Combustion v. Compression

Do medium-duty trucks run better on diesel engines or gasoline power? If you only consider the price at the pump, you may be missing the bigger picture Web Extra!


"We have a fleet specialist here who handles all the calls and works with Isuzu, and when we can do (maintenance) on a dealer level that's fine," he says, "but all our franchisees are responsible for doing their own maintenance, and whether they go to a local mechanic or whether they have scheduled service that they go into an Isuzu dealer for, it's up to the FP and what makes sense in their region."

While the company doesn't force franchisees to use the Isuzu dealer network for their maintenance and repair needs, Joost hopes they will, for one simple reason:

"It's a lot easier if you want to return it, if there's warranty info," Joost explains. "It's a lot easier for us to go to Isuzu and say, ‘What do we do about this? It's a month out of warranty.' And they've helped us a lot on that; they've really been an awesome company. We've had issues where it's a month out and they say ‘This guy's taken the truck in to the same dealership for every service, the service was just performed a few months ago, this should not have happened, we'll cover it.' They really have been a pleasure to work with."

DIESEL CLATTER

But some medium-duty fleets just can't get away from that diesel clatter, and Chrysler LLC Commercial Vehicles is ready to serve them. The company recently deleted its only gas engine option, the 3.5L V6, on its medium-duty trucks, leaving its Class-4 and 5 Sprinter van, like its Ram Chassis Cab cousin, a diesel-only proposition.

"We never really expected the gas engine in the Sprinter to be a high runner," explains Pamela Niekamp, senior manager--commercial vehicle marketing and product planning for Chrysler LLC Commercial Vehicles. "Our diesel engine is a very good engine that offers superior fuel economy. It's a Mercedes-Benz engine, and it's been one of the strengths of the Sprinter product."

The gas engine was offered on the U.S. spec' Sprinter when the redesigned model was introduced because it was being offered already in other markets. Because the vehicle is produced in Germany, disassembled and shipped across the Atlantic, and then re-assembled in the U.S., it was a simple enough matter to mix the gasoline engine version into the supply chain.

"We thought that there would be a certain niche segment of our customer base that would prefer the gas engine," she says. "The concern was that the gas engine in the Sprinter required premium fuel, and in this environment, with the price of fuel, it just became prohibitive to the point that fewer of our customers were able to make use of that option than we had expected."

CUSTOMER RESEARCH

That decision to focus on the 3.0L V6 turbodiesel for the Sprinter reflects what the company discovered during the development process of its medium-duty Ram Chassis Cabs. The majority of respondents to Chrysler's research said that they required a diesel engine for the majority of their type of work. The reasons cited for their preference for diesel power included diesel's reputation for being long-lasting, durable and reliable, well-suited to hauling and towing, and fuel-efficient.

"There were some that preferred a gas engine, and they cited things like a less-expensive acquisition price, being easier to maintain, from their point-of-view, but it was our conclusion, in the end, that the lack of a gas-powered medium-duty truck wasn't a deal-breaker," Niekamp says.

Interestingly, when Sterling Trucks wanted to offer its own version of the Ram medium-duty chassis cab, "The Bullet," Sterling marketers didn't entirely trust Dodge's market research.

"They asked us the same question: ‘Aren't you concerned about not having a gas engine in your lineup?'" Niekamp says. "‘No,' we said, ‘here's our research, here's what our customers say.'

"Well, they wanted confirmation, so they did research of their own, and their research, to their surprise, replicated what we found," she says. "Most of the fleet customers they talked to had a mix of gasoline and diesel-powered trucks in their fleets, but their preference skewed--and this is their word--'severely' towards diesel. And it was for all the same reasons we found in our research."

Sterling's research did point to some regional preferences: for example, fleets in Los Angeles preferred diesel over gas, much moreso than in other areas of the country. Likewise, diesel preference was high in certain vocations, such as utilities and construction.

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