ’78 Power Wagon on the side of the road in San Marcos, California. In its former life it was a brush fire truck in the small mountain town of Julian, California.