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By RICHARD TRUETT
Automotive News

DETROIT - Ford Motor Co. plans to offer a 4.5-liter V-6 diesel engine in the F-150 pickup, Expedition and E-150 van, possibly as early as the 2005 model year, industry sources say.

The engine is a smaller version of the next-generation turbocharged Power Stroke 6.0-liter V-8 scheduled for introduction in the 2003 model Ford F-250 and F-350 Super Duty pickups and Excursion sport-utility. International Truck and Engine Corp., Ford's longtime diesel engine supplier, will manufacture the V-8 and V-6.

Making a diesel engine available in light-duty trucks will give Ford a significant boost in its truck-fleet fuel economy. But the timing of the engine's introduction hinges on Ford's being certain it can meet stringent emissions regulations and the availability of low-sulfur diesel fuel.

E.J. McLaughlin, an auto industry analyst with APR Research in East Norwich, N.Y., estimates that Ford could sell as many as 200,000 V-6 diesels yearly to handymen and contractors. The V-6 diesel, he said, would be ideal for small-business owners needing light-duty, high-mileage work vehicles.

A study of the diesel market by J.D. Power and Associates found that a small diesel engine in light-duty pickups and sport-utilities would have strong market appeal, said Thad Malesh, director of the alternative powertrain practice at J.D. Power. "People are looking for improved efficiency," he said.

There are no light-duty (under 8,500 pounds gross vehicle weight) diesel pickups available in the United States. Ford last offered a diesel in a light-duty truck in the Ranger in the late 1980s.

Most other automakers are holding off on diesels for light-duty vehicles until 2006, when government-mandated low-sulfur diesel fuel becomes available. The reduction in sulfur, from 500 parts per million to 15 parts per million, will enable diesels to run cleaner because of a new generation of emissions-control equipment.

Some automakers say they need the next four years to develop emissions technology that reduces oxides of nitrogen and other diesel emissions.

But International has been perfecting a digital electronic fuel metering system and an emissions system that enables its engines to meet all federal diesel emissions regulations until 2010, said International CEO John Horne in an interview in March. Horne said Ford planned to use the V-6 diesel in the 2007 model year.

The smaller diesel engine may be coming sooner because Ford is in a tight race with General Motors for full-sized pickup sales leadership.

The GM-Isuzu Duramax 6.6-liter diesel V-8 engine, available in heavy-duty versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, has catapulted GM's diesel pickup market share from 2 percent to more than 20 percent in the past two years.

Dodge is introducing two versions of its Cummins 5.9-liter inline six-cylinder diesel engine in its heavy-duty Ram pickup this fall.

Ford officials would not say when the V-6 diesel engine will be offered. "It's our policy not to comment on future products," spokesman Mike Vaughn said.

International wouldn't give any technical specifications for the engine, which will be built in a new plant in Huntsville, Ala.
 
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