“Lighter, stronger, smarter.” This phrase was touted as the rallying cry for the 2015 F-150 truck development teams at Ford since the program began in October 2010. From what we saw at the 2015 F-150 rollout event in San Antonio, Texas earlier this month, it appears that Ford achieved what it set out to do.
The infotainment, driver assist and safety advancements were on full display alongside the new aluminum alloy body and box as well as the lightweight, torque-heavy 2.7L and 3.5L Ecoboost engines, all contributing to a collective platform that Chief Engineer Pete Reyes says is “setting up the next 10 years” of Ford truck development.
Getting behind the wheel of the 2015 F-150 proved that these technologies were likely going to launch Ford even further ahead of the competition. Not that they needed help here; the F-150 is the best-selling truck in the U.S but also the best-selling vehicle. which, when you think about it, makes the 2015 launch even more audacious and risky. Why change a winning program that is the crown jewel for Ford, delivering major sales volume and profitability for decades?
Considering the customer satisfaction challenges Ford has had with its MyFord Touch infotainment system over the years, these improvements in operation, user interface and device compatibility were necessary and timely. We put our hands on the new 2015 system and found it fully evolved from being clunky and frustrating and moving toward better intuitive operation, user customization and device compatibility.
The F-150 really got it right by offering ways to easily arrange critical status and performance gauges around the 8-inch MyView Productivity Screen in the instrument panel (IP). We spoke at length with Cary Diehl, Ford’s Human Factors engineer, who took special interest in the infotainment and user interface development of the F-150.
“It’s all about efficiency, getting to something quickly,” he said. “The MyView Productivity Screen allows the driver to put the most-used information onto one screen while cycling between other screens easily and with minimal distraction. Towing and off-road specific screens put critical information in front of the driver when the truck is used for those purposes.”
Putting these screens to the test confirms Diehl’s claims. We drove the F-150 over a challenging off-road course set up by Ford and witnessed the screen’s ability to display the vehicle’s pitch, roll and differential status. Over time, the driver can adapt to this screen and push the truck into more extreme terrain with the confidence of knowing the truck will not roll over or get stuck on a hill that’s too steep.
The 360-degree camera screen was also useful as we crested over a very steep hill in which the front end of the truck blocked our view of the trail ahead; We were able to see the trail veer to the right on the screen and spot a large boulder just to the right of the truck, which would have been impossible otherwise.
Radar sensors for blind-spot and cross traffic detection are packaged in the rear tail lamp assemblies, an interesting engineering feat that kept DOT lighting standards intact while placing the sensors in the most optimal locations of the vehicle. We tested the effectiveness of the lane keeping system in traffic and found it to be somewhat startling at first – nobody wants to have the truck suddenly steer on its own. But it worked well, and driver adaptation will make this system less distracting and much more appreciated over time.
We can see how Ford is setting up for leveraging future V2V and V2I applications in their various driver assist features. Understandably, Ford didn’t want to discuss it in detail. On-board memory and processing power is modular and can be upgraded to allow the sensors to send and receive additional signals, giving the truck capabilities that are forward compatible with upcoming connected and cloud-based applications.
Electronics innovation aside, we were very impressed with the power-to-weight engineering concept of the new F-150 (“lightweighting” was the phrase used by Pete Reyes). A total of approximately 770 pounds was collectively reduced through the use of aluminum alloy, advanced steel frame design and more efficient overall materials management.
Reducing the equivalent weight of three full-size refrigerators allowed the Ford to take a new approach to engine development, resulting in a new 2.7L Ecoboost engine with 325 horsepower and 375 lb-ft. of torque. Driving the F-150 with this new lightweight engine was a bit of a revelation: A small engine delivering so much torque and acceleration was “lightweighting” proof of concept for the F-150 team.
Will Ford continue to dominate the truck industry in the coming years? If the 2015 F-150 is indicative of Ford’s truck development direction, we believe it will be a long time before Ford will need to retire the “world’s best selling truck” marketing campaign.