For nearly 30 years, the battle for best truck—more specifically best diesel truck— has been a constant struggle between the Big Three American manufacturers: Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford. The never-ending quest for the throne has sparked many debates and created fierce brand loyalty. This week, we aim to educate readers by providing information and letting them draw their own conclusions.
Before the big diesel wave and the introduction of the Duramax, General Motors was nearly a non-existent blip on the radar of heavy-duty truck buyers. Chevrolet and GMC both offered diesel trucks in their lineup, but their V-8 style engines didn’t meet consumer demands, giving GM little more than three percent of the diesel market.
In 2000, General Motors found an answer to their diesel dilemma in one of their current partners, Isuzu Motors of Japan. The two embarked on another joint venture (known as DMAX and fast-tracked production to begin in July of that year. According to Doug Kaufman of Engine Builder Magazine, the two teams worked tirelessly on what came to known as the Duramax engine: “the 13 hour time difference between Japan and the U.S. worked to their advantage. Teams could videoconference late in the day for one team, early for another, working on issues while the other team slept.”
Not only did the engine have to perform, the name had to change the perception of GM diesels and compete with the other strong brands: “GM was already handicapped by its poor diesel reputation. The name itself was critical, as it would compete against Ford’s established ‘Power Stroke’ diesel engine. Dodge was using the Cummins engine and needed no other name.” The teams at DMAX settled on ‘Duramax’ with the aim of eliciting a reputation for durability and reliability.
The Duramax Diesel 6600 went to market (in only 37 months) in GM’s 2001 HD trucks and received instant critical acclaim. The new powerplant landed on the 2001 and 2002 editions of Ward’s “10 Best Engines” list. GM also saw immense commercial success as their share of the diesel truck market grew from 3 to 30 percent. The LB7 (the first-generation Duramax’s internal name) was produced until 2004 and was the first in the industry to feature a high-pressure common-rail direct fuel injection system. The new fuel system afforded the truck more power and better mileage while minimizing noise and emissions. The first Duramax competed with its peers producing 235 horsepower and 500 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 rpm.
GM has produced five more iterations of the Duramax engine since the LB7:
Make sure to check back for parts two and three of our diesel debate as we dive into the legendary Power Stroke and Cummins engines!