2015 Ford F-150 should be huge success despite Ford’s big gamble

Earlier this week in Dallas I had a chance to climb into and around Ford’s 2015 F-150.  My first impression is that this is a worthy successor to the iconic trucks that have preceded it, making the F-150 the best selling vehicle in the country.  I haven’t driven it yet (that will come sometime later this year, probably in mid to late summer), but knowing Ford as I do, I expect this vehicle — revolutionary in some ways, evolutionary in others — to be both a tough workhorse and an exciting drive.  I also expect it to tow and haul with extraordinary ease, and provide the best overall fuel efficiency in its class.

2015 F-150 in Dallas

2015 F-150 in Dallas

While the official introduction was held at the Detroit Auto Show, Ford tipped its hat to Texas automotive journalists by bring in two key members of the truck team, and by actually bringing a prebuild F-150.  We were luckier than most since this vehicle was open for us to actually get into, while the ones displayed at the Detroit press conference were locked, according to my sources.

Interior of F-150 Lariat for 2015

Interior of F-150 Lariat for 2015

In our case, the trim level shown was the Lariat, which was extraordinary for a vehicle at the mid-trim level.  The tech specs show that the other levels will be the XL, XLT, King Ranch (there’s an updated one coming, I believe) and the Platinum edition.

Rear/side view of 2015 F-150

Rear/side view of 2015 F-150

Available to consumers in the fourth quarter of 2014, the F-150 is built from a combination of heavier strength steel than its predecessor — where that strength is called for — and an aerospace grade and quality of aluminum where it makes sense.  The result is a truck that is about 700 pounds lighter for class-leading fuel efficiency and more potential towing capacity without a change in gross vehicle weight limitations.

And, before you ask, F-150 purists should be delighted with what has been done. It looks like the best of that current vehicle, yet Ford added some extraordinary design, engineering and performance cues that should keep this truck fresh and exciting for years to come.  That doesn’t mean the volume leader will allow it to stagnate.  That has not been their practice, and I suspect they have many more innovations to integrate in the future.

It is far to early for specs like tow capacity and pricing, but I will continue to report that information as it becomes available.  I will also be speaking with dealers, body shops and others about repair costs of the aluminum vs traditional steel body panels, since that is a question that I’ve already been asked by some readers.

Steel and aluminum for class leading weight reduction and potentially dramatic mpg ratings

Ford has changed virtually everything from the ground up.  The frame is made from more high-strength steel than ever before.  It forms the backbone from which everything else is derived; and is lighter weight than the previous frame by 60-pounds, yet rates higher in strength. The higher strength steel has been increased from 23% to 77% of the frame.  The steel is rated up to 70,000 psi — stronger than that used in many heavy duty trucks.  A disguised F-150 even raced in the Baja 1000 completing the grueling race with only the change of a stock air filter..

Storage system in the aluminum box of the new F-150

Storage system in the aluminum box of the new F-150

Unique in the pickup market are the high strength aluminum alloys that are used in body panels and for the truck box.  While we were not given a lot of detail as to what makes the material — already used in airplane and aerospace functions, as well as over-the-road trucks — unique, there is much information from journalists who interviewed sources from Alcoa and Novelis, the aluminum suppliers and engineers at Ford, although my sources at Ford tell me that they did not participate in the article.

Primarily aluminum body and box on the 2015 F-150

Primarily aluminum body and box on the 2015 F-150

A highly respected auto journalist, Lindsay Brooke, in a Sunday New York Times article, did give insights into the alloys, noting that Ford is using “5000- and 6000 series sheet, treated to a T4 condition.”  He further explains that the material is heated to 750 degrees F for two hours, then quenched in water.  He also describes the steps taken to provide body and box structure.  If you are into the details of this, I encourage you to go to nytimes.com/autos for the whole picture.

While his engineering sources spoke on condition of anonymity, I think everything is extremely credible and meshes well with Ford’s less-detailed press conference content and press releases..

In case you think aluminum is a wimpy alternative, I can assure you that Ford has done extensive testing  with construction, mining and utility work, and  testing included cross-country towing and heavy load hauling in temperatures from 20 degrees to 120 degrees F.

I particularly like it when a truck manufacturer details some of its extreme engine tests, which Ford has done.  Among them, load tests that replicate a 6% grade over 500 miles; more than 1,000 consecutive extreme temperature loops that quickly bring the engine from -25-degrees F to 235-degrees F, the equivalent of driving non-stop from Death Valley to the Arctic Circle 350 times; structural fatigue tests that run the engine at full load for more than 17 days, usually at peak torque and power; and more than 800 hours of towing and unloaded driving scenarios across the engine power range with gasoline-ethanol mixtures up to E20 and intentionally degraded engine oil.

New engine choice

In addition to this considerable lightweighting, Ford is introducing an all new 2.7L twin-turbo EcoBoost engine with Auto Start/Stop for even greater fuel efficiency.  There is also a 3.5L V6 engine with twin independent variable camshaft timing.  These join the 3.5L EcoBoost and 5.0L  Ti-VCT V8. Ford says the new 2.7L can deliver the same power as some mid-range V8 engines.

New 2.7L EcoBoost engine for 2015 F-150

New 2.7L EcoBoost engine for 2015 F-150

It features the first use of a compacted graphite iron cylinder block in a gasoline engine.  This is the same material used in the 6.7L Power Stroke turbo-diesel V8.The composite CGI/aluminum block saves weight while providing strength and durability.

It also has stop/start technology specially tuned for trucks.  This shuts down the engine when the vehicle is at a stop — except when towing or in 4WD mode.  When the brake is released, the engine restarts quickly for best performance.

Other engine features for the new 2.7L include:

  • Fracture split main-bearing caps for superior fit between cap and engine block for reduced crankshaft friction — a first use for this technology
  • Aluminum cylinder heads with water cooled integrated exhaust manifolds
  • Variable displacement oil pump for reduced internal engine friction for improved fuel efficiency
  • Intake and exhaust variable cam timing for improved torque and lower emissions
  • Lightweight composite intake manifold
  • Cooling jets beneath the pistons that spray oil to help lower operating temperatures
  • Piston connecting rods utilizing an offset I-beam for better managing peak engine power levels while reducing weight.
  • Cartridge-style oil filter integrated into the top of the engine for easy service.

More than 100 new patents
Ford has indicated that new patents for the new F-150 cover body exterior and interior, chassis, design, electrical, engine, safety and other features.  Among the innovations are:

  • 360-degree camera, derived and improved from the original on the F-150 Raptor
  • High-power 110-volt, 400-watt outlets, well-located for recreational and work functions
  • Smart trailer tow module to check trailer lights and connections
  • Next generation tailgate step
  • Keyfob operated tailgate locks and remote locks — a feature that I thought was exceptional
  • Inflatable rear safety belts
  • LED headlamps and side mirror spotlights
Interior of F-150 for 2015

Interior of F-150 for 2015

There are lots of bells and whistles, of course.  I would expect nothing less from a new truck for 2015.  As a result, a truck buyer should have no difficulty personalizing this production vehicle to meet specific needs and wants.

First Observations

I won’t be able to provide driving impressions for several months, but the truck looks like a great mix of F-150 classic DNA and some of the things that made the Atlas Concept so compelling last year when it was first shown.

There has been a lot of talk about the risk that Ford has taken with the extensive aluminum, but this the material is not an unknown commodity.  There are only two choices for dramatic weight loss in a truck: a highly-efficient engine and a massive change in materials for large-scale components.  I think these are well thought through and well executed.

While I expect the new F-150 to be a huge success, I also project that sales of the 2014 model will go through the roof in anticipation of the changes for 2015, and that the secondary used-truck market for late models.

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