DETROIT — Ford Motor Co.'s 350-hp Power Stroke Super-600 concept turbodiesel V-8, which bowed in a Tonka-inspired show truck at the North American International Auto Show here, is “deliverable” by 2004 in a heavy-duty application, the automaker's chief technical officer says.

But Richard Parry-Jones, who now is Ford's group vice president-global product development, offers a firm caveat:

“We are dependent on clean diesel fuels in order to help us meet the current and projected emission standards,” he says. “Because, historically, diesel fuel in North America has not been the cleanest in the world.”

Phase-in of a federal mandate to improve diesel emissions by reducing sulfur content begins in 2006. It will see sulfur reduced to 15 parts per million from the current 500 ppm.

Meanwhile, Ford is confident enough in the appeal of high-tech diesels that it's forging ahead with development — spurred, one can surmise, by the huge backlog of orders rival General Motors Corp. is enjoying with its excellent new-generation pickup diesel, the 6.6L Duramax. New-age diesels are torque juggernauts — and medium-duty truck buyers lay down large green for large twist.

“One thing that's definitely important is the torque,” says Charles E. Freese, chief engineer, diesel engines, of the 600 lb.-ft. (813 Nm) of torque from which the Power Stroke Super-600 gets its name. “We're always pushing for higher torque levels,” he says, although Freese will not confirm if an eventual production version of the 6L, 32-valve OHV V-8 turbodiesel will feature an actual 600 lb.-ft. Ford's current 7.3L Power Stroke develops 525 lb.-ft. (712 Nm) of torque.

In any event, Ford plans to have an automatic transmission capable of backing a next-generation Power Stroke, assures Barbara Samardzich, Ford Powertrain Operations' chief engineer, automatic transmission operations.

“It's really about durability,” Samardzich says. “How tough can tough be?” is the mission statement for the PowerTorq 5-speed automatic, also billed as a concept. The PowerTorq, Samardzich says, will bring Ford transmission branding to the medium-duty sector, where it's important to customers. “Ford buyers in medium light-duty want a Ford-branded transmission,” she asserts.

Implicit in this is the notion that Ford has its sights set one day on fitting Ford-branded automatics all the way up to its F750/850 chassis — where the company currently specifies units made by General Motors Corp's Allison Div. That's a supplier situation, say some Ward's sources, which rankles some camps of Ford upper management.

But before Ford could consider ditching Allison (and its well-regarded reputation), she says, Ford must establish a quality and durability standing for its own automatics in the light medium-duty line of F250/350 trucks.

Freese notes that the Power Stroke Super-600 incorporates the latest in diesel engine technology: an electronically controlled, hydraulically activated variable-vane turbocharger, exhaust gas recirculation and a unique, high-pressure common-rail fueling system that provides injection pressures of up to 24,000 psi (1,656 bar). International Engine Group, developer of the Power Stroke Super-600, designed a system that employs a typical common rail combined with a pressurized “application” rail at each injector.

Freese and Samardzich say that apart from durability — the target is 250,000 miles (402,000 km) — the watchword for the concept Power Stroke/PowerTorq driveline was refinement.

“These buyers are very discerning,” says Samardzich. “These people are spending a lot of time in their vehicles.”

“I certainly think there is a market for high-technology diesels in the F-Series,” Parry-Jones adds. “And possibly even some of the larger SUVs. But they will have to be high-tech diesels with, obviously, very good performance characteristics.”

But the 32-valve Power Stroke Super-600 concept, he says, is best-suited to heavy-duty applications.