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Once upon a time, the diesel engine was an almost exclusively industrial machine. Diesel pickup trucks were expensive, heavy-duty rigs built for long-distance towing. Automakers have spent several decades engineering lightweight and efficient diesel engines to power cars and SUVs–mostly in foreign markets. When Detroit leveraged this technology to build light-duty diesel trucks, the result was several of the most efficient pickups in history. But between emissions regulations and a lack of consumer buy-in, the short-lived light-duty diesel pickup truck is going the way of the Dodo. The only automaker still building any light-duty diesel is General Motors with its 3.0-liter turbocharged I6 option in the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500.

The age of the light-duty diesel

Isolated Ram 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 engine set on a white backdrop.
Ram 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 | Stellantis

Mere months ago, a light-duty pickup truck buyer had their choice of efficient, turbocharged diesel engines. Chevrolet and GMC offer the same 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel I6 in their half-ton trucks. Ford and Ram offered separate 3.0-liter turbocharged V6s in their half-ton pickup trucks. You could even opt for the Ram EcoDiesel in a Jeep Gladiator midsize truck.

The Gladiator wasn’t the only midsize diesel pickup. In fact, it was General Motors’ 2.8-liter Duramax turbodiesel available in the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon that broke ground on this segment back in 2016.

Diesel engines, especially in light-duty full-size (half-ton) trucks were not cheap. In 2019, my colleague, Thom Taylor, compared overall cost to sort out the best diesel pickup truck. He found the F-150’s Power Stroke option cost $4,000 on an XLT trim and $3000 on the Lariat. That was as much as $2,495 more than the 5.3-liter gasoline V8. The Chevy also cost $2,495 more than a V8. Ram did offer a budget-minded trim with its EcoDiesel, so at $38,585 it built the cheapest diesel half ton. But that’s still far from cheap.

Why did automakers think buyers would pay so much for diesel trucks that didn’t even offer heavy-duty towing capacities? Because of the mileage. The diesel F-150 earned a 30 mpg highway rating, the Ram came in at 32 mpg, and the Chevy/GMC originally landed on top with an incredible 33 mpg. These diesel half-tons could embarrass a sedan at the pump!

The extinction of the light-duty diesel

Belching diesel exhaust close up
Belching diesel exhaust | Fairfax Media via Getty

Ford was the first to let its diesel half-ton go. It canceled the F-150’s Power Stroke V6 ahead of the 2022 model year, citing a focus on efficient future-proof powertrains such as the hybrid PowerBoost.

Ram made an interesting choice. Even though Stellantis had designed and redesigned its own 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 and Ram wasn’t due for a generational redesign, Ram cut its V6 EcoDiesel option at the end of 2022. Stellantis did continue to offer this engine in the midsize Jeep Gladiator through 2023, but you won’t be able to buy a diesel Gladiator in 2024.

When General Motors redesigned the GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado for the 2023 model year, it dropped their diesel engine option.

So what happened? Probably, there just weren’t enough light-duty truck buyers ordering diesel engines to make them worthwhile for automakers. Dealerships might have been less-than-confident in their ability to sell light-duty diesels, and insisted only built them when someone special-ordered one. Even if buyers were interested, this wait time might have made a regular gasoline truck more appealing.

Moreover, designing or redesigning a diesel engine is expensive. Since 2003, the EPA has heavily regulated the emissions of a smog gas called N0x, which is produced by diesel engines. Building a powerful and efficient engine that can pass these regulation is no easy task. Diesels are not worth the trouble for just a few sales.

The last light-duty diesel standing

closeup of the Duramax 3.0-liter turbodiesel badge on the fender of a GMC Yukon SUV.
2021 GMC Yukon Duramax 3.0 | General Motors

One automaker still proudly offers half-ton pickup trucks with diesel engines. General Motors co-developed its 3.0-liter Duramax I6 with Opel for the 2019 model year. The aluminum block turbodiesel makes up to 305 horsepower and 495 lb-ft of torque.

The lowest trim 2023 Silverado available with the 3.0-liter Duramax is the LT. It currently adds $2960 to the truck’s total. You can also order the engine in the GMC Sierra 1500, Chevrolet Suburban, Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, and Cadillac Escalade.

On the EPA predicts that the 2WD configuration of General Motors’ latest diesel half-ton trucks will see 24 city/29 highway mpg (26 combined). Its larger SUVs (the Suburban, Escalade, or Yukon XL) can expect 21 city/27 highway mpg (23 combined). Taho-sized SUVs can bump this up to 21 city/28 highway mpg (24 combined). Car and Driver found that with “hypermiling” techniques testers could achieve 40mpg+ in a 4WD version of Chevrolet’s diesel half-ton.

Next, learn more about who killed the half-ton diesel pickup truck, or see the 3.0-liter Duramax’s towing capacity put to the test in the video below: