Ram has overtaken rivals in the heavy-duty pickup segment. When properly equipped, their 3500-model trucks are rated to tow a segment-leading 31,210 pounds.
Enabling this stellar performance is an updated 6.7-liter Cummins diesel that puts out up to 385 hp along with a best-in-class 900 lb-ft of torque. But how trustworthy are these figures? Could they be bogus? The answer depends on how you measure.
Perusing the Ram 3500’s spec sheet reveals all of its vital statistics, from wheelbase and overall height to turning diameter and crankcase capacity. Eyeballing its engine output figures revealed a curious anomaly; the truck’s Cummins inline-six is rated SAE Gross using the organization’s J1995 standard. This is a different test procedure than what’s commonly used throughout the automotive business.
Car companies most frequently rely on the SAE J1349 when measuring horsepower and torque. Gary Pollak, program manager for technical projects at SAE International said, “[It’s] the spec that the industry uses.” Powerplants for passenger cars, light trucks, SUVs and similar vehicles are tested this way.
Potentially undermining Ram’s claimed figures Pollak said, “No vehicle manufacturer has an engine certified 1995.” Additionally, he noted that the folks at SAE want all manufacturers to use “comparable methods” when measuring engine output, which, at least for now, would be J1349.
Hop, Skip and Jump to Conclusions
However, just because Ram uses a different procedure does not mean its claimed figures are spurious. According to SAE, the J1995 standard is:
Intended for use primarily by engine manufacturers that supply engines to other companies for installation in applications where the engine manufacturer may not control induction and exhaust system design or the speed at which the powerplant runs.
Since Ram buys its diesel engines from Cummins, this rating standard makes sense. Everything appears to be on the up-and-up.
Clarifying their position, Nick Cappa of Ram Truck communications said, “Cummins is an engine-producing company, so when they punch out motors, they’re using them in a number of different applications and it’s not always going to have the same accessory drives,” or intake plumbing or exhaust routing, for that matter.
Cummins Diesel“We were the pioneers in the large displacement turbo diesels in heavy-duty trucks,” said Cappa. Ever since Chrysler introduced the original 5.9-liter Cummins 27 years ago, he said they’ve used the same exact test procedure, J1995, so it’s not like the folks in Auburn Hills decided one morning they were going to try to game the system by using a different procedure from the rest of their competitors.
Driving his point home, Cappa noted, “Our engineers truly feel the 1995 power ratings provide a more direct reference for comparing heavy-duty engine performance.” This is because these hard-working trucks can be outfitted in countless different ways, with equipment like dual alternators, power-takeoffs and so on, all of which leads to varying parasitic losses, which Cappa said are more accurately taken into account by the J1995 standard.
Three Feet is always 36 inches, whether you’re gauging it with a tape measure, yardstick or laser-powered rangefinder. Ram may be a strong proponent of the J1995 procedure, but its rivals aren’t necessarily in agreement; they think their measuring techniques are more accurate.
“We’re using 1349 for our engines,” said Mike Levine, truck communications manager at Ford, a standard they believe is more rigorous than J1995.
Ford Super Duty
Levine said, “If you look at the HD customer, about 90 percent of them tow … So they’re looking for great low-end torque and they’re looking for high efficiency with the power to pull a heavy trailer.”
Ford’s 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V8 puts out 440 horses and 860 lb-ft of torque. Levine was eager to point out that these are best-in-class standard numbers. In comparison, Ram’s Cummins is offered in three different potencies. With a manual gearbox, it’s rated at 350 hp and 660 lb-ft; when equipped with the 68RFE automatic transmission, those figures increase to 370 and 800; finally, when paired with an optional Aisin self-shifting gearbox, drivers get 385 ponies and the full 900 units of twist.
It’s worth noting that in 2015 model-year Rams, the Cummins inline-six is an $8,305 option. Beyond that, you have to spend an additional $2,995 for the Aisin automatic transmission.
Ford Power StrokeBut back to test procedures. When asked if there was any estimable percentage difference between J1995 and J1349, Pollak said, “There’s so many variables, so much involved, it would be hard to make any kind of comparison like that.” Unfortunately, there’s no real way to stack them against one another.
“Each of them are equally valid, equally fine,” noted Pollak. However, “Unless you go through our certified power program … we have no oversight,” so conceivably an automaker could make nearly any claim they wanted. “And that’s one of the reasons we started our certified power program,” added Pollak.
But where does General Motors, the third biggest player in the heavy-duty truck segment stand on this issue? According to Tom Read, the powertrain communications man at GM, all of their engines, unless otherwise noted, are rated using SAE J2723, a third procedure, which is arguably the most trustworthy one.
Explaining what this is, Pollak said the J2723 test “is our certified power program.” It involves lots of official paperwork as well as a specially trained, third party individual that verifies the procedure as well as the resultant horsepower and torque figures.
Curiously, SAE certification can be applied to either J1349 or J1995, a manufacturer simply has to follow the rules outlined in J2723. Confused by all of these numbers? Good. There are even more below.
Do Certifications Matter?
If certified numbers really matter to truck buyers, then they should apply to more than just engine output. Accordingly, SAE has a way of guaranteeing a vehicle’s tow rating as well.
Cappa said capability is the No. 1 concern for buyers of heavy-duty Ram trucks, which is why they want to be on top and the reason why they certify their entire pickup range to SAE standards.
“We’re the only manufacturer to use J2807 criteria in all three truck segments,” said Cappa, from light-duty half-ton models to three-quarter and one-ton Rams, not an easy feat. With a chuckle, he said, “It’s stringent; it’s not easy to hit.”
2016 Ram 3500
On the flipside, most of Dearborn’s pickups are compliant with this rating, though not all. Levine said, “Since 2013 all new Ford vehicles are rated according to J2807.” This includes the 2015 F-150 as well as its monstrous F-450. However, the blue oval’s F-250 and F-350 trucks are not currently compliant, something that will be rectified in the near future.
Levine said, “When the next-generation Super Duty comes out, it will be J2807 [compliant].” Production of these all-new pickups is slated to begin next year.
Fighting to be First
Ford Super DutyIn the heavy-duty segment, Ram has the lead right now with up to 900 lb-ft of torque, something that enables best-in-class towing and payload capability. Ford counters this with segment-leading horsepower and standard torque with its 6.7-liter Power Stroke V8.
However, when the blue oval’s next-generation Super Duty hits the road, it’s probably a safe bet Ford will wrest these titles away from Ram. Such cutthroat competition poses challenges for automakers, but it’s good news for customers who have access to ever-improving vehicles.
But really, when it comes to engine output, the numbers provided by these mini big-rigs are so close, it likely isn’t noticeable; any of today’s heavy-duty trucks are so ridiculously capable that output differences are practically academic and that is a good thing.