Sunday, February 25, 2018

History of the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel

Two days ago I replaced my 2013 Tundra with a 2015 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. I am loving my new truck. It's so much more comfortable to drive than the Tundra and a lot zippier too.

The Ram EcoDiesel is the first half-ton diesel pickup available in the United States since the 1978-79 Dodge D100 and D200. Ram's truck includes a 3.0-liter V-6 EcoDiesel engine made in Italy by VM Motori, a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) subsidiary. Chrysler itself has been part of FCA since 2014 (though Fiat began its relationship with Chrysler in 2009--including their initial investment).

The truck has been available since early 2014.

Diesels appeal to me because they are better at pulling trailers (more torque) and they get much better fuel economy than gasoline powered trucks.

The Engine

The EcoDiesel engine makes this truck unique. Why it took Detroit 36 years to offer another light-duty diesel truck is something I don’t understand. The EcoDiesel has its roots in a partnership between VM Motori and GM. GM wanted a diesel engine for a European Cadillac they hoped to offer. The bankruptcy of GM in 2009 ended the budding partnership with VM Motori.

With its new relationship with Fiat, Chrysler/Ram picked up where GM left off and worked with Motori to develop what became branded as the EcoDiesel engine. By 2013 they were previewing the engine at auto shows ahead of its 2014 debut. Despite its long-standing relationship with Cummins, Cummins didn’t have an engine appropriate for a light duty truck--although they would have one by 2016 available through Nissan.

Fiat/Motori’s newly developed engine is built on a compacted graphite iron block. This is a strong material that allowed them to reduce the size of the block, also reducing the weight of the engine. Another innovation is the dual overhead camshaft design. This is the first diesel engine to use this technology (it's long been available in gas engines). The engine is rated to tow 8,000 to 9,200 pounds (based on the configuration) and delivers the best fuel economy of any full-sized pickup truck.

The new EcoDiesel engine has had a higher failure rate than most engines. It is likely that there has been at least a 3% failure rate in the first few model years (2014-2016). FCA replaces these failed engines (unless there is strong evidence that it wasn't properly maintained). The drivetrain on these trucks comes with a 100,000 mile warranty and most of the failures seem to be happening at 20,000 miles or less. The auto press doesn't seem to have covered this story much but you can read about it on this online forum for the 1500 Ram EcoDiesel.

On the positive side, on the same forum linked to above, there are no reports of 2017 Ram EcoDiesels failing yet (as of 2/27/18). Read the thread on how 2017s are doing here.

Despite what sounds like one possible very bad problem, through all of my online reading most owners seem to be very happy with this truck, but it seems clear that it's no Toyota Tundra regarding reliability. That was something I knew and took into consideration before my trade. Though there was plenty I didn't know.

Ram EcoDiesel Timeline and conflict with the EPA
  • February 2014--Ram EcoDiesel goes on sale with strong initial orders.
  • Circa March 2014--EcoDiesels begin arriving, and hitting the streets.
  • 2015 and 2016--Sales continue with new model years arriving at dealer lots. More than 100,000 Ram EcoDiesels sold by the end of 2016.
  • January 12, 2017--EPA and California regulators issue a "Notice of Violation" against Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), Ram's parent corporation, alleging violations of the Clean Air Act due to changes to vehicle software allowing excessive (and illegal) levels of nitrogen oxides into the air.
  • January 2017--FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne "disputes any resemblance to VW’s Dieselgate scandal because nothing in FCA’s diesel calibration distinguishes between a test cycle and normal driving conditions," which was the case with VW. “This is a huge difference because there has never been an intention on the part of FCA to create conditions that are designed to defeat the testing process,” Marchionne said.  More at Wards Auto
  • 2017 Sales Hold--during 2017 sales of new EcoDiesels were put on hold. I am not sure when the sales hold began, but likely shortly after the January 12 notice from the EPA. It's not clear if any 2017s were delivered in late 2016 or very early 2017, but if they were, it was likely not many. 
  • July 28, 2017--EPA and California regulators approve 2017 EcoDiesels to go on sale. But approval is not granted for 2018 models.
  • Late September 2017--2017 EcoDiesels begin showing up at dealer lots according to Automotive News
  • December 2017--From Bloomberg: "Fiat Chrysler has acknowledged in a term sheet the company submitted to the government lawyers, the need for a settlement to include civil penalties, an emissions fix for the diesel vehicles and environmental mitigation efforts, the letter said. The automaker proposed committing to projects to promote low- or zero-emissions “mobility projects” in the December term sheet, which the Justice Department said regulators would be willing to consider."
  • December 31, 2017?--FCA ends production of 2017 year EcoDiesels? Just a guess.
  • January 27, 2018--U.S. Justice Department gives FCA a settlement offer. FCA would need to pay a substantial but unspecified civil penalty and recall and fix 104,000 vehicles, mostly Ram 1500 with EcoDiesel engines. The fix involves a software update. Importantly, given the recent VW situation, there is not talk of buying back these vehicles. 
  • January/February 2018--Based on posts in online forums dealers were initially taking orders for 2018 Ram EcoDiesels, but then stopped. The status of the 2018 model year is unknown and it appears that no 2018s exist or at least have been released. Currently a large number of new 2017s remain available via Ram dealers, many of these were manufactured late last year mostly so they haven't been sitting all that long yet (you can check the manufacture date inside the door). If you like this truck, this is a good time to buy since dealers are always motivated to get rid of last year's model. Based on my browsing online you should be able to get at least 33% off of MSRP. One California dealer was being even more aggressive
  • February 27, 2018 Update--Today auto journalist Tim Esterdahl heard from his contact at Ram who said there are "no issues with the EPA. The 2018 EcoDiesel is certified. They just haven’t hit dealer lots due to the production mix at the factory." There is a lot of mixed information out there about the 2018s, I'll be writing a separate post about them. Thanks to Tim for this update. I told him I am a little skeptical, but who knows? I am just passing on what he was told. Go to his website at https://pickuptrucktalk.com and follow him for truck news. Also subscribe to his channel on YouTube, he's near a threshold there and needs more subscribers. 
Diesel and the rest of the American Big Three

Ram, GM, and Ford have offered heavier duty diesels for years. These trucks are the work horses of our times--3/4 ton and larger. They are also expensive, starting at $45,000 to $50,000 these days, with $60k to $75k+ being common. They also hold their resale value as they tend to last for hundreds of thousands of miles if cared for properly. Half-ton trucks and smaller offer another story.


After years of talk, Ford is expected to join the half-ton diesel market circa April of 2018 with a diesel option on their F-150.

GM's play in this space began with their 2016 model year. They introduced the mid-sized Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups, offering what's branded as a Duramax diesel. These engines are made in Thailand. The 2019 Silverado 1500 and its GMC twin will be available with a new Duramax diesel, GM announced in January of 2018. I don't believe a release date has been announced and new diesel trucks are often delayed as Ford has demonstrated.

Honorable mention to Nissan who joined this light duty diesel market in the 2016 model year, successfully getting a brand new Cummins diesel in their half-ton pickup. This was something of a coup for them.

With the price of fuel at historic lows (when adjusting for inflation) demand for diesels is likely to remain soft, but there are many of us who love them for many reasons in addition to fuel economy.

A final personal note

My EcoDiesel is the third diesel I've owned:
  • 2006 Ram 2500 with a Cummins engine, excellent for pulling a 25-foot Airstream I had 10 years ago
  • 2012 VW Jetta TDI--I loved this car but sold it back to VW under the terms of their settlement offer mandated as a result of their blatant cheating
  • Now my 2015 Ram EcoDiesel
Having gone through what I did with my Jetta, all of the EPA-related issues Ram/FCA is dealing with aren't especially alarming (VW took good care of us). FCA CEO's comment about how this is different than what VW did resonates with me. FCA made modifications for performance, which they failed to get approved, that's a world away from designing a vehicle to behave differently while being tested. For me the advantages of diesel are big enough that I am willing to jump on this boat and see where it takes me. I was not fully aware of all of this when I made my purchase, but oh well. 

Goodbye Tundra. Toyota Tundras have a reputation as being long-lasting reliable trucks, though not flashy. Toyota gets dinged in the automotive press for not staying up with the times, but Toyota loyalists like the simplicity of the Tundras. As for me, I just wasn't feeling it after I bought my new travel trailer which was lighter but much less aerodynamic than the vintage Airstream I had last year. Getting 8 mpgs when towing last week was the final straw. The Tundra's engine always felt unusually revvy to me too--it was something I just didn't get used to I guess. 

Despite not knowing much of what I've learned, and written about here, I remain happy with my purchase. Of course it's early days still . . . here's to my new truck being a good one!
My now rejected Tundra in the foreground with my new Ram EcoDiesel, photographed this past Friday evening at Larry H. Miller in Bountiful, Utah. The Tundra is a good truck, it just wasn't the truck I wanted any more with its awful mileage and revvy engine. It's powerful enough to tow my little travel trailer, but it felt like it was straining to me and the 8 mpgs it was delivering was just not acceptable. My truck is also my daily vehicle. The smaller Ram with its better mileage won me over. 
External Links--More on Light Duty Diesels

Read about the predicted future of diesel in this Detroit Free Press article from February 20, 2018. One of its key points is that diesel in the U.S. isn't going away any time soon, though diesel is under threat, especially in Europe, as a result of the VW cheating scandal.

More on the previous light-duty diesel: Automotive History: The Case Of The Very Rare 1978 Dodge Diesel Pickup And The Missing Diesel Van

To go more in-depth on the EcoDiesel engine read An Inside Look At The Ram 1500 3.0L EcoDiesel from Engine Labs.

Cummins Hub also has more detail on the engine, see Ram EcoDiesel Specs


If you have any corrections, additional relevant information, 
or something good to say--please leave a comment!

3 comments:

Elise Ann Daniel said...

Congratulations on your new truck and welcome back to the Diesel Engine, they can't be beat!!!

nielsencc86 said...

Call me crazy but I believe the duramax engine in the Colorado/canyon are also made by VM Motori

Jim Breitinger said...

Nielsencc,

The Duramax used in the Colorado/Canyon is manufactured in a GM plant located in Thailand. No connection to FCA or its Italian subsidiary VM Motori.

It does seem to be a good engine.

Jim