Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Pickup sheds pounds but is no lightweight

The redesigned 2015 Ford F-150 leverages aluminum to minimize weight and boost its fuel economy, but without sacrificing utility.

Ford F-150
Ford F-150 AP

Automakers – particularly the domestic brands – would seem to be in a pickle these days regarding their full-size pickup truck lines. With the U.S. economy firmly in recovery mode, sales of what are typically the most profitable models on a dealer’s lot are soaring, with sticker prices on luxury-minded models easily shattering the $50,000 barrier.

Unfortunately truck builders aren’t in much of a position to take the money and run, as stricter federal fuel economy regulations being phased in over the coming years – peaking at an industry average 54.5 mpg by 2025 – should be prompting major design changes among full-size models. The trick will be to boost a pickup’s mileage without either extreme downsizing or neutering its workman-like abilities so as not to alienate the segment’s loyal core of buyers.

To that end, Ford is readying a dramatic redesign of its top-selling F-150 pickup later this year as a 2015 model that essentially puts the full-size truck through a major weight reduction program, along with other changes, for the sake of what should be more than just token fuel economy gains.

“This is a critical redesign, not just for Ford, but for the entire full-size truck market as we enter an era of rapidly-increasing fuel efficiency standards,” says Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “Ford needs to establish the F-150 as a future-friendly model that will keep pace with government regulations while still meeting the demands of serious truck buyers.”

All else being equal, reducing a vehicle’s weight is the simplest way for auto engineers to boost its mpg. Not only does the engine have to work less strenuously to get the vehicle up to speed, designers can employ smaller and more efficient powerplants to deliver equally acceptable levels of performance.

The 2015 F-150 makes extensive use of lightweight, yet durable materials to help trim the pickup’s weight by around 700 pounds, which is no small feat. Ninety three percent of the body panels will be fabricated from aluminum, with its traditional ladder-box frame crafted from high-strength steel.

The fuel economy leader in the lineup will be a newly offered 2.7-liter turbocharged V6 engine with an auto stop-stop function – a first among pickups – that automatically powers itself down while at idle to save gas. A conventional 3.5-liter V6 will remain the standard powerplant, with the current 3.5-liter turbo-V6 and a 5.0-liter V8 optional. Models equipped with either of the turbo-sixes will also come with so-called active shutters behind the front grille that close once the truck reaches cruising speeds for improved aerodynamics.

Specifics for the redesigned F-150’s engine lineup have yet to be released, but we expect the new 2.7-liter V6 to rival small V8s from other truck makers in terms of horsepower and towing capabilities, with class-leading fuel economy.

Otherwise the redesigned Ford F-150 will be similar in size compared to the current model, and it will feature updated styling with a wider stance, exaggerated wheel arches and a bold front face, with chrome and monochromatic sport appearance packages available for customization.

The truck will again be offered in standard, extended SuperCab and four-door Crew Cab models with rear- or four-wheel-drive in XL, XLT, Lariat, Platinum and King Ranch trim levels, with the latter two versions being the most luxurious.

A long list of newly offered features includes several of the latest high-tech safety systems, including both lane departure and blind spot warning systems; inflatable rear-seat safety belts will work like small airbags to help prevent chest injuries in a crash.

Other improvements include an available remote-operated tailgate, LED headlamps, taillights and cargo bed illumination, a 360-degree external video monitor for easier parking, integrated rear loading ramps, a new BoxLink cargo-securing system and a panoramic sunroof.

The redesigned Ford F-150 should be arriving at dealers’ showrooms this September.

© CTW Features

Jim Gorzelany CTW Features