Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.
Ford's first gasoline-powered 2012 F-650 rolled off the assembly line on August 15.
Courtesy of Ford Motor Co.
The 6.8-liter V-10 gas engine fills a void among medium-duty trucks, which are dominated by higher-costing diesels.

Many private contractors and public fleet owners have been switching their truck fleets to gasoline lately due to the high upfront cost of diesel engines, reliability concerns and the ongoing hassle of maintaining the added emissions equipment. When diesel is not mission-critical to the job, gasoline makes a heck of a lot of sense.

Ford Motor Co. plans to cash in on that trend by offering gasoline power in its new medium-duty F-650, which just starting rolling off the assembly line in Escobedo, Mexico, on August 15. It eventually will move production to Avon Lake, Ohio, after it winds down its E-Series commercial vans to make way for Transit production in Claycomo, Mo., near Kansas City.

The 2012 F-650 can now be had with a 6.8-liter V-10 that cranks out 362 horsepower and 457 lb-ft of torque. With three valves per cylinder, the V-10 mates to a Ford six-speed automatic transmission whose double overdrive provides extra fuel economy.

Ford has been talking up this truck for a few years now, and it finally has arrived. General Motors previously offered a high-output gasoline engine in its medium-duty line before exiting that market in 2009. That left a void for competitors to fill. With a list price starting at $53,345 plus destination fees, Ford estimates that the average price difference for a diesel F-650 would translate into $8,300 more on the window sticker.

Contractors are thinking twice about spending that much on an engine they may not really need. "Fuel mileage is a bit worse in the gas [engine], but I'm not so sure you make up the difference in the cost of the [diesel] engine," says Arne Ruud, corporate equipment manager for heavy/civil contractor Guy F. Atkinson Construction LLC in Lakewood, Colo.

Large fleet owners typically use F-650-size trucks, which have a gross-vehicle weight rating of 26,000 lbs, for maintenance of traffic in work zones, such as cone and barrel trucks. This type of highway work usually does not need the low-end torque of a diesel to get the job done.

Fleets interested in compressed natural gas or propane can also order the new F-650 with a factory-installed gaseous prep kit costing about $10,000. Because CNG and LPG typically ring up for far less than gasoline at the pump, fleet owners would likely make up for the delta in an average of two or three years, according to Mike Levine, Ford spokesman.

Ruud agrees. "You take the hassle of running the [diesel] engine, and the extra cost of the engine, and I think the V-10 might be a good alternative," he says. Some states, such as California, offer grants and tax credits for running CNG or LPG, which can sweeten the deal, he adds.

And don't worry, die-hard diesel junkies. You can still get the F-650 with a 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel.