CHICAGO -- Nissan wants consumers, dealers and the media to help decide whether to put a turbocharged four-cylinder Cummins diesel engine into its mid-sized Frontier pickup, which would make it one of the few small-diesel trucks in the United States.
Nissan unveiled what it called a "technical study" concept of the Frontier Thursday at the Chicago Auto Show, bearing a 2.8-liter turbo-diesel engine that would deliver almost 200 hp and 350 pounds-feet of torque.
Fred Diaz, Nissan senior vice president for U.S. sales and marketing, parts and service, said the engine could change the dynamics of the segment, putting towing power and fuel economy into an moderately priced mid-sized pickup.
"Fuel economy is where the market is going, and we think we can capture a large percentage of that small- and mid-sized truck market," Diaz said.
He added: "Will we build it? We want to see what the public says, and what they tell us they think about this truck."
One Nissan dealer who happened to be in Diaz's audience immediately approached him to vote yes.
"I'd like it right now," Chuck Piano, president of the Chicago-area Orland Park Nissan, told Diaz. "We can sell this right now. I can see them waiting in line for this. It's perfect for young people who want a Ford F-250 diesel but can't afford one."
Diaz says the study is still under way, and declined to speculate on what the sticker price might be. But he estimated that the Cummins diesel would improve the Frontier's fuel efficiency by more than 35 percent over the current 4.0-liter V-6 version of the truck, which gets 16 mpg city/ 21 mpg highway.
Production cost and pricing will be key issues, said Pierre Loing, Nissan North America vice president for product planning.
"The business case will have to be studied," Loing said. "This is a price-sensitive segment, and diesel engines cost a bit more."
Nissan's proposal comes just six months after Diaz unveiled plans to install a turbocharged Cummins 5.0-liter V-8 diesel into the next generation of the full-sized Titan pickup.
The redesigned Titan will be unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January 2015, Nissan officials have said.