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Nissan and Cummins unveil a diesel-powered Frontier pickup ‘project’

In the automotive world, Cummins is known for the hulking diesel engines it installs in massive Ram pickup trucks, so Sam Elliott can talk about them in a voice as rough as their exhaust notes.

However, at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show, a Cummins engine was found under the hood of a different kind of truck.

The “Frontier Diesel Runner Powered By Cummins” is a Nissan Frontier pickup that’s gone over to the compression-ignition side. Nissan calls it a “project”, not a concept, and says it hopes to gauge consumer interest regarding a diesel engine for the next-generation Frontier.

So there won’t be a diesel in this generation of Frontier, which is due to be replaced soon, and the truck sitting on the Chicago show floor doesn’t foreshadow its replacement in any way. That’s why it’s a project.

The engine itself is a 2.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces an estimated 200 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. It’s coupled to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

However, the really important numbers here involve fuel economy, which would be the main advantage of a diesel-powered small truck. Replacing a gasoline engine with a smaller diesel certainly worked for the full-size Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, which gets an impressive 28 mpg highway.

In fact, the collaboration between Nissan and Cummins started out under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy. As part of the ongoing Advanced Technology Light Automotive Systems (ATLAS) program, Cummins put four-cylinder diesels in Nissan Titan trucks, which serve as testbeds for future small diesel engines like the one in the Frontier project truck.

So while it may look like it crashed into a Pep Boys, this Frontier could give Nissan an edge in the compact-truck segment, which has come a long way from the Datsun 720 King Cab. The arrival of the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado (which sports a diesel engine of its own) means Nissan can’t rest on its laurels anymore.

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