Ford Motor Company has revealed the latest iteration of it crown jewel, the 2021 model F-150 pickup truck. It’s due in showrooms – or likely with online ordering – this fall. It’s an important new model needed to bolster Ford’s weak financial performance in a segment that is more competitive and crowded than ever. (Ford Motor Posts -$2 Billion Q1 Loss, Ford Motor Maxes Out Lines of Credit, Ford Motor Changes Top Exec Roles Again)
Lurking in the background is the flawed launch of another mainstay, the Explorer, which was a technological masterpiece, but a quality and warranty cost disaster. Overall, Ford warranty costs reached $5 billion in 2019, up $1.5 billion in recent years – and fixing vehicle launch problems have also cost an estimated $1 billion. (Ford Posts Weak Q4 Earnings Losing $1.7 Billion)
Promotional materials say F-150 is purpose-built to be the toughest, most productive F-150 ever and targeted to be the most powerful light-duty full-size pickup truck on the market.
“F-150 is our flagship, it’s 100% assembled in America, and we hold ourselves to the highest standard to make sure our customers can get the job done and continue to make a difference in their communities,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s relatively new chief operating officer.
On paper or a web screen F-150 is indeed formidable. At this moment it will have the most towing, payload, torque and horsepower of any light-duty full-size pickup. F-150 has new connected vehicle modernizations, such as over-the-air software updates ala Tesla. There is an optional all-new 3.5-liter hybrid powertrain with so-called Pro Power Onboard – an integrated power generator. It provides energy to run 28 average refrigerators, charge a bed full of electric dirt bikes or run an entire job site worth of tools, it’s claimed.
The class-exclusive 3.5-liter PowerBoost Full hybrid engine – the hybrid system debuted on the 2020 Explorer – delivers Built Ford capability – it is targeted to have the most torque and horsepower of any light-duty full-size pickup, at least 12,000 pounds of maximum available towing capacity1 and a targeted EPA-estimated range of approximately 700 miles on a single tank of gas1.
The electric motor applies regenerative braking energy capture to help recharge the 1.5-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. The battery is efficiently packaged underneath the truck, leaving the cab and cargo box of PowerBoost F-150 as spacious for passengers and cargo as other comparably equipped F-150 models. The system is said to be capable of sustained battery usage at extreme outside temperatures or under heavy loads.
The Explorer Hybrid I test drove at launch was not close to the state of the art when it comes to its glitchy calibration. This is evident in stop/start city driving where there is a noticeable lurch on launch. The performance feel is better in the mid-range from ~30 mph to 70 mph where the additional power provided by the electric motor is less evident – it can add 221 pounds-feet of torque, and is capable of 30-50 miles of all-electric driving depending on conditions. It should be noted that there is no compromise in the six-passenger interior or the luggage space from the hybrid accouterments. (Driving 2020 Explorer: Big Size and Complexity, Bigger Price, 2020 Ford Explorer – OK, Not Good in Crash Ratings )
On the F-150, there’s an optional Tailgate Work Surface at the back of the truck, while a new optional Interior Work Surface makes using a 15-inch laptop or eating a meal more comfortable; optional Max Recline Seats with nearly 180 degrees of recline to help customers rest between jobs.
The F-150 also claims to be the most aerodynamic ever. New active grille shutters, a new automatically deploying active air dam, and new cab and tailgate geometry all reduce drag and improve fuel consumption on every truck.
F-150 finally catches up with RAM by introducing a 12-inch center screen – standard on XLT high series and above – that allows customers to split the screen and control multiple functions simultaneously, including navigation, music or truck systems. The landscape design allows a balance between demands for technology accessibility and the greater, proven convenience of physical buttons.
An 8-inch touch screen, standard on XL and XLT and mid-series trucks, means every customer gets a touch screen and better rearview camera vision. Both screens have access to the new digital owner’s manual, which can help all customers find the information they need more easily, including how-to videos for additional explanation.
F-150 has some of the latest driver-assist features as part of Ford Co-Pilot 360 2.0. More features are now standard on XL, including Pre-Collision Assist with Automatic Emergency Braking and Pedestrian Detection to help avoid a possible collision with another vehicle or a pedestrian, rearview camera with dynamic hitch assist, auto high-beam headlamps and auto on/off headlamps.
F-150 also adds 10 new driver-assist items and is the only pickup publicly right now to promise Active Drive Assist, which allows for hands-free driving on more than 100,000 miles of divided highways in all 50 states and Canada. Its driver-facing camera tracks head position and driver eye gaze to enable hands-free driving when available. It allows owners on certain sections of pre-mapped, divided highways to drive with their hands off the steering wheel – if they continue to pay attention to the road ahead.
The Active Drive Assist prep kit contains the hardware required for this feature, while the software to enable functionality, expected in the third quarter of the 2021 calendar year, will be delivered by over-the-air update or dealer visit. Separate payment will be required to activate full functionality at that time.
Other new optional features include Intersection Assist, which detects oncoming traffic while the driver is attempting a left turn. If there is risk of a collision with an oncoming vehicle, F-150 will apply the brakes to mitigate or avoid it.
F-150 is the only light-duty full-size pickup with optional Active Park Assist 2.0, which handles all steering, shifting, braking and accelerator controls during a parallel or perpendicular parking maneuver while the driver holds down a button.
Every F-150 is assembled at Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant in Dearborn, Michigan, and Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Missouri. The launch will be closely watched by industry observers – the number of build combinations seems needlessly large, and Ford needs to prove it can launch the best selling pickup in the US without the problems it experienced on the Explorer.
1: Projected EPA calculated range. Actual range will vary. Final EPA-estimated ratings available later in the 2020 calendar year.