Phil Podgorny, Ford’s Boston regional manager, felt like the emperor with no clothes when he addressed the media at last month’s New England International Auto Show.
The biggest automotive story in months had taken place three days earlier in Detroit when Ford stole the headlines at the North American International Auto Show with the introduction of its next generation F-150, a vehicle that is shedding between 500 and 700 pounds by going to an all-aluminum body and bed.
Podgorny’s problem, however, was that he didn’t have one of those prototype trucks in Boston, a byproduct of the Boston show overlapping Detroit’s. If this were sports, Boston would have a chance; however, when it comes to automobiles, Detroit is king.
Fortunately for Podgorny, the story was so big that words, on this day, could replace the physical vehicle.
This would have been a major story no matter which manufacturer took the plunge. After all, fuel economy is part of every vehicle and weight savings equal fuel savings.
But the stakes are much higher with Ford. This is a radical redesign of the truck that has been America’s best-selling vehicle for 32 consecutive years and the top-selling truck for 37 years.
Ford CEO Alan Mulally hasn’t been averse to taking risks.
In 2006, he eschewed government bailout money and mortgaged company assets to avoid bankruptcy.
He’s also backed the Ford Sync and MyFord Touch connectivity systems, knowing they were in the vanguard of where the industry was headed and suffered the complaints of consumers—and journalists—who weren’t willing to learn the system.
Now comes the foray into aluminum or as one of my boyhood friends used to say, “Al-You-Min-e-um.’’ If past Mulally initiatives are any indication, the lighter-but-more-expensive material is going to spread through the Ford lineup. Actually, it could return, having been there when Ford developed processes for the Jaguar XJ and Range Rover.
Rumors of Mulally’s possible departure to Microsoft were rampant in the last quarter of 2013, but his past was in the aircraft industry and he knows the material well.
The lighter vehicle weight ties in with another F-150 announcement, that a 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 will be available.
“We’re looking at a full-size pickup that stops quicker, gets better fuel economy, has more towing capacity, greater acceleration, and does it all with a fully boxed frame,’’ Podgorny told the media in Boston.
This has all helped Ford retake the pickup spotlight which recently has shown on Chevrolet’s Silverado, named 2014 North American Truck of the Year, and the Ram 1500, the 2013 winner and two-time Motor Trend Truck of the Year.
One dangling teaser from the Detroit show was the fuel economy rating for the F-150, with speculation that it could approach the mystical 30 mpg mark on the highway.
That would steal some thunder from the Ram, which has been touting best-in-class fuel economy of 18 city, 28 highway, and 22 combined.
Ford addressed aluminum repair concerns with a large display on parts and body shop techniques at the NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) Convention in New Orleans.
GMC (Canyon) and Chevy (Colorado) are coming back with mid-size pickups. What will the future hold? Imagine small diesels and aluminum bodies and, just perhaps, an actual compact-size pickup.
A Fit to Pitch
Last fall we were pleasantly surprised to see how well four full-size adults fit in a Nissan Versa Note subcompact. There was plenty of legroom for two rear-seat passengers and room in the cargo area for luggage for an airport run.
That’s the type of feature the competition duly notes.
Honda’s engineers seemingly went to school on their Nissan rivals when it came to redesigning the Fit, which will launch as a 2015 model.
The company resisted the urge to grow the car, which would have started to infringe on Civic’s realm. Instead, the overall length was reduced by 1.6 inches while wheelbase grew by 1.2 inches by pushing wheels to the corners.
As a result, there’s adult-size legroom in the rear, even with the front seats pushed back. That’s something many compact and mid-size vehicles can’t say.
And, when needed, those rear seats fold flat to open up 52.7 cubic feet of cargo space.
A multi-angle rearview camera and Bluetooth connectivity are standard as are 16-inch wheels.
Power comes from a 1.5-liter engine mated to either a 6-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT). In keeping with the industry trend, the CVT is projected to produce fuel economy numbers of 33 city and 41 highway.
But perhaps the biggest breakthrough is the Fit’s hybrid GPS solution. Instead of opting for a $1,000-plus factory navigation system, you can download a $60 Honda app that will display your phone’s GPS on the car’s seven-inch screen.
Hmm. Apple’s Siri voice recognition software doesn’t much care for my voice, but Mrs. G and Siri get along just fine.
This is a small car that might just be ready for some longer road trips.