Nissan Considering Diesel for Midsize Frontier Pickup

But other options, including hybrid, also under study.

by on Feb.06, 2014

Nissan teamed with Cummins on the Frontier diesel concept debuting in Chicago.

After a long and near complete absence from the American automotive market, diesels are again gaining traction, a growing number of makers offering them this year, with more to follow – and nowhere is that more apparent than in the full-size pickup segment where Chrysler is winning kudos for the EcoDiesel in its big Ram 1500, while rival Nissan has announced plans to add a diesel when it launches its next-generation Titan for 2016.

But the Japanese maker brought another possible diesel option to this year’s Chicago Auto Show, a concept version of its midsize Frontier truck featuring an engine produced by Nissan’s diesel partner Cummins.

Keep on Truckin'!

And a senior official broadly hinted that the prototype, dubbed the Nissan Frontier Diesel Runner, could soon wind up in production.

“Will we build it? We want to see what the public tells us,” said Nissan’s head of U.S. sales, Fred Diaz.

The diesel the maker showed is a Cummins-made 2.8-liter inline four making 200 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque through an 8-speed ZF gearbox.

The Cummins diesel should use 35% less fuel - but deliver 60 lb-ft more torque than the Frontier's V-6.

“We project an approximately 35% increase in fuel economy over the current Frontier V-6,” said Diaz, “On top of 60 lb-ft of additional torque.”

While the diesel is clearly an option Nissan is taking seriously, the executive cautioned the company “is looking at other possibilities” to improve the fuel economy of the midsize Frontier, “pretty much anything you can think of,” including a possible hybrid powertrain. But the combination of better mileage and more torque “makes a lot of sense” in the pickup segment.

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Nissan has already confirmed it will add a big V-8 diesel when it launches the next-generation full-size Titan pickup. A specific date has not yet been released, though Diaz hinted that the next Titan just might make an appearance at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show, an annual event that traditionally has been known for seeing some major truck debuts.

The smaller Frontier is currently just one of two competitors in the midsize pickup segment, along with the market leading Toyota Tacoma. But after years of decline, the segment is gaining a bit of momentum as General Motors prepares to introduce two new models, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Many analysts expect that the addition of new sheet metal could boost overall segment sales, floating all boats, so to speak.

(Click Here to see Toyota go to extremes with its new trucks.)

“I personally see the midsize truck segment starting to grow,” concurred Diaz.

The Frontier should be due for its own update in a few years, meanwhile, and the Nissan executive was asked whether it might follow the GM model which sees Colorado and Canyon grow a bit larger and better equipped than the traditional segment entry.

Noting Nissan is now “studying whether to grow the dimensions of the next Frontier,” Diaz cautioned that this isn’t necessarily the best approach. In fact, past efforts to move such trucks up-market may actually have backfired, adding to the reasons why the once-huge segment has declined so dramatically over the past decade or so.

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“One of the mistakes manufacturers made in the past,” said Diaz, was making midsize models nearly as big – and expensive – as full-size pickups. That just gave buyers a reason to switch to models like the Titan, the Ford F-Series and GM’s full-size Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. That’s a mistake Nissan doesn’t want to make when a new Frontier comes to market, he stressed.

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