Wednesday, February 18, 2004

The titans are clashing and unleashing power unheard of in the world of mere-mortal pickups.

Dodge, Ford and General Motors are engaged in a torque war — grinding it out on the heavy-duty-pickup battlefield with diesel-driven Goliaths.

All Big Three competitors are armed with diesels cranking out torque well into the 500 foot-pounds range, and all have laid claim in recent years to building the most powerful heavy-duty pickup. In this war of repeated attacks and counterattacks, the most recent victor is Dodge. The brute unleashing this overwhelming power surge is the 2004.5 Ram Heavy Duty Cummins 600 Turbo Diesel.

Consumers wanting to saddle up a Ram powered by this beast have a short wait — probably this month. The Cummins 600 engine will be available for 2500 and 3500 Ram Heavy Duty models as a $5,895 option that includes a six-speed manual transmission. This is only $135 more than Dodge’s Cummins High Output Turbo Diesel, which moves from first to second in the diesel lineup’s power ranking.

The first wheeled vehicle to achieve the 600-mph mark in 1965 was the Craig Breedlove’s Spirit of America Sonic 1.

The new 5.9-liter I-6 Cummins 600 hits another milestone figure: 600 foot-pounds of torque, delivered at 1,600 rpm. This engine also gets a 20-horsepower increase, for a 325-horsepower total, but horsepower numbers don’t significantly figure in the mind-sets of die-hard diesel truckers.

Buyers of heavy-duty Rams want torque and are greedy about it. More torque means greater ability to tow heavy loads and tote big payloads. They want a pickup with the muscle to easily rip a giant oak stump from the ground.

Representatives from all the Big Three acknowledge having another sizable customer base — those rarely needing the enormous torque output, but liking the macho image that accompanies the big numbers. Whatever the case, diesel-pickup buyers are known to be among the most demanding and technical-savvy of all vehicle owners.

Quick to defend the Cummins 600 as more than a marketing ploy, a Dodge spokesman said the principal goal in developing the engine was to make meaningful changes that are more important to consumers than a mere numbers chase.

“To the severe-use customer, torque is everything,” he said, “and the Dodge Ram Heavy Duty Cummins 600 delivers big time.”

“Big time” means a 16,400-pound towing capacity and a 5,220-pound payload capacity. Other numbers with special meaning to those who operate pickups in grueling work situations are a gross combined vehicle weight rating of 23,000 pounds and a gross vehicle weight rating of 12,200 pounds.

GCVWR is the maximum allowable combined weight of loaded truck and trailer. It includes the weight of passengers, cargo, fuel in tank and cargo in the trailer.

GVWR is the total weight of a truck with cargo, driver and passengers, fuel, water, equipment, etc. It’s Dodge’s claim that Rams powered by the Cummins 600 own best-in-class titles in GCVWR and GVWR, as well as in the all-important torque, towing and payload numbers.

Dodge also boasts the Cummins 600 offers class-leading cold starting, low idle noise and general noise, vibration and harshness levels. Recommended oil change intervals of 15,000 miles add to the best-in-class list.

A pair of heavy-duty transmissions is available to handle the new diesel’s tremendous torque — the 48RE four-speed automatic and 5600 NVG six-speed manual.

Awesome torque teams with the six-speed manual transmission to provide zero-throttle launches. This enables Rams to drive off smoothly under load.

Engineering of the improved Cummins was achieved with 86 percent carryover parts. Modifications were made to increase power, lower emissions and improve durability.

Fitting the Cummins 600 into Ram HDs required the addition of 43 new parts. These parts were added to accommodate the engine’s need for improved engine coolant and lower noise, vibration and harshness levels.

Dodge touts the Cummins 600 as the “quietest Ram diesel ever” and the first High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel to meet 50-state emissions requirements.

The Ram Cummins Turbo Diesel power team is formidable, offering the power of the Cummins 600 and Dodge’s previous top workhorse, the High Output Cummins Turbo Diesel, which produces 555 foot-pounds of torque.

The capabilities of this high-power duo eliminate the need for the Standard Output Cummins Turbo Diesel in Dodge’s lineup.

Winning the Torque War is critical for Dodge, which reports that the 2500 and 3500 models account for about a third of Ram sales.

Dodge also is banking on projections that the heavy-duty-pickup market will maintain its strength for years to come.

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