I hate to beat a dead horse, but by now you've probably heard that full-size truck & SUV sales ain't doing so hot lately. Most models are down by double-digit percentages, including import brands such as the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan. Some pundits are already proclaiming that the full-size truck's long-standing reign is coming to an end. Are the days in which you could automatically proclaim the Ford F-series the sales king over? Perhaps. But are trucks going to be forever relegated to bottom-feeder status on the sales charts? I don't think so.
A few trends come into play here. First off, we're in a recession, the housing market is in the dumps, and along with this cyclical economic downturn (exacerbated in large part by corrupt and unethical lending practices, and financially ignorant consumers) demand by contractors and workers in the construction trade for pickups likewise drops.
So it's pretty apparent that once the economy and housing market picks up again, the tide will raise pickup sales along with it. But what bodes even better for the long-term prospects of pickups is something customers haven't had for a long time, if ever. An economical, capable engine option that simultaneously delivers outstanding fuel economy as well as a substantial towing and hauling capacity. Nope, I'm not talking about the new hybrid trucks, since you do sacrifice some capability for the George Jetson drivetrain. Starting in around the 2010 model year, half-ton diesels will be rolled out by all of the domestic manufacturers.
Heck, even this compact car devotee is pondering the prospect of a pickup. Why, you ask? Well, right now, my Mazda Protegé5 averages about 22-23 miles per gallon in mixed driving. Not awful, but not great. The new Duramax 4500 is projected to get about 25 percent better fuel economy than its gasoline counterpart, the most obvious comparable engine being the 5.3L Vortec. The
Vortec gets about 15 city/20 highway. Crunching the numbers, you're looking at about 18 city/25 highway for the diesel half-ton Silverado. The overall average based on EPA figures would be 21.5 miles per gallon. So for a vehicle that gets about the same fuel economy as my little Mazda, but can tow 10,000+ pounds, hay bales, manure, lumber, or whatever else you want to throw at it, the
practicality proposition of the truck starts to go way up.
A few caveats. Yes, diesel fuel is about 8-10 percent more expensive than premium unleaded, and the diesel option itself is probably going to run in the neighborhood of $5,000 or more. So for a nicely-equipped Silverado LTZ with the diesel, you're looking at the mid-high 40s, or maybe even flirting with $50k. Not cheap. But if you plan on keeping it for 10 years, put over 100,000 miles on it, and making full use of its capabilities, you could make a pretty compelling case that it would be money well-spent.
The way I see it, half-ton diesel sales could go one of two ways: fail miserably, or take off like wildfire beyond anyone's wildest imaginations. Based on the meteoric rise in popularity of 3/4 and 1-ton diesels in the past several years (the first half of 2008 excepted) I'm predicting the latter. What do you think?