If ever American automakers have a chance to shine, surely it would be in Detroit aka the Motor City. The North American International Auto Show is possibly the single most important place where legacy automakers Ford, General Motors and Chrysler can really strut their stuff and this year was no different. However, other automakers see the show as the event as both a place to cement the importance of the American market to their individual brands and the chance to heighten competition in wide array of segments. I've personally looked forward to attending in person one day but alas, I've never gotten a chance (braving the merciless northern winters be damned).
While basically every automaker with an interest in the U.S. market has a presence, I'll focus on the significant debuts as well as a few surprises, starting off with what I think is the most important debut this year.
2015 Ford F-150
|2015 Ford F-150|
Just how important is a pickup truck to an automaker? So American is this vehicle, that fierce rivalries develop between not just the automakers that build them, but owners as well. While foreign brands have tried to infiltrate the market to varying degrees of success (re: Nissan Titan/Frontier and Toyota Tundra/Tacoma), it remains a distinctly three-way fight between Ford, GM and Chrysler. As far as sales go, only one stands cab and wheel above the rest and that is the Ford F-150. Not only is it the best selling truck in America, it is the best selling vehicle ever, with annual sales around the 700,000 number. When a vehicle defines your bottom line, you really can't afford to screw it up (to put it another way, the Ford GT supercar wouldn't have been possible without the cash-cow F-150 selling as well as it does). With the fiercest ever competition from Chrysler's Ram and the GM Silverado/Sierra twins (both either all-new and significantly revised themselves) Ford had to do something pretty radical to fend off the others. Enter the first-ever aluminum bodied F-150.
The F-150 has always been a porky truck, even by half-ton standards and compared to the Ram and GM twins. In the truck world, heaviness usually amounts to towing power and a stout frame with which to do work. It doesn't however, help with fuel economy and efficiency. Even trucks must bow to the fuel economy gods. With the F-150's last mid-life update in 2011, Ford partially addressed this by ditching the old Triton 5.4L V8 and sticking a new Ecoboost twin-turbo 3.5L V6 in its place with the aim of providing V8 power with V6 fuel economy (also replacing the old base 4.6L V8 with a 3.7L V6). To satisfy the naysayers however, Ford also equipped the F-150 with two more efficient V8 powerplants: a 5.0L V8 that slots below the Ecoboost 3.5L and a powerhouse 6.2L V8 as the top spec engine. The buyers however, spoke with their wallets, reversing the V8 trend and ordering the 365hp/420lb-ft twin turbo V6 in record numbers. Even Ford was pleasantly surprised at the orderbooks, such that today, the Ecoboost motor accounts for nearly one third of all F-150s sold (see my review here). However, for 2014, Ford goes a step further thoroughly redesigning the frame and body of the F-150 to, not only be stouter, but lighter. And not just by a few pounds here and there. Using experience gained from working with aluminum when it owned Jaguar, Ford has managed to dump as much as 700lbs from the F-150. I don't need to tell you that a lighter vehicle is a more efficient vehicle.
While aluminum (a military, dent-resistant grade used on the U.S. Army's M2 Bradley) covers every body panel, including the bed, the fully boxed frame uses more high and ultra high strength steel, further reducing the F-150's lard load. Ford went the extra mile in ensuring the aluminum was also dent resistant and easily repaired, though that last part remains to be seen. Under the hood, the 3.5L Ecoboost is carried over along with the 5.0L V8, but an even smaller Ecoboost 2.7L V6 was introduced that will slot above the base V6, itself downsized from 3.7L to 3.5L. The monster 6.2L V8 is killed, leaving the the larger turbo mill as the top engine. An improved six speed automatic will back all engines While no power figures for the new engines are available as yet, its a safe bet that payload and towing figures will increase as well as EPA fuel economy figures. Currently, the Ram EcoDiesel (no relation) holds the fuel economy crown of 17 city/25 highway and Ford is keen to upstage it. In switching from steel to aluminum, Ford may have put the pickup market on its head, but also, it will give body shop businesses growing pains. Aluminum has traditionally been an expensive material to work with, it's high cost relegating it to liberal use in more expensive vehicles (the Jaguar XJ, Audi A8 and high end sports cars among them) so it will be interesting to see how repair costs are affected.
|2014 Ford Atlas Concept|
Aside from weight savings, the new F-150 will also boast a look that stays faithful to the Atlas concept that was previewed in 2013. Muscularity and power are instantly transmitted by the in-your-face grille, the tall, broad hood and the semi-stacked headlights (high trim models will feature segment-first LED headlights and LED lighting all around). Aerodynamics also played a key role in the styling, the windshield base moving forward and allowing the glass itself to be raked further back. Active grille shutters, a prominent air dam and a squashed top surface on the tailgate are all aero-cheating tricks to help the F-150 move more silently through the wind. Inside, owners will find a high end interior that will rival luxury cars in terms of technology and sheer opulence. Every F-150 will get vibrant screens in the instrument cluster and in the dash: 4 inch size for lower trim models and larger 8 inch units for higher trims. Since this is a pretty big truck, a 360 degree camera system will be featured that will help in maneuvering and reversing and slate of driver assistance tech such as lane departure warning, blind spot assist and forward collision mitigation will be on offer.
|2014 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor|
In all this though, the one F-150 model that I've lusted after is the Raptor. With the F-150 being redesigned it's unclear if Ford will bring it back a second time, what with its signature 6.2L V8 being put out to pasture. However, one positive is that the Raptor sold very well during its tenure so it would be unwise for Ford to not at least examine the possibility, dent resistant aluminum be damned. Who knows? A 700lb-lighter Raptor would make for some truly awesome desert running and dune-jumping.
With the introduction of the 2015 F-150, Ford has once again raised the bar and delivered a truck that pushes the envelope on how efficient a half-ton pickup can be. One can only imagine how Ram and GM will respond, let alone Toyota and Nissan.
Images courtesy of Ford.
Images courtesy of Ford.