Ford Motor Co., taking risks with its top-selling and most profitable model, introduced an F-150 pickup that weighs as much as 700 pounds lighter to deliver a boost in fuel economy.
Bloomberg reported that the F-150 going on sale late this year boasts military-grade aluminum alloy throughout its body, Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford said in a statement. The second-largest U.S. carmaker also added a 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine, the smallest-displacement powertrain in its truck lineup.
CEO Alan Mulally, trained as an aeronautical engineer, is pushing Ford into the use of lightweight material commonly found in planes and never-before tested on this scale in automotives. The switch from steel-bodied F-150s will pose a challenge on the factory floors that have produced the top-selling truck in the last 32 years.
“More than the fuel efficiency or the weight savings, where you can say why this vehicle is special is it’s the first one that was high-volume to go aluminum, and it paved the way for everything else,” Kevin Tynan, an auto analyst for Bloomberg Industries, said in a telephone interview.
The lean F-150 being unveiled today (Jan. 13) at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit shares many of the same features as the Atlas concept truck that was lowered from the roof of the Joe Louis Arena during last year’s show. These include LED lights in the headlamps, taillamps, cargo box and side mirrors, and fuel-saving technology that shuts off the engine when the truck is stopped.
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The Ford F-Series pickup truck has been a perennial best-seller for years now, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. MotorTrend reported that after previously announcing it will boost annual capacity for the pickup by 200,000 more units, Ford will soon add a third crew to its Kansas City assembly plant in Missouri to meet the increase in demand.
The third crew will consist of 900 new workers who will build the F-150, a key tow vehicle for RVs, topped the sales chart in July, selling 60,449 units for year-to-date total of 427,935 units. For comparison, the Chevrolet Silverado, which was the second-best selling vehicle last month, has sold 284,666 so far this year.
Additionally, Ford is creating about 1,000 more jobs at the same plant to help launch the all-new Transit van, which will start production early next year. The automaker is currently expanding and retooling its Kansas City plant as part of an $11 billion investment for production of the Transit van.
The new 2014 Transit, which represents another platform for Class B motorhome builders, utilizes a unibody structure and will be powered by Ford’s familiar 3.7-liter DOHC V-6, or the optional 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6. Customers demanding a diesel can opt for a 3.2-liter five-cylinder turbodiesel.
While sold in Europe under the DuraTorq name, the engine will be labeled as a Power Stroke in North America. Regardless of the engine choice, all U.S.-spec Transit models will utilize a six-speed automatic transmission.
The big news in the automotive industry last week was the introduction of General Motors’ all-new 2014 full-size pickup trucks. Now Ford Motor Co. is looking to make that old news.
Reuters reports that the automaker is planning a surprise reveal of a concept for its radically redesigned 2015 F-150, said by insiders to be a game-changer in the half-ton segment, at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next January.
Where the new Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra are evolutionary designs, the new Ford is expected to be nothing short of revolutionary, with an extensive use of aluminum in its construction and re-engineered components like axles and brakes all aimed at cutting 700-750 pounds from the vehicles in order to improve fuel efficiency.
Reuters says Ford is aiming for a 3 mpg increase in fuel economy. That would represent a better than 15% improvement over the most fuel efficient F-150 available today, which is rated at 19 mpg combined. The trucks are expected to go into production in late 2014 as 2015 models.
Ford has not yet confirmed the plan to show the concept in Detroit, where it will be focusing its efforts on the launch of its E-Series full-size van replacement, the Transit.
The last time Ford brought a full-size truck concept to an auto show was in 2006 when it unveiled the F-250 Super Chief in Detroit. Inspired by the classic passenger trains of the same name, the heavy duty pickup featured an ultra-luxurious interior and a futuristic tri-fuel V10 engine that could run on gasoline, E85 or hydrogen.
This type of powerplant doesn’t appear to be in the works for the next generation F-150, but Reuters says a new line of turbocharged V6 engines is under development. Ford’s existing EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 is the top choice of F-150 buyers today.
Ford is also known to be working with Toyota to design a hybrid powertrain for full-size trucks, but has yet to commit to putting it into production. General Motors is discontinuing its hybrid pickups and SUVs next year citing low sales.
Under pressure from government safety regulators, Ford Motor Co. is expanding a recall of the popular F-150 pickup truck to include nearly 1.2 million vehicles that may have defective air bags, Associated Press reported.
The additional recall, announced today (April 14) by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), covers trucks from the 2004 through 2006 model years. An electrical short can cause the air bags to deploy unexpectedly, in some cases injuring drivers.
In February, Ford agreed to fix 150,000 of the trucks but resisted the government’s wishes to recall all 1.2 million trucks that may have the problem.
Ford’s F-Series pickup truck is the top-selling vehicle in America and is used as a tow vehicle for small towable RVs. The F-150 makes up about 60% of F-Series sales. Through March, the company sold nearly 127,000 of the pickups. The F-Series also includes heavier duty trucks such as the F-250 and F-350.
The Dearborn, Mich., company said in a statement that it will notify all owners in May that they should take their trucks to a dealer who will replace an air bag wire in the steering wheel. The repair takes less than a half day, the company said. The wire can become chafed, causing a short circuit that can lead to the airbag inflating unexpectedly.
Ford said it knows of no crashes caused by the airbag problem. But NHTSA said in a January letter to Ford that the agency knew of 269 cases in which the air bags deployed inadvertently, resulting in 98 injuries, some serious. The agency noted that Ford made production changes to the trucks in 2006 and 2007 to fix the air bag wiring and other issues.
Ford told NHTSA in May that some drivers reported injuries that included burns from contact with the air bag, bruises, neck and back pain and minor cuts. Two customers reported broken or chipped teeth and two reported elbow or arm fractures.
NHTSA wanted Ford to recall all 1.2 million trucks, but Ford told the agency that the full recall was not justified and said owners got an adequate warning of the problem from the air bag warning light on the dashboard. But NHTSA disagreed and said it could hold a rare public hearing on the matter. “The potential for loss of vehicular control poses an unreasonable risk to safety,” NHTSA told the company.
Earlier this week, Ford officially agreed to the full recall. In an April 11 letter to NHTSA, James Vondale, director of Ford’s safety office, said the company agreed to the expansion after discussions with NHTSA.
“To reassure customers of Ford’s commitment to safety, and to eliminate any possible customer confusion, Ford is voluntarily recalling this remaining population of vehicles,” Vondale wrote.