It was in December of 2015 that Ford Motor Company first confirmed its plans to build a hybrid model to sit within its line of full-size F-Series trucks – a product that is still, as of this writing, forthcoming. Since the announcement, the automaker has spoken about the yet-unreleased product on multiple occasions, playing up not only its fuel efficiency, but its versatility and performance, too.
Yet as we wait for 2020, when the Ford F-150 Hybrid is slated to finally hit the North American market, Fiat Chrysler’s Ram Trucks brand has already put two hybrid pickup truck powertrains into production for the full-size 2019 Ram 1500: the Pentastar V6 eTorque, and the Hemi V8 eTorque. There was no long build-up, and no gratuitous boasting; Ram announced its eTorque hybrid powertrains upon revealing the all-new, 2019 Ram 1500 last January, and promptly put them into production within a matter of months, leapfrogging Ford in the process.
But has Ram actually leapfrogged Ford? Details of the Blue Oval’s forthcoming hybrid light-duty truck powertrain are unknown, but Ford has indicated that it could be more involved than Ram’s simple mild-hybrid eTorque system, which uses a 48-volt electric motor/generator that replaces the standard alternator. Using a pulley and a fairly typical rubber accessory belt, the unit saps power from the engine’s crank as necessary to keep its batteries topped off, occasionally tapping into that stored electricity to help supplement engine torque. The system is simple, compact, and relatively inexpensive – all decidedly positive attributes.
Before we delve into what we thought of the system while we tested it out on the open road, let’s take a look at how it’s designed.
Bye Bye Alternator
The mild-hybrid eTorque system is standard on 3.6L Pentastar V6-powered Ram 1500 pickup trucks, and available as a $1,450 option with the full-size truck’s 5.7L Hemi V8. As we’ve said, it assumes the place of the regular alternator, performing the duties of running automotive electronics and topping off the batteries in addition to supplementing engine torque. The weight penalty is manageable, with the entire system – motor/generator, 430 Wh battery pack, DC/DC converter, and all – weighing just 100 pounds (or 105 pounds in the Pentastar application), which is easily offset by the 225-or-so pounds engineered out of the all-new truck through the strategic use of high-strength steel.
In addition to the dozen lithium-ion battery cells clustered together within a small cavity inside the cabin, the 2019 Ram 1500 eTorque also has a traditional lead-acid starter battery under the hood, both for starting the car, and as a backup in the event of a hybrid system failure.
Of course, there’s a bit of a trade-off involved when dealing with such a small, lightweight hybrid system: capability. Needless to say, the 2019 Ram 1500 eTorque doesn’t have a pure-electric driving mode, nor does the system pump up Ram’s claimed 410 lb-ft peak torque figure with the 5.7L Hemi V8. Yet the eTorque motor/generator can provide up to 90 lb-ft of supplementary torque in the Pentastar V6 application, and as much as 130 lb-ft in Hemi-equipped trucks. Plus, while official EPA fuel economy figures are still forthcoming, FCA is anticipating an extra 2 mpg of fuel savings with the Hemi, and 3 mpg with the Pentastar (compared to 2018 model-year trucks).
It does this through clever, strategic use throughout every driving cycle. Each 2019 Ram 1500 eTorque is fitted with Auto Start/Stop as standard, and the same 48-volt battery pack that drives the electric motor/generator finds use here by powering electronics like the infotainment system and HVAC. Setting off again from a stop, the motor provides the initial torque to get the truck moving, before smoothly handing that duty off to the petrol engine – within the first half-wheel-turn. Under acceleration, it helps smooth out gearshifts by minimizing torque interruption; under cruising, it makes driving more efficient by offsetting the parasitic drag introduced by other belt-driven accessories.
A Hard Sell?
As we’ve said, the eTorque system comes standard on any V6-equipped 2019 Ram 1500, but as a $1,450 option on Hemi-powered trucks, it could be a bit of a tough sell for those customers. At best, the 2018 Ram 1500 Hemi gets 17 mpg on the combined cycle, according to the EPA; assuming the 2019 Ram 1500 Hemi nets 2 mpg better as anticipated, and that gas prices remain relatively steady, in the US, you’ll save little more than $200 per year driving 12k in that time. At that rate, the hybrid system could take as long as seven years to pay for itself.
But there’s one very good reason that we suspect the eTorque system might not have much trouble selling to Hemi truck customers at all: towing. While manufacturer-claimed peak torque is the same with or without the system, max. towing capacity is 1,140 pounds greater at 12,750 with eTorque equipped. Plus, while buyers might not necessarily feel the hybrid difference at the pump when the truck isn’t pulling anything, they just might when it comes time to take the boat down to the lake.