How GM missed the truck fuel economy race, and how it will return

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The pickup truck fuel economy race is between Chrysler’s Ram 1500 and the upcoming aluminum-bodied F-150 coming late this year.

But the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra should’ve been contenders.

Six years ago, GM was installing production machinery in its Tonowanda, N.Y., engine plant to build an advanced, 4.5-liter Duramax diesel V-8 for the light duty Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra.

But then GM ran out of money. And the company’s bankruptcy killed that engine.

If that wasn’t bad enough for GM, the Ram 1500 likely would not own the fuel economy crown today -- at 28 mpg highway -- were it not for General Motors.

In 2006, GM announced that it was developing a 3.0-liter twin turbo diesel V-6 that would be launched in 2009 in the European version of the Cadllac CTS. But Cadillac failed in Europe, and the bankruptcy saw GM’s engine partner, VM Motori, finish that engine. Fiat now owns VM Motori, and that’s how, in effect, the Cadillac V-6 ended up under the hood of the Ram.

The success of the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel has Ford scrambling to boost the fuel economy of the upcoming aluminum-bodied F-150 coming late this year. Last week, details emerged in Ford’s dealer order guide for the truck showing there will be an SFE of Super Fuel Economy version of the F-150.

That truck is clearly aimed at one thing: putting up eye-popping EPA numbers that knock the Ram EcoDiesel out of first place in the pickup truck fuel economy race.

Considering the fates of the 3.0-liter V-6 in the Europe and the stillborn 4.5-liter V-8, GM has had mostly bad luck with diesels in the U.S. since the 1980s.

But Steve Kiefer, GM's vice president of global powertrain, today at the 2014 Management Briefing Seminars gave a bullish presentation about GM's future diesel plans. 

Listening to Kiefer’s enthusiasm for diesels, you get the feeling that GM's bad luck is about to change -- and it won't be by accident. 

You can reach Richard Truett at