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Detroit Auto Show: The good and bad of Ford's F-150 pickup design

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The biggest car reveal at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week was a truck — Ford’s new aluminum body F-150 pickup.

Building a truck with lightweight aluminum shaves about 700 pounds off the previous generation F-150 and will improve fuel efficiency, but it raised eyebrows inside and outside the automotive industry. Aluminum is a more expensive material to work with, and some wonder if truck buyers won’t yearn for the rugged reliability of trusty steel.

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We sought out truck experts — people who have a real passion for the big vehicles — and asked them to critique the new F-150 for 2015. Here’s what they said.

Bruce W. Smith, senior editor of Hard Working Trucks, Equipment World and Total Landscape Care

I think those buying 2014 F-150s are going to be as upset — the refinements and advancements between the next model year is significant enough to make you not want to take the “old” model.

Ford is playing smart with the 2015 F-150. Offering two EcoBoost engine options gives them a performance edge over both GM and Ram Truck in both the small-displacement power and MPG battle. While Ram and GM pickups seem to be getting heavier, Ford jumped on the automotive Weight Watcher diet by shunning steel.

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An all-aluminum body is a huge advancement in pickup technology. The F-150’s lighter body brings with it more load carrying and trailer towing capacity and contributes to the significant improvements in the new truck’s fuel economy numbers.

The new F-150 can also compete with Ram 1500s on interior space now that it has a wider interior, and competes well with GM 1500 Double Cabs because the new F-150s' rear doors now open backward almost flush with the cab.

But the interior is also where I feel Ford missed the mark on the premium level. While Ford utilizes wood inlays and premium leather seats, there’s still too much hard plastic on the dash and doors for what you pay. The interior just doesn’t give you that “rich” sense when you look forward and to the sides. It’s not as well done as Ram’s Longhorn or Silverado High Country.

Mark Williams, editor, PickupTrucks.com

The look and feel of the new truck is definitely more modern and angular than their previous model, but not so much to be off-putting. The front grille and headlight design is pretty dramatic and high-tech to make it modern, but the wheel arches and greenhouse are unmistakable and classic.

Probably my favorite aspect about this truck is the strong attention on the most important part of the pickup truck — the bed. New detachable tiedowns that can convert to dividers or snap-in storage bins is just the kind of flexibility and versatility that truck customers bought a pickup for in the first place. Better backup cameras and bed lights and tailgate steps and side steps all combine to make truck guys believe these Ford guys actually understand what they need.

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Bottom line: Ford has done a nice job these past several years making small changes and improvements to their current-gen F-150 as Ram, Chevy, GMC, and Toyota have come to market with significantly better trucks, but this looks like the bar has been raised in a way that the competitors will not only change the types of options they offer, but they might have to change the way they manufacture their vehicles. In several ways, this new F-150 is a revolution with a series of class-leading evolutions following close behind.

But, of course, it ain't perfect. Some will wonder why a turbo diesel was not announced. And why no major changes to the suspension.

Trevor Dorchies, associate editor, Kelley Blue Book

There are a few things Ford designers and engineers did right with the 2015 F-150 including the use of high-strength steel for the frame and aluminum body panels. The F-150’s signature ladder frame is now rated up to 70,000 psi, which is stronger than some competitors' heavy-duty truck frames.

Then there’s the aluminum body paneling, which reduces weight by 700 pounds and, in turn, is expected to boost fuel economy. Besides cutting weight, Ford has introduced a 2.7-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine, which should help fuel economy grow, too. Ford also did the right thing by opting to go with the chiseled exterior styling that reflects the popular Atlas Concept.

There are a few things that Ford overlooked when it was working on the 2015 F-150. One was the new start-stop system featured on the engine. While this start-stop system was tuned for trucks (it doesn’t shut the engine off when towing or in four-wheel drive), it remains to be seen how this technology will fare over the course of an F-150’s life.

The six-speed automatic transmission lives on in the 2015 F-150. With all of the legwork Ford has put in to boost the 2015 F-150’s fuel economy, the move to go with a six-speed auto instead of an eight-speed gearbox seems curious at best.

John Cappa, editor, FourWheeler

Is the 2015 Ford F-150's face lift a significant enough redesign in a quickly advancing and competitive truck market that includes GMs powerful economic direct-injected engines and a solid, vault-like chassis, along with Ram's soft-riding coil-link rear end, self-leveling air suspension, eight-speed transmission and a clean diesel pushing near 30-mpg? To be honest, I was hoping for more.

Many competitive-brand fanboys will be quick to make the comparison of the new F-150 to a crushed beer can. When you get past the heated brand-loyalty arguments, aluminum has been used successfully and extensively in planes, battle tanks, as armor plating and even in 4x4 vehicles, including the award-winning 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Sport, where, thanks in part to the light weight and rigidity characteristics of an aluminum unit-body, Land Rover engineers were able to dump more than 700 pounds from the chassis, which resulted in significantly improved handling, acceleration, and braking performance over the outgoing model.

Ford's bet on aluminum is mostly a fuel economy play. For every 100 pounds of mass taken out of a vehicle, the fuel economy increases by about 1 mile per gallon. Through the use of the nonferrous metal, Ford was able to decrease the weight of its F-150 by up to 700 pounds. No 2015 F-150 mpg numbers have been posted as of yet.

Under the aluminum skin you'll find what I believe to be mostly the same drivetrain and suspension that's been available on the F-150 for several years, including a somewhat antiquated leaf-spring rear suspension. Nothing new here.

I love the innovative lightweight thinking behind the aluminum-bodied 2015 F-150, although I suspect Ford will have a lot of teething problems prior to, and even after, the official launch date. Everything from the aluminum stamping issues to paint adhesion, durability, corrosion and more will likely need to be addressed. There are a lot of unknowns considering this is the first aluminum pickup truck.

Jake Fisher, automotive test director, Consumer Reports

I think it is a great move to get a lot of weight out of the car. It makes sense as a technology.

The big issue is what it will mean in terms of collision repair. There are not as many body shops that know how to work with aluminum, and the cost of the replacement parts may be more expensive. That’s a concern for individuals or businesses who buy the truck and want to save money and operating costs.

But if they are successful with this, it could change the industry. Ford will pave the way for many automakers to do aluminum-body cars. And a lot of body shops will have to gear up to repair this truck because it is the biggest selling vehicle in the country. Ford is doing the heavy lifting for the rest of the industy.

The big potential for the truck is fuel economy. It has gone from among the heaviest in the segment to the lightest. The 2.7-liter V-6 engine along with the new body has the potential to be the most fuel-efficient truck in the industry. That is going to be a big selling point.

Follow me on Twitter (@LATimesJerry), Facebook and Google+.

ALSO:

N.Y. Auto Show: Land Rover debuts new Discovery line of SUVs

Kia ruffles up the minivan world with debut of all-new 2015 Sedona

Lexus welcomes all-new NX compact crossover to the luxury family

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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