You probably don’t see muscle cars and pickup trucks as closely related (other than their powerful engines and general awesomeness, of course), but as it turns out, Ford used a few tricks that it learned from the development of the Mustang to make the new F-150 more aerodynamic.
Thanks to their utilitarian design, pickup trucks are naturally about as aerodynamic as a house. Changing the overall shape of a truck would make it more aerodynamic, but that would involve making trucks more car-like, and sadly, ever since General Motors gave up on Pontiac and the incredibly-cool G8 ST it was about to begin producing, modern utes look like they’re gone forever.
But just because pickup trucks need to be capable of hauling people and things around doesn’t mean they don’t still need to be fuel efficient. Buyers aren’t willing to put up with full-size trucks that only get 12 miles per gallon anymore. Switching the F-150’s construction to aluminum and using turbocharged, smaller-displacement engines gave Ford significant fuel economy gains, but in order to squeeze those last few miles per gallon out of the truck, the designers did something interesting.
They looked to the Ford Mustang for some help.
Specifically, they borrowed a design element that helps reduce the drag that results from spinning wheels. Enclosing the wheels would work, but it’s been years since a production car tried doing that, and even then, it was only the back wheels. The look just isn’t very attractive. Enclosing the front wheels would look even more awkward. Since the housing would have to leave room for the wheels to turn, it would end up looking neither normal nor truck-like.
On the Mustang though, the engineers used slots on the front corners of the car to capture air and direct it to slots in the wheel wells. That air flows across the front of the wheels, reducing turbulence and cutting drag significantly. If it worked on the Mustang, surely it would work on the F-150, right?
The execution ended up looking a little bit different, but the engineers were able to do essentially the same thing. This time, the air curtain was created by using slots underneath the headlights to channel air across the surface of the wheel. The end result is a reduction in drag similar to what Ford achieved on the Mustang.
The company also claims that aerodynamic improvements were made by using a flush-mounted windshield, a tailgate shaped to work like a spoiler, a cargo box that’s slightly narrower than the cab, and taillights with corners that are angled to reduce turbulence.
“With the new F-150, an extensive amount of time was spent running aerodynamic simulations and doing wind tunnel tests,” said Rob Lietz, Ford technical expert in applied computational fluid dynamics. “Major advances in our computational fluid dynamics capability let us quickly see how we could improve airflow while maintaining the tough truck looks expected from F-150.”
While creating air curtains around the wheels doesn’t have near the same impact on fuel efficiency as Ford’s move to aluminum does, it’s further proof that pickup trucks are being dragged into the 21st century. Twenty-five years ago, truck advertisements were focused almost exclusively on how tough they were. In fact, one Ford commercial from around that time featured one truck driving with another truck across its bed. After all, if you could carry a truck with your truck, why wouldn’t you buy that truck?
Today, customers want pickup trucks that come with significantly fewer compromises. They’re not content to have a basic work truck that’s tough enough to do all the toughest things. Customers want comfort, features, fuel economy, safety features, and technology just like in every other vehicle. About the only thing they don’t appear to be demanding is a low price. They want their conveniences, and they’re willing to pay for it.
The expectations of the typical truck customer today are significantly different than the expectations of the typical truck customer 25 years, ago, and because of that, it shouldn’t be surprising that modern trucks are changing to meet those expectations.