The ideas started flowing almost a decade ago about how to make backing up a trailer attached to a Ford truck easier to maneuver.
“We started out making plans to convert most of our fleet of vehicles to electric steering and about midstream we had a brain-storming session around seven or eight years ago,” said Brad Hochrein, Ford chassis control supervisor, in a telephone interview recently.
Ford recognized that backing up trailers posed some problems for its truck customers.
“Sometimes it requires a fair amount of practice,” Hochrein said.
Attaching a trailer to the back of the truck and pulling it forward is far easier than the backing up process. When you arrive at the location and you are backing up the trailer to the destination spot – at a boat ramp, for example – the trailer might weave one way or another as you are backing up.
The Ford Motor Company is confident the problem will be solved when it introduces the Pro Trailer Backup Assist technology for its 2016 Ford F-150 when it hits the market later this year.
Hochrein said it will be offered for nearly the entire F-150 line except for the low-end model.
The technology works by placing a sticker on the trailer that supplies information to the vehicle.
“The way the system works is the camera system gives the information to the steering system,” Hochrein said. “It will control the steering and the overall speed. You rotate a knob on the dash that directs the position of the trailer.
“So if you want the trailer to go right, you would turn the knob to the right. If you want it to go left, you would turn it to the left. If you want it to go straight, you would turn it to the center or release the knob and back straight.”
By turning the knob, it will set up the angle of the truck to the trailer and it will follow that curvature of that angle as you back up.
“This system is like you are driving the trailer,” Hochrein said. “You rotate the knob to steer the trailer.”
The system is perfect for those taking a boat to the lake that requires backing into the docking area. Other than turning the knob, the truck is more or less on auto-pilot.
“Pro Trailer Backup Assist is a smart solution to save time and increase productivity for our customers,” said Doug Scott, marketing manager, Ford Truck Group, in a press release. “Instead of struggling to back up their trailer, they can spend more time on the job or enjoying the lake.”
Hochrein said they have tested the Pro Trailer Backup Assist at several customer clinics and media demonstrations.
“It has had very positive feedback,” Hochrein said. “They see why we are doing it.”
In late May, Brandon Turkus, associate editor for Autoblog.com, wrote about his experience using the Pro Trailer Backup Assist.
He took part in a hands-on demonstration at the Detroit River near Grosse Ile, Mich. Turkus wrote this on his blog: “Our immediate impression of this technology is that it will be a boon to novices or first-time towers, a group of which your author is a member.
“It takes the mystery out of backing up a trailer. While there’s still a learning curve involved, it is significantly easier than doing things the old-fashioned way. The knob itself is easy to modulate, allowing drivers to make fine adjustments to the trailer angle as needed. You still need to have your wits about you when using the system, but in general, the overall process is far more straight forward.”
This is the reaction Ford is looking for from its truck customers who use their trucks to haul different things and need to back it up to unload.
Hochrein said the system works equally well for short or long trailers.
“The system backs up with the same sort of ease,” Hochrein said. “I think our customers will love it. They will see backing up a trailer is not a stressful event anymore.”
If you have a story you would like to see On the Move, email David Boyce at Drive@kcstar.com.