The hard-working Ford F-Series is the best-selling truck in the U.S. for good reason. In fact, the current generation Ford F-150 has won the coveted Motor Trend Truck of the Year award twice: first when it arrived in 2009 and again in 2012 when new engines and a six-speed automatic transmission replaced the aging power plants and base four-speed automatic. With the competition stepping up their game, though, the next generation F-150 needs more than subtle changes to retain its title.
For the 2013 Truck of the Year competition, Ford sent the new top-of-the-line F-150 Limited trim level, but that wasn’t quite enough for the win Instead, the Ram 1500 took home the golden calipers partly due to its new 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6, new eight-speed automatic transmission, and available air suspension. The next F-150 also faces stiff competition from the redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra twins and 2014 Toyota Tundra.
We may have seen a sneak peek at the next F-150 in the form of the Ford Atlas concept. Built on a high-strength steel frame, the Ford Atlas concept featured bold looks with LED lighting, and active aerodynamics for increased ground clearance at low speeds and improved highway fuel economy. Here’s what we think the F-150 needs to stay competitive in its segment:
With rumors of aluminum body panels and the possibility of the Ford Atlas concept’s fuel economy boosting features, a Ram 1500-matching eight-speed automatic transmission is a must for a fuel-sipping next-generation F-150. A 5.0-liter EcoBoost V-8 could be used as a solution to the thirsty 6.2-liter V-8 (as well as a replacement for the supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 in the next-gen Shelby GT500) as the top trim engine. The Ford Transit’s 3.2-liter Powerstroke turbodiesel I-5 (or a turbodiesel V-6) should be added to the option list. The F-150 SVT Raptor’s forward-facing camera should be available on other models and would be useful in parking lots — not just when off-roading. Add the Atlas concept’s trailer towing aids and bold styling and the next Ford F-150 should retain its sales lead among full-size pickups.
Ford would really have to mess up the F-150 to fall behind its competitors, and from what we’ve seen on the Atlas concept so far, that doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. While all the nifty technology and aluminum bodywork shown on the concept is welcome on the next-gen Ford F-150, the automaker needs to make sure it doesn’t significantly increase the cost of the truck. With the Ecoboost V-6 and other fuel-saving tricks the Atlas concept has up its sleeves, Ford might as well go all the way and also offer a turbodiesel on the next-gen truck to keep the upper hand over the upcoming Ram 1500 EcoDiesel.
To stay on top of the full-size truck heap, Ford must make sure it doesn’t stop innovating. Ford was the first automaker to put a twin-turbo V-6 into its pickup and the truck’s sales speak for themselves — over half of F-150 buyers opt for V-6s. Ford also developed innovative features like the tailgate-mounted man-step for the F-150. Judging by the Atlas concept, Ford doesn’t seem to be resting on its laurels. The Atlas featured an updated man-step that could be used to help carry over-sized cargo like kayaks, motorcycle ramps that were stashed on the roof, and active aerodynamics to improve fuel economy. As long as Ford doesn’t stop innovating, the F-Series’ dominance in the segment is all but guaranteed to continue.
Like Christian said, Ford should keep things simple and concentrate on useful innovations that truck buyers can appreciate. The Ford Atlas concept showcased a long list of impressive tech, including the Trailer Backup Assist and Active Grille Shutters. One of the Ram 1500’s biggest “wow factor” features is its eight-speed automatic, so Ford may want to consider adding a few cogs in its own gearbox. Ford should also consider extending the F-150 lineup even further, perhaps adding a few value-priced variants similar to the Ram 1500 Express, which offers a regular cab chassis, 5.7-liter V-8, and sporty touches with an MSRP of about $25,000.
The Ford F-Series doesn’t need much to stay in the lead. The EcoBoost V-6 could use a tune to make towing up a grade easier, but otherwise that engine seems fit for service in the next-gen F-150. Since the twin-turbo V-6 worked out so well for this model, I echo Jason’s thoughts on an EcoBoost V-8. Such an engine would likely be more efficient than the current naturally aspirated 6.2-liter, while making just as much – if not more – power. While we’re fantasizing about future engines, why not have a performance-tuned EcoBoost V-8 in the next SVT Raptor? Or, if Ford chooses not to offer a next-gen off-road performance truck, perhaps SVT can revive the Lightning moniker for a quick road-going pickup. That may not be what the F-Series needs, but it sure would be fun.
What do you think the next-generation Ford F-150 needs to stay on top of the segment? Give us your thoughts below.