It’s been nearly a year since the 2015 F-150 made a splash with its aluminum body at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Now the time has come to get the new models into dealer showrooms. A trickle of them have started to be delivered from a Michigan plant which is ramping up, and early next year the company’s Claycomo plant will begin production.
Area Ford dealers have been fielding customer inquiries about the newest version of the F-150, which for decades has been the most popular vehicle in the U.S.
“We’re anxious and excited to get one,” said Mark Smith, president of Dick Smith Ford in Raytown, who hopes to have one or two of the 2015 F-150s by Christmas.
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The launch of a revamped popular model is typically a big deal, and this time even more so. The pickup truck will have an aluminum body which is getting lots of attention since it’s a first for a mainstream vehicle.
Ford says it is ready. The truck has gone through 10 million miles of durability tests, and the military-grade aluminum is ding resistant, in keeping with the truck’s reputation for toughness. The company got some bragging rights last week when the 2015 F-150 with a 2.7 liter V-6 Ecoboost engine got a fuel economy rating that’s the best of any full-sized gasoline-powered pickup.
The truck will also offer a slew of available features such as inflatable seat belts to distribute the force of a crash and high wattage outlets to recharge tools. A remote controlled tailgate and special braking to automatically rein in a vehicle going too fast into a curve are among the options.
The company says it’s confident the 2015 F-150 will keep its current customers loyal and even snatch some from competitors.
“I couldn’t be more bullish,” said Doug Scott, marketing manager of the Ford Truck Group. “We believe this is the new standard of full-sized pickups.”
That remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt the stakes are high. The F-150 has been an economic savior for the company. It led it out of the recession and provides an outsized portion of Ford’s profits. Making sure that continues is riding on the new model.
“This will be the most important vehicle for Ford’s global profitability,” said Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst for Edmunds.com, a car buying site.
Steve Porter, president of Thoroughbred Ford in Kansas City and Platte City, said in his roughly 30 years at the dealership this is the most important launch he can remember with the aluminum body generating a lot of buzz. People are coming out-even some who haven’t been truck customers-and saying they want to try one.
“It’s the latest and the greatest,” he said. “It’s a huge deal.”
The first 2015 F-150s to be delivered are coming from the company’s Dearborn, Mich., plant which has worked through early production glitches. Ford workers in Claycomo have been training to build it while continuing to make some of the older F-150s in the interim.
The Dearborn plant will be able to build 400,000 of the trucks when at full speed, and Claycomo’s capacity will be 300,000.
Ford says its Kansas City area plant will begin manufacturing the 2015 model early next year, but it hasn’t been more specific. It will start with one shift and ramp up to three. The Claycomo plant, which also makes the Transit commercial van, has about 6,000 employees. That’s a stark contrast to a few years ago when the plant lost the Ford Escape and the F-150 was down to one shift, spawning worries about the plant’s future.
The F-150 is a full-size pickup, a category that remains a stronghold of the Detroit automakers. It’s also a category that has become more competitive. In the last couple of years, new models of the Chevrolet Silverado and Dodge Ram were introduced with more features and fuel economy that at the time beat the F-150. Dodge Ram with a diesel engine is still the most fuel efficient full-size pickup, but the higher cost of diesel and of the engine diminishes the economic advantage.
Automakers are under pressure to meet increasingly tough fuel economy standards, but Ford is also betting that a F-150 that goes farther on a gallon of fuel will be more competitive. The timing could be better, because consumer interest in fuel efficiency typically wanes when fuel prices drop, and right now average nationwide gas prices are at four-year lows.
But Scott, Ford’s marketing manager, claims fuel economy has been the top unmet need for full-size pickups for years, regardless of gas prices.
So far, automaker have largely boosted fuel efficiency with improvements to the traditional internal combustion engine. Chevrolet boosted the efficiency of its Silverado pickup, for example, by using an engine that deactivates cylinders when the power isn’t need.
Better aerodynamics also have helped, and Ford has committed to selling a hybrid electric F-150 before the end of the decade.
But the company’s big throw for now is weight reduction. The new F-150 will be up to 700 pounds lighter. The aluminum body, similar to what the military uses in its Humvee, accounts for the biggest part of the reduction. The windows have lighter laminated glass. A tire jack is 2.2 pounds lighter. An available V8 engine has aluminum blocks.
A lighter vehicle means it takes less energy to move it, and the opportunity to use a smaller engine. A turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 Ecoboost engine, which will cost an extra $500, is the most efficient engine in the 2015 F-150. A larger turbocharged V6 is also available, along with a traditional V6. A 5-liter V8 is offered, but the 6.2-liter V8 has been dropped.
The Environmental Protection Agency in its fuel economy standings gives the 2015 F-150 with the 2.7-liter engine a rating of 22 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving. The best for the previous model was 19. The most efficient Chevrolet, GMC and Dodge full-size pickups with gasoline engines get 20 miles per gallon in the government ratings.
Engine size and power are sensitive issues for pickup trucks. Ford with its Ecoboost engines has increased the amount of horesepower and torque, and is making inroads into the turf of larger engines. But it still offers the V8 for the heaviest duty work and those who prefer a larger motor.
But Ford officials feel the 2.7-liter engine in the F-150 may be the sweet spot in getting new customers with improved economy and enough towing capacity to pull 8,500 pounds.
“That’s an opportunity for us to expand our appeal,” said Scott.
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Taking a load off
▪ The new F-150’s save a lot of weight by using aluminum in the body and truck bed. Ford stresses that the aluminum alloys are high strength, military grade, and resistant to dents.
▪ But steel is still used in places, such as the frame. Ford says the use of high-strength steel rose from 20% in the 2014 model to more than 70% in the 2015 models, and still saved up to 60 pounds.