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What if St. Paul Ford plant turned out small, efficient diesel pickups?

Now is the time. With our automobile industry teetering on the edge, Minnesota’s Ford plant could become a great success story and an example for the entire automobile industry.

Now is the time. With our automobile industry teetering on the edge, Minnesota’s Ford plant could become a great success story and an example for the entire automobile industry.

Ford is known for its pickups, maybe best known for the diesel-powered F250. It’s a nearly 6,000-pound behemoth, known for durability and for the very powerful and efficient diesel engine. But for most of us who don’t have a real need for a vehicle capable of hauling several tons, whether for work or for play, the F250 diesel is simply not a reasonable choice. 

Almost completely unknown to North American automotive consumers is the fact that Ford sells a very powerful and highly efficient diesel engine in the Ranger pickup. Unfortunately, this is available only in South America.

Ford could, as it has done a number of times in its history, revolutionize the automotive industry by manufacturing and selling a high-efficiency diesel powered small pickup. My guess is that this diesel-powered Ranger would operate in the 40-plus mpg range. Ford dealerships would be inundated with customers.

Two big challenges face diesel-powered vehicles: exhaust emissions and fuel cost. There are always concerns about meeting emissions standards with a diesel. But given our nation’s environmental and energy challenges, I’m confident that this pickup would spawn all kinds of innovation, both in the automotive marketplace and in more home-grown approaches such as bio-diesel. Diesel fuel cost is higher, and economists and politicians of all stripes will give their reasons about why this is the case. As with exhaust emissions, I believe that an inexpensive, widely available small diesel-powered vehicle will bring innovation in fuels.

Automobile factories are almost unbelievably complex collections of tools and machines. Retooling a factory can be enormously expensive. But the engine is essentially a component to be installed in a pickup. With very little retooling, Ford could begin installing the small diesel engine in the Ranger.

The advocates of any business proposal invariably say that “now is the time, this is a unique opportunity.” But in this case, those old clichés are truer than ever before. We have an existing but underutilized automotive plant and workforce, located at a major hub in the region’s agricultural economy, and the product has already proved successful. Why not combine these ingredients to bring about revolutionary change in the automotive industry, the bio-fuels industry and the region’s economy?

The St. Paul Ford plant could become a leader in alternative-energy vehicles, but it will require a big leap of faith by all parties involved. Changing over to a diesel-powered Ranger pickup is a good idea that is viable, and doable, within days and weeks. Gov. Tim Pawlenty should bring the players to the table to make this happen. 

Doug Talley, of Duluth, works in the health-information field.