The Ford pickup represents an internal-combustion dynasty. These F-series trucks have been North America’s best-selling truck for 37 years and its best-selling vehicle overall for 32 straight years. It’s an unparalleled success story, one that Ford takes very seriously as production of the ground-breaking 2015 F-150 is set to begin.
Before the pickup even hits dealerships (scheduled for later this year), the F-150 already has earned one significant award: The Yankee Cup, which is presented each year by the New England Motor Press Association (NEMPA) with input from MIT’s automotive engineering faculty.
The award is for a “feature or system that significantly enhances the motoring experience, whether by making driving safer, more cost-efficient, or simply more enjoyable.” For the Cup, it was awarded to an entire vehicle.
F-150 chief engineer Pete Reyes gave an overview of the F-150 at a luncheon before the fourth annual NEMPA-MIT technology conference at MIT’s Media Lab.
“With the 2015 F-150, Ford is teaching the world how to build a next-generation truck, and the more than 100 patents the F-150 team has filed for technologies prove these Ford engineers and designers are innovative leaders in the automotive industry,” says Reyes.
Reyes told the audience that, even as the 12th generation of the F-150 was being introduced back in 2009, Ford already was looking to the future as competitors such as the Chevrolet Silverado and the Ram were stepping up their challenge to Ford’s truck supremacy.
The Ford hierarchy in Dearborn had decided that their next truck would be literally all-new, from the ground up. Derrick Kuzak, then Ford’s group vice-president of global product development, commissioned a series of research studies.
“It was an amazing analysis,” Reyes says. “They were at it for a year and a half. They could input any number of parameters into the simulations, studying all the configurations and marketing possibilities.”
No matter how the researchers asked their questions or analyzed their data, one result was fixed: “Our customers wanted to keep the F-150 the same size. Shrinking it was not an option for us.”
“Our owners [also] told us not to mess with the cargo box,” Reyes says. They didn’t want built-in compartments, but preferred the straight sides of a normal 4x6½—or 4x8-foot box.
Another proposed change, reducing the truck’s weight 100 to 250 pounds by lightening doors, the front end and the tailgate, made no significant impression on either customers or projected sales. However, cutting weight by a big number—700 pounds—made a significant difference.
Dropping that much weight meant we’d be able to make the truck better in all ways,” says Reyes. “We could reinvest that weight savings in increased towing capacity, better steering, braking, acceleration, handling . . . in every meaningful and measurable way.” The only way to accomplish such an unprecedented improvement was by switching to higher-strength steel in the frame and using military-grade, heat-toughened aluminum for the body and bed.
Such a dramatic change in a major product entails major risk. (Think of Coca-Cola changing its formula.) Still, when the planning group brought its proposal to Ford CEO Alan Mulally, his response was: “What took you so long?”
Before joining Ford, in 2006, Mulally had spent almost 40 years as an engineer and executive at Boeing, and had extensive experience with aluminum—as did Ford people who’d worked with aluminum Jaguar and Land Rover bodies when Ford owned those companies.
The decision to proceed with aluminum had to be made early (back in 2010) because, as Reyes notes, “Where do you go to get millions of pounds of aluminum every year?” New sources had to come on-line.
That’s likely fortuitous because the industry grapevine already is predicting the competition will be following Ford’s aluminum initiative.
Aluminum may be the biggest single change in the 2015 truck, but it was hardly the only improvement. Inside and out, the new F-150 has many innovations.
Reyes pointed to new single-bulb LED headlight/reflector units, the first such in a pickup, that are meant to be virtually unbreakable and to last more than five times longer than conventional lights [see accompanying story]. There are also LED spotlights under the side mirrors to light up the sides of the truck, and LED lights under the bed rails—especially helpful when owners add tonneau covers.
The driver will be able to lower the tailgate remotely by a button on the key fob, and Ford’s pioneering tailgate step has been better integrated and made more useable. Other available features include a 360-degree surround camera, blind-spot and cross-traffic alerts, park assist, and 400-watt power outlets in the cab. The interiors have been upgraded and extended-cab models get inflatable rear seatbelts.
The bed has a snap-in adjustable BoxLink cleat system for tying down cargo, and ramps that stow on the sides of the box are available for motorcycles, ATVs, lawn tractors and the like. F-150 designers also added reinforcing plates inside of the box walls, for owners who need to drill into them. And if Ford couldn’t think of every possible add-on, they knew who could. “We’re saying ‘Bring it on!’ to the aftermarket community,” says Reyes. There will be four engine choices, including two EcoBoost models.
“We crunched the numbers and came up with something like 58,000 different ordering combinations for the new F-150,” Reyes says. It seems likely that someone will buy at least one of each; more than 33 million F-Series pickups have been sold since the truck was introduced in 1948.