The Best-Selling Vehicle in America May Have More Tricks Up Its Sleeve
Even with a hybrid system–it’s still got to tow
It’s been no secret that Ford has been eyeing an F-150 hybrid full-size gasoline-electric pickup truck for some time. In 2011 Ford and Toyota announced an agreement to jointly work on a production hybrid system for trucks and sport-utility vehicles and the expectation was that a Ford F-150 hybrid would appear relatively soon.
The hybrid system developed by the two automakers would be engineered to excel at towing while delivering exceptional fuel economy. It would be used in Ford’s F-150 as well as the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs. Toyota would employ the system in its Tundra pickup and Sequoia sport ute.
But, like many collaborations between automakers, this one didn’t last long. After two years the partnership ended with Ford saying at the time it would continue independently with the development of a hybrid truck, and that hybrid SUVs could eventually be added to its lineup as well.
After the break up, other than a few rumors, little was heard about an F-150 hybrid until a December 2015 interview with Ford’s product development chief Raj Nair in the Detroit Free Press. Nair told the paper’s auto critic, Mark Phelan, that Ford is “working very hard” on a hybrid system for the workhorse F-150 pickup. He added that it was too early to talk about how the system works or when it might debut.
It’s coming, but we don’t know when
Shortly after the Free Press interview, the company’s CEO, Mark Fields, confirmed the production of a hybrid pickup — and other interesting things — during an interview with NPR’s Ari Shapiro. When asked if the automaker was looking at an electric truck in the future, Field replied, “Well, we do have plans to have a rear-wheel drive hybrid truck by the end of the decade. So yes, we’re working on electrified F-series, and it’s really around a conventional hybrid.”
Following the norm of automakers regarding future products, Fields did not reveal any details about the future hybrid offering, such as which gasoline engine would be used or if a plug-in hybrid was also in the works.
The CEO did say that larger numbers of hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles would become “necessary” over the next decade or so, both because of “consumer demand” and regulatory requirements.
As for the “other interesting things,” Fields revealed Ford’s plan to move into ride sharing services, and compete with companies like Uber and Lyft. That is connected with the company’s recently announced $4.5 billion spending commitment to launch 13 new electrified models by 2020.
Not the First Hybrid Pickup Truck
For a number of years, Detroit automakers Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge (now Ram) have been working hard to improve pickup truck fuel efficiency. In 2005, General Motors introduced what it
called “hybrid” versions of its Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks. They incorporated what was essentially a sophisticated start-stop system.
Chevy’s been down the hybrid path twice–will the third time be the charm?
The electric motor provided an assist to the gas engine from a stop, and also provided operation of power tools off AC outlets in the cab and cargo bed. While fuel economy ratings of 18-mpg city and 20-mpg highway made the trucks the full-size pickup fuel economy champ at the time, the trucks were only available as very well-equipped extended cab body models, plus an additional $2,500 for the hybrid system. The nearly $40,000 price tag didn’t have many takers and GM discontinued the trucks two years later.
GM didn’t give up on hybrid systems, however. In 2009 the company introduced its “two-mode” hybrid system for Chevy and GMC full-size SUV and pickups with either two- or four-wheel drive. Fuel economy was an impressive 21-mpg city and 23-mpg highway. But again, the vehicles were loaded, top-of-the line versions and the prices didn’t justify the gasoline fuel savings. GM dropped the hybrid models at the end of 2013.
GM more recently announced the return of mild hybrid technology to its pickup lines, this time using its eAssist technology to give a low-cost (about $500) fuel economy improvement. They expect to sell a limited numbers of these trucks in 2016 exclusively in California.
Is a hybrid pickup appealing to you but you don’t want to wait until the Ford F-150 hybrid arrives or don’t live in California where the Silverado/Sierra hybrids will be offered? You don’t have to. While it’s not a Ford, Via Motors offers its range-extended (think Chevy Volt) VTRUX. It’s a converted Chevrolet Silverado that the company says can travel 40 miles on electric power alone.
Bold Move By Ford
To put it mildly, a hybrid F-150 pickup is a bold move by Ford. It’s the automaker’s single most important vehicle; the top seller and profit machine that pays the light bills in Dearborn.
But Ford isn’t afraid to gamble with their top seller. A few years ago they placed a huge bet that truck buyers would accept a twin-turbocharged V-6 in a full-size pickup. Th
Ford’s gambled before on its biggest seller
ey won big time on that one.
Another big gamble was the aluminum bodied 2015 F-150. It’s on track to sell around 750,000 units this year — another big win.
CEO Fields specifically stated the Ford F-150 hybrid would be rear-wheel drive. That eliminates the extra weight of four-wheel drive and guarantees maximum fuel economy, a smart choice.
It seems to me that if Ford wants to have any kind of success with the new hybrid truck they should learn from GM’s big mistake—don’t offer it only as a fully loaded model.
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AAA Names Diverse Top 10 Green Cars & Trucks
Another day, another Top 10 Green Car list. While many of these lists might be linkbait for websites scrambling to add eyeballs, some of them stand out as the result of actual testing and measuring. The AAA list just released is one of the latter, focused on real-world capabilities. After all, this the automobile club, dedicated to helping its members travel and keep up their cars; it’s not some non-profit environmental group wishing everyone would walk or bike wherever they need to go (not that there’s anything wrong with optimizing your mode of travel for environmental impact).
So, when the AAA of Southern California says they’ve tested more than 80 models and have a list of the Top 10 Green Cars and Trucks in each category—it’s worth a look. It’s also not surprising that Clean Fleet Report has more to add on almost every vehicle on the list. Here is AAA’s Top 10 (broken between the Top Green Cars and the Top Green Values as well as the greenest cars in some main categories) and our take on the winners with links to our own tests of these vehicles or news stories on them.
Top Scoring Green Cars
- 2015 Tesla Model SP85D (electric)
- 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf SEL (electric)
- 2014 BMW i3 (electric)
- 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i PZEV (gasoline)
- 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI SE (diesel)
Best Value (cost-per-point score)
- 2014 Nissan Versa SV (gasoline)
- 2014 Nissan Versa Note SV (gasoline)
- 2013 Hyundai Accent GLS (gasoline)
- 2015 Toyota Yaris LE (gasoline)
- 2014 Kia Soul+ (gasoline)
Of course the AAA also correctly separated vehicles into categories (since there isn’t a lot of cross-shopping at Toyota between the Yaris and Tundra, for instance) and came up with these six winners, two-thirds of which were reflected in the Top 5.
2015 AAA Green Car Guide Category Winners
Large car: 2015 Tesla Model S P85D (electric)
Midsize car: 2015 Audi A7 TDI Quattro (diesel)
Compact car: 2015 Volkswagen e-Golf (electric)
2015 Ford F-150 – An Eco truck
Subcompact car: 2014 BMW i3 (electric)
SUV/Minivan: 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i (gasoline)
Pickup truck: 2015 Ford F-150 Supercab Lariat (gasoline)
So there you have it. If green is all you care about, there are a range of choices led by some great new electric cars. If your pocket book is the green you care about the most (while still wanting to make a green choice), then it looks like gasoline still rules the day in the AAA’s evaluation. The company has a very basic definition of what makes a car green, one that we at Clean Fleet Report follow as well—a car is green if it burns less fuel than an average gasoline or diesel vehicle and minimizes emissions from burning its fuel (we look at fuel in a global sense from “well-to-wheel” since we all know the electrons it takes to run an electric car create pollution where they’re created unless they’re coming from solar panels or wind power).
In their testing AAA took a holistic view of the car, rating them on not only emissions and fuel economy, but crashworthiness, braking, acceleration, handling, cargo-carrying capacity, ride quality, interior noise, ease of entry and exit, maneuverability, roominess and visibility—a total of 13 categories. Among the 80+ tested were diesels, hybrids, CNG-power vehicles, electrics, plug-in hybrids, flex-fuel vehicles and high-mpg gasoline vehicles.
Yaris-a big little eco car
Clean Fleet Report has tested most of the winning vehicles (though not quite as thoroughly since we don’t have a test track and a staff of engineers) and agrees with many of the AAA picks. The Tesla does stand alone among the “green” vehicles on the market right now, but as AAA noted, its price certainly doesn’t make it easy to go green. On the other end of the spectrum, our experience with the Nissan Versa Note and the Toyota Yaris validate the findings—there’s a lot of bang for the buck in those little cars.
Likewise, the Volkswagen e-Golf and BMW i3 are our two favorite “affordable” electric cars, along with the Fiat 500e. Since AAA had to use a standardized metric for cost, they used MSRP (the Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price, or the official list price), they weren’t able to show some of the lease deals or discounted sales that would have shifted the cost-per-point score to a much more favorable number. We’re also a sucker for the Golf TDI (or just about any Golf in the new generation) and the TDI on the tail of an Audi puts it at the head of any list we’re drawing up. Similarly, Subarus, including the Outback, have long been our choice among compact
A badge of honor
all-wheel drives. We’ve seen the new F-150 and are impressed with the leap that Ford has made with the truck’s technology, but have only had a brief chance to put that knowledge into practice in a test session, so we’ll withhold judgement in the truck category. What we do know from past tests of the Chevy Silverado and drives of the Dodge Ram is—they have some tough competition in the Green Truck category.
The bottom line is, even if we quibble with some of the details of the AAA process and decisions that process leads to, we applaud their willingness to do hands-on testing of vehicles and their approach that looks beyond a simple “green” label based on the type of fuel or propulsion unit for the car. Factoring in the value is another critical step that every smart consumer makes, which is probably why the AAA remains such a valuable resource for some many people.
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Electric Cars, Fuel Cells; Diverse Paths to Fuel Efficiency Highlighted
Here at Clean Fleet Report we had a great year, seeing and reporting to you on a record number of cars, trucks, SUVs and even some two-wheel fuel-efficient vehicles. We had plenty of stories on electric cars, plug-in hybrids, conventional hybrids, clean diesels and very efficient gas-powered vehicles. Beyond that, we reported on significant news and trends you need to know about to plan your next car purchase—or just keep up on the conversation about what’s happening on the leading edge of the automotive world.
So, here, in reverse order, are our Top 10 stories for the year from among the record 69 we published in 2014.
10. Two Wheels Go Electric. We had a sneak peak at the Tesla of electric motorcycles, the aptly named Energica Ego. It has a price up in the “if you have to ask” territory, reflecting its Formula
Two wheels go electric, too!
1 engineering roots and extensive use of carbon fiber and top-brand components. We also noted that Harley-Davidson showed off an electric Harley concept that could indicate they’re looking at the same territory.
9. Ford’s Aluminum Pickup. Ford spent a good portion of the year talking about one of the most revolutionary moves in the truck sector—a weight reduction campaign for its best-selling F-150 pickup that involved a move to an aluminum body and the use of lighter weight high-strength steel. With a lighter pickup, Ford was able to drop in a smaller EcoBoost engine and still maintain expected towing and hauling capacities. The truck has just gone on sale at the end of 2014, but the move boosted fuel economy by almost 30 percent, a move needed to counteract competitors like the Ram, which took the diesel route to the top fuel economy in the sector. Not to be left out, GM introduced a pair of new midsize pickups that also will be adding diesel power in 2015.
8. Compact SUVs Crack the 30 MPG Mark. It was hard to pick just one of new breed of compact SUVs/crossovers. We may need to up the ante for the 30 MPG Club because these guys are making it look easy. This year’s batch was led by the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5, but you could throw in a Subaru or two and not be disappointed. The combination of fuel economy, interior utility, high-tech features and all-wheel-drive capability should help this class to continue to be popular in 2015.
7. Tesla on the Battlefield. We didn’t dive too deeply into the almost daily drama emanating from Palo Alto (just up the road from our headquarters) because we like to focus on the hardware and the significant news that affects that hardware. But we couldn’t avoid a couple articles on Elon Musk’s battle to establish a different sales model of direct sales. He had some success, some losses (sort of like the company’s balance sheet). We’ll continue to follow the company’s progress on this front and any developments on product, which will likely be led by the introduction of the Model X late in 2015.
6. Clean Diesel’s Leader—VW Jetta. Let’s be honest, we love great fuel economy, but really don’t want to give up the fun of driving. Diesel engines are one of the best methods of having the best of both worlds. Hundreds of miles of driving on a tank and the power to effortlessly take on anything the road has to offer. We sampled several diesels this year, but have settled on the Volkswagen Jetta as the standard-bearer of this segment. We like the compact size, the power, the upscale appointments and most of all, an easy 40+ mpg out on the road.
5. The Prius Quartet. You can’t know the Prius. It has led the way for a decade and a half and blazed fuel-economy trails that most other cars have not been able to match. So Toyota decided to make it a family and there are now four variants, all four of which Clean Fleet Report road-tested this year. It’s a challenge figured out which might work the best, but ranging from the diminutive c to the wagon-like V with the traditional Liftback and Plug-In sandwiched in-between, Toyota figures to have the market well-covered.
4. Fuel Cell Electric Cars Arrive! Of course we’ve heard this one before. But this time they mean it! Consider this the second coming of the fuel cell car. We’ve had prototypes running around
An aggressive year for fuel cells
for a decade or more, but now you can buy an FCEV. That is, if you live near the just-beginning refueling infrastructure. Hyundai hit the market first, but Toyota is close behind and Honda not long after them. Mercedes already has dozens on the road and VW and Audi showcased potential challengers. We’ll be keeping an eye of these cars, but from what we’ve driven so far, there is no question about the seriousness of the automakers in bringing FCEVs to market. Hyundai’s fuel cell “engine” was even named by WardsAuto as one of the 10 Best of the year.
3. Kia Soul EV. Cue the hamsters! Electric cars are now cool. The Korean automaker is dipping its toes in the all-electric market (they’ve got a hybrid on the market and a plug-in hybrid coming) with its popular little mini-wagon. We had a fun first drive with the Soul EV and expect to spend some more time in it in 2015.
2. BMW i3. We should have seen this one coming as the Bavarian merchants of speed first dropped a cobbled Mini-E on us, followed up by a pedestrian-
Here come the hamsters!
looking but competent performer in the Active-E. Finally, the real deal arrives and it is every bit the BMW we would expect. Except maybe in its looks, which are more squat than BMW’s SUVs.
When it comes to performance and technology, the i3 is ground-breaking and delivers the driving experience you would expect from a BMW, but without the gasoline (unless you get the REX version that carries a small engine and extends the range 50 miles).
1. Top 10 Electric Cars. This is the big story. We have to choose to pick the Top 10 electric cars available today. It’s still a mix of pure electrics and plug-in hybrids, but the list is growing quickly and the variety of vehicles is looking better than ever. Everything from two-seat mini-sedans to six-figure luxury sports cars are now crowding this list, which we keep updated on a regular basis. The progress being made by automakers is encouraging and the response of the public has been likewise. It’s getting easier to find an electric car that works for your lifestyle and pocketbook. The new players like the VW e-Golf, Kia Soul EV and BMW i3 are making a statement that this is a segment destined to hold a growing portion of the market. Clean Fleet Report will continue to be there in 2015 to make sure you have all the latest news on this group and all of the others out there.
Happy New Year!
Here on links to our Top 10 Stories of 2014
- Top 10 Electric Cars.
- BMW i3.
- Kia Soul EV.
- Fuel Cells Cars Arrive!
- The Prius Quartet: The c and V; Liftback and Plug-In.
- Clean Diesel’s Standard-Bearer—the VW Jetta (2014/2015).
- Tesla’s Battles at the Dealership—two engagements.
- Compact SUVs Crack the 30 MPG Barrier: Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5.
- Ford’s Aluminum Pickup. Pickups Pick Up MPG. First Drive: Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon.
- Two Wheels Go Electric.
Mobile Office That Can Tow 3 Tons.
Chevy Silverado-luxury in a truck
In the market for a truck? How about a really nice truck that seats five or six big adults very comfortably, comes ready to act as your office on wheels, can tow pretty much anything you have in mind and if necessary, can get you through the mud and muck over hill and dale? Or maybe you are looking to “feel like a man,” which is what the SoCal Chevrolet dealers radio commercial told me that driving the 2014 Silverado will do. Other commercials note that the Chevy pickup’s V8 gets better fuel economy than rival Ford’s V6. That must be some truck!
The 2014 Chevrolet Silverado was awarded North American Truck of the Year at the Detroit auto show: a well-earned honor. The Silverado has been head-to-head (though slightly behind in sales) with the Ford F-150 for many years and according to General Motors, the 2014 has “hundreds of improvements, large and small.” With the base price carrying-over from the 2013 model, you can’t argue with getting new and improved at no additional cost.
I drove the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Z71 Crew Cab with the 4.3L V6 EcoTec3 engine, which is one of three engine options, including two V8s. The 4.3L V6 is rated at 17 City/22 Highway for a 19 MPG combined
Coming on like the big trucks
So why is Clean Fleet Report reviewing this pickup truck as we primarily feature high-MPG, alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles? Because, as a six-cylinder gasoline-powered full-size pickup that weighs 7,200 lbs. and can tow 6,700 lbs., this truck is worth considering. Also, this Silverado can run on the E85 blend (85% ethanol / 15% gasoline) which give it alt fuel cred.
We felt the gasoline-powered Silverado was newsworthy for those of you looking for a large pickup that can tow 3+ tons at respectable fuel economy. Clean Fleet Report will feature more of these vehicles when they merit the attention and recognition, as well as diesel versions of Ram and Nissan pickups as well as Ford’s new lightweight F-150, which we reviewed at the recent Detroit Auto Show.
The four-door Silverado, powered by the 4.3L direct-injection, 262-cubic-inch V6, is rated at 285 hp delivering 305 lb-ft of torque. If using the E85 blend those numbers increase to 297/330. The engine mates to Chevrolet’s Hydra-Matic 6-speed automatic, driving the rear wheels in 2WD mode.
Our Silverado came with 4WD and the Z71 off-road suspension package, which included a 2-speed AutoTrac transfer case, hill descent control, underbody and transfer case shield, auto-locking rear differential and monotube Rancho brand shocks.
The base Silverado comes with a nice list of standard features such as power windows, mirrors and door locks, cruise control, a leather-wrapped tilt column steering wheel with audio controls, MyLink audio system with the 4.2-inch color display with OnStar, Bluetooth, SiriusXM and HD radio, USB and MP3 ports. Add-in the LT Convenience Package and the Silverado gets an 8-inch color display screen for the MyLink audio system, heated power driver and passenger-side adjustable seats, dual-zone climate control, remote start, rear vision camera, rear window defroster and a very handy 110-volt AC power outlet.
Gauges where they belong – expect one
A note regarding OnStar: a simple push of a button connects you with a friendly General Motors representative to handle emergencies, directions and general assistance to make your driving experience safer and more enjoyable. This is one area where GM has been the industry leader; it is well worth renewing after the initial six-month service plan expires.
The dash and gauges are laid-out in a clear manner within easy reach, clustered to the right and left of the steering wheel and in the center stack/console. This layout was better than in many cars I have driven. One note, though, is that the knobs to engage the 4WD and the headlights are next to each other, shaped the same, are the same size and color and have the same feel. This made for an interesting first time I turned-on the headlights and instead was now driving in 4WD. Lesson learned on my part, but since the front drive wheels are rarely used (as compared to the headlights) it seems this knob could be placed elsewhere or shaped differently. Regarding the knobs, I will say that if you are wearing work or ski gloves, they are all easy to grab.
The interior space, front and rear, is spacious and comfortable. The cloth seats are padded well, offered good support and rear legroom had me thinking I was in a limo. If you opt for the LTZ Package, the leather seats will make you feel like being in a luxury car instead of a pickup truck.
The headline to this review mentioned the Silverado LT can become your mobile office. Chevrolet has gone to great lengths to recognize the needs of those who will be buying a $46,000+ pickup truck: contractors and
Welcome to the crew
building industry folk. Cubbies are seemingly everywhere, including a nicely thought-out wide center armrest that lifts to reveal storage for a laptop, notebook or iPad. You will also find inside the armrest USB ports, 12V and 110-volt AC outlets. So with the Bluetooth you can be hands-free when sitting on the job site to correspond or complete bids. The interior workspace is so welcoming that with the heated seats and the office accommodations, you can be comfortable and productive anywhere you set up business.
Driver comfort can only be as good as driver confidence in the vehicle’s safety equipment. The Silverado LT comes with eight airbags, cruise control, remote start, outside power and heated mirrors, rear vision camera along with power disc brakes, ABS, daytime running lights, Stabilitrak and TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System.)
The Silverado 1500 (1500 signifying what has historically been known as a half-ton pickup, indicating its nominal payload) exterior was redesigned for 2014 with a bold, upright, aggressive chrome grill divided by the bowtie logo. The look is more evolutionary than revolutionary, but now makes a stronger connection with its beefier siblings, the 2500 and 3500 Heavy Duty models.
The Silverado 1500 LT Z71 sits high due to the 4WD package so road vision is excellent. One appreciated feature are the foot steps found on the corners of the rear bumper. This simple element makes accessing the bed
A necessary step
an easy task. However, what could be a bit better is the Assist Step that almost runs the length below the front and rear doors. “Almost” is the key here because for some reason the step is cut short by about six inches, which, as it turns-out, are the most important six inches needed to assist reaching into the bed. Because of the 4WD Z71 Package, the truck height is such that unless you are very tall and with long arms, you cannot reach the bed over the bedsides. I guess one solution would be to make sure you always carry a ladder.
The tonneau cover with the folding access section was a nice and convenient touch.
The Driving Experience: On The Road
One of the first things you will notice is how quiet it is inside the Silverado. This truck rides like a high-end – dare I say – luxury car? It is smooth and quiet and unless pushed really hard around corners, the ride is flat and handles most road surfaces well. If there are any misgivings about how a full-size truck can ride, handle and its ease of driving, let them end with the Silverado. I did not drive the Silverado with a loaded-down bed or pulling a trailer, nor off-road. But I can extrapolate that with the suspension package, trailer brake controller, Stabilitrac stability control, trailer sway control and hill start assist, I am confident that it performs as advertised.
The 305 lb-ft of torque coming from the V6 has a strong powerband, coming-on where it should – not necessarily off the line to spin the tires but when you really need it for passing and hauling. It also has enough oomph to power the Crew Cab in either the 5-foot-8-inch bed (which we were driving) or the 6-foot-6-inch bed, plus pull when in 4WD.
The electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering helps make for a reasonable turning radius for a 19-foot-long vehicle, with only three turns, lock-to-lock, which means you don’t need to be muscle- bound to hustle it in city driving and parking lots.
The 2014 Silverado 1500 LT 4WD Crew Cab was priced at $45,130 including the $995 Destination Charge.
The 2014 Silverado comes with these warranties:
Basic: 3 year/36,000 miles
Powertrain: 5 year/100,000 miles
Scheduled Maintenance: 2 year/24,000 miles
Drivetrain: 5 year/100,000 miles
Roadside Assistance: 5 year/100,000 miles
Rust: 6 year/100,000 miles
Observations: 2014 Silverado 1500 LT 4WD Crew Cab
A first thought might be – who would pay $45,000+ (closer to $50,000 with the LTZ Package) for a pickup truck? But when you dig deeper into whom a truck like this is built for and what that person uses it for, then the price is no longer an issue.
Chevrolet knows that the Silverado has to meet the needs of business executives, especially in the construction trades, vocational professionals who will load the bed with everything from gravel to barbells, sportsmen and
Ready for business – front and back
the family that pulls a trailer filled with ATVs and motorcycles, a boat or camper. So how do you design a truck to meet all these needs?
The 2014 Silverado 1500 LT 4WD Crew Cab answers these needs with comfort, style, power, towing capacity and overall ruggedness without looking or driving like a brute of a truck. Everything from the infotainment system to legroom and mobile office accoutrements exceed the needs for that diverse group of owners and shows why it was awarded the Truck of the Year honor.
Do you need a truck? If so, the Silverado should be on your shopping list. Take along the family to the dealer and take it for a lengthy test drive. I bet you will see smiles coming from the back seat.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new truck and, as always, Happy Driving!
Words & Photos By John Faulkner
Posted on February 12, 2014
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2015 Ford F-150 – It’s a game-changer
New Aluminum-Intensive F-150 Pickup Leads the Way.
The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) aka the Detroit Auto Show is where the best and brightest, the newest ideas in cars and trucks appear first. It’s the big stage, and the 2014 NAIAS stage had many stories, but the biggest was that of Ford’s reinventing of its best-seller, the F-150 pickup.
The significance of Ford’s announcement of its aluminum-intensive 2015 F-150 should not be underestimated. Ford presented them as a “challenge to the industry.” This truck has been the best-selling vehicle in the U.S
. for 32 years and the best-selling pickup for 37. It is the cash cow of the Ford franchise, bringing in the lion’s share of profits when the company is making money and helping keep it from sinking when times are tough.
Ford’s Got a Corner on Aluminum
As Doug Scott, the Ford Truck Group Marketing Manager, said of the significance of the aluminum move: “It applies to all models, all powertrains.” The weight-loss program should result in fuel economy improvements across the board for all Ford trucks (Ford hasn’t released official EPA numbers). That, in turn, should help them competitively.
Recent ads from its main competitor, the Chevy Silverado, claimed the Chevy pickup’s V-8 turned in better fuel economy than Ford’s V-6. And Ram is introducing a light-duty diesel that should boost its fuel economy.
How Will the Market Respond?
In addition, truck buyers are thought to be conservative, traditionally oriented purchasers more interested in something tried and true (like a perennial best-selling truck) than anything different from what they expect.
Ford began challenging those market assumptions in 2011 when it introduced a turbocharged direct-injection V-6 EcoBoost engine as the preferred engine for their pickup, challenging truck buyers’ tried-and-true preference for V-8s. They’ve had some success and the new version of the pickup will add a brand-new 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6, scaling down things even more and doubling the EcoBoost options. Ford said they expect this graphite iron block engine to b the most popular of the four engine options since it will deliver V-8 power with better than V-6 fuel economy and also will employ Ford’s Auto Start Stop technology. But the 2015 aluminum-intensive truck is arguably an even bigger challenge to sell to truck buyers used to a steel-encased truck for their work.
Name’s the same, but not the game
Ford has done something no one else has been able to do in a mass-produced vehicle – take significant weight (up to 700 pounds, varying from model to model) out of a vehicle. That weight reduction, which comes both from the switch to aluminum in the body (450 pounds) and high-strength steel in the frame (60 pounds), enables other weight-saving moves such as being able to use smaller, lighter engines to do the same (or even more) work in a truck that probably will still weigh in at more than two tons. They have been working with aluminum since the 1970s, although this is clearly the biggest engagement with the metal they (or anyone else in the auto industry) has ever attempted, making it a central part of a vehicle so popular that one is sold every 41 seconds.
What F-150 Chief Engineer Pete Reyes said, they have learned things over the years and learned even more during the three-year development process of this truck. One thing they found is that they could upgrade the gauge of the aluminum from their original specs without compromising the weight savings, resulting in a more durable body and bed.
Like Chrysler with its minivan franchise, Ford has been leveraging its massive installed base to pull ideas for improvements to the F-150 for years. But those are the sort of changes that result in incremental improvements and tend to keep a segment leader ahead of the pack. What Ford has done here is no incremental improvement. It’s also unlikely that it came from a customer suggestion. Innovation comes from somewhere else. The 2015 F-150 shows that Ford has got the kind of moxie to keep moving a step (or more) beyond where everyone else might be. We’ll have to wait and see how the market reacts to the new truck, but the same market that has been signing on for EcoBoost engines will undoubtedly embrace the new lighter, but just as capable pickup.
Story & Photos By Michael Coates
Posted Jan. 22, 2014
We’ll watch to see if the F-150 keeps a step ahead