How do you redesign the best-selling vehicle for decades running? Very carefully, one would imagine. Once you finish the job, you might want to go heavy on pre-release testing to make sure you had a spotless specimen consumers would embrace. Ford is following this same playbook with the rollout of the new F-150. According to a report in Bloomberg News, the redesigned 2015 edition has passed a rigorous round of quality testing and is headed to dealerships by the thousands.
A new ‘Ford Tough’
Making a lighter, more fuel-efficient F-150 was not as obvious a choice as some would expect. Not only has Ford’s F-Series been the most dominant force in the affordable pickup scene; according to TrueCar data released in early December, Ford also sells the most vehicles over $50K with high-end versions of the F-150. A staggering 189,776 F-150 sales have exceeded that price in 2014, so far.
Mark Fields, chief executive officer of Ford Motor Company, said his company was “basically changing the definition of ‘Built Ford Tough'” with the technological and body-strength upgrades in the new pickup truck. Fields told Bloomberg the automaker turned to the latest tech in order to improve upon a formula that was far from broken. Of course, one of the (absurdly shortsighted) questions circling these days is whether Ford’s customer base needs a more efficient F-150 now that gas prices dipped to such low levels at the close of 2014.
Fields acknowledged the short-term concerns but stressed how Ford was more interested in the long game.
Efficiency vs. declining gas prices
In his Bloomberg interview, Fields described the drop in gas prices as “a bonus” and “almost like an immediate tax cut” to consumers in America and around the world. At the same time, he stressed that fuel economy was as important even though it was 50 cents cheaper.
“We shouldn’t get deluded [believing that] fuel economy is not important to consumers anymore,” Fields said. “They know that gas prices can go down, they can go up … [T]hey want to make sure the vehicles that they are buying, that they are getting the very best fuel economy.”
To that end, Ford executives noted early in December they are working on a hybrid F-150 that would appear near the end of the decade. By then, it may seem preposterous that skeptics doubted the viability of (first) an aluminium model of the top-selling pickup and (second) a hybrid version of that same workhorse vehicle.
Shortsightedness is a recurring theme in every aspect of American life, but the automotive industry has a peculiar fascination with it. Remember how they all laughed when Toyota came out with the Prius? Few auto executives chuckle these days when looking up at the monumental success of Toyota and the car that became the best-selling vehicle in California.
It may be that the proactive approach still seems like a unique phenomenon in the U.S. auto industry. Thankfully, times have changed in a few parts of Detroit.