Phoebe Wall Howard
Detroit Free PressPublished 8:35 PM EDT Jun 25, 2020The redesigned 2021 Ford F-150 made its public debut Thursday night during an online prerecorded event hosted by actor Denis Leary and streamed on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. “There’s nothing more all-American than a truck that helps you get the job done,” Leary said during opening remarks. “The best just got even better when America needs it most.”The F-150 is part of the F-series lineup of pickups, which are collectively considered the best-selling vehicle in America. It will hit showrooms later this year. It is the first complete redesign of the F-150 since the 2015 model year.A price for the 2021 F-150 has not been released. Details related to horsepower and towing capacity will be made available at a later date, Ford said.Currently, F-150 prices can start at $28,745 and exceed $75,000. The average F-series cost is $51,585Ford engineers describe it as the toughest, most productive and most powerful pickup in its class — designed with its millions of loyal consumers at the center.See the new F-150’s features: Redesigned Ford pickup will be offered in hybrid modelBankruptcy filing: Chuck E. Cheese parent company files Chapter 11 amid pandemicCOVID-19 update: Costco brings back free samples at some clubs after suspending sampling”Ford took very few risks with this truck, changed very little. They tuned it,” said Eric Noble, one of the world’s top automotive design consultants. “They didn’t need to take big risks.”He compared the F-150 interior to a luxurious Bentley Mulsanne that starts at $310,000.When you’re the top-selling pickup truck since the beginning of time, no one demands big change, said Noble, president of The CarLab in Orange County, California. The F-150 and its F-series siblings make up about one of every 16 vehicles sitting in a work or home driveway in the U.S., according to a Boston Consulting Group analysis in 2020. That’s what happens when you sell an estimated 1 million each year.“The Ford F-150 is as significant to Ford and America today as the Model-T was in its time,” said market analyst Jon Gabrielsen.Ford knew F-150 owners counted on their pickups for camping and hauling boats and horses, not to mention construction and every other trade imaginable. “It’s really about customers who keep America moving,” Jackie DiMarco, director of Ford truck strategy, told the USA TODAY Network’s Detroit Free Press. “The truck team really stepped back and got very deep with the customers. We really spent a lot of time learning how they use their trucks, learning some of the pain points they have … that they find workarounds. We’ve been able to incorporate so many of those learnings into this truck.”4 a.m. camping trip Not only did Ford collect 200 hours of video and more than 8,000 photographs documenting F-150 life and how to make everything just that much easier, the teams shadowed customers around the clock for months.”A few of our team members went camping with a father and son,” DiMarco said. “So they get up quite early to pack up and go, maybe 4 or 5 in the morning, and the team is really struck by how dark it is. You’re trying to pack your truck and it’s pitch black, so dark. That was the inspiration for us to come up with zone lighting.”Now the F-150 has a feature that allows drivers to use a phone application to light different parts of the vehicle.Change is fine but dramatic change had the potential alienate die-hard supporters.This helps explain the redesigned gear shifter, which folds down and allows the console to be used as a work surface for use with a laptop computer or for laying out design plans or even eating lunch. While the company could have installed buttons or knobs for shifting, it wasn’t that simple.”These are hard-working people. They use the truck as a sanctuary during the day,” said Kumar Galhotra, Ford president of the Americas and International Markets Group.”We noticed a lot of workers doing paperwork sitting in the front seat, but there wasn’t a comfortable enough work surface. But there are conflicting demands there. Where you would put the work surface there’s a shifter there. But you have to have a shifter because these customers really prefer a shifter. So the team came up with a creative idea to have the shifter disappear.”‘With my kids’Ford engineers spent time on construction sites and observed workers with long workdays taking naps in their cabs, so the new Ford F-150 includes luxury reclining seats that create a bed-like opportunity. And there are lockable compartments under the seats for secret storage.”All those things are driven by sharp observation of how these customers are using these vehicles,” Galhotra said. “We go hang out with our customers.”Intuitively understanding habits and needs is one thing; seeing the situations in real life is another completely, he said.”Most construction sites had generators there to power the tools. Those generators were noisy, those generators were smelly,” Galhotra said. “The idea the team had, since we were doing a hybrid electric (F-150) anyway, what if we used that technology and put a generator on board? A lot of customers can simply use the generator on board to power their tools. That’s just one insight.”This way, Ford F-150 customers don’t need to haul that big heavy generator, which can also get stolen.Having power for a table saw also means having power for tailgating parties, to run a TV or refrigerator or cooking equipment, said DiMarco, a mother of twin teenagers who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and understands the value of tailgate parties. “People are making their own solutions. Now they don’t have to think through that and they can really plug right in.”The interior, which may feel like a cozy den to the casual observer, really can be a family space, she said. “I spent a lot of time in my truck with my kids. You have now essentially a table to gather around and relax when you’re not driving. If you’re spending a lot of time in your vehicle, we really have spent time on the interior thinking about making that as comfortable as possible.”Pickup truck owners have had a long relationship with the Blue Oval automaker.The F-150 debuted in 1974 as a 1975 model, said Ford historian Ted Ryan, who provided the original Aug. 30, 1974, news release.It was offered in Viking Red, Parrot Orange, Bahama Blue, Baytree Green, Glen Green, Hatteras Green Metallic, Medium Green Glow (at extra cost) and Vineyard Gold.America has had a love affair ever since the beginning, based on historical sales data.Richard Machado, president of Agrian Inc., an agricultural technology company based in Clovis, California, drives a 2020 F-150 Platinum — his third F-150.”When I attend ag meetings around the country, I see a majority of vehicles that are F-Series,” Machado said.Crucial for FordThe unveiling of the latest F-150 comes at a crucial time for Ford. It continues to be the market leader, but both Chevy Silverado and Ram Trucks have been aggressively working to eat away that advantage.The F-150 will be built at Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant in southeast Michigan and the Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Missouri. Ford has said it is expecting to report a $5 billion loss for the second quarter, so this high-profile product plays an essential role in the company’s portfolio.Jessica Caldwell, executive director of Insights at Edmunds online auto research, said, “If all goes smoothly, the F-series launch should give Ford the big moment of glory they’ve been craving since it is the most important vehicle for the company given its huge volume and profit margins.”Follow Detroit Free Press reporter Phoebe Wall Howard on Twitter @phoebesaid.
Phoebe Wall Howard