Ford is preparing to debut a technology that takes the mystery out of reversing a trailer, with the new Pro Trailer Backup Assist. Available on the entire 2016 F-150 range, the system essentially allows owners to drive their trailers by way of a dash-mounted knob. Turn the knob and the steering wheel automagically turns to the correct angle, leading the trailer in the desired direction. The steering wheel twirls about as needed, although drivers still have direct control of the accelerator and brake pedals, much as they do with Ford's Enhanced Active Park Assist system.
Ford has spent eight years developing the system, the company's engineers told us. Drivers will need to measure their trailers a certain way and fit the checked reference sticker you can see in the gallery, although once a measurement is stored in the system, it can easily be recalled using the display in the instrument cluster. The system can stow the measurements for 10 trailers, and can accommodate tow-behinds up to 33 feet long. As of right now, though, the PTBA can't work with gooseneck trailers or fifth-wheels, although we're betting Ford is hard at work to accommodate those more substantial setups.
"Pro Trailer Backup Assist is a smart solution to save time and increase productivity for our customers," Doug Scott, Ford Truck's marketing manager, said in the attached statement. "Instead of struggling to back up their trailer, they can spend more time on the job or enjoying the lake."
We took part in a hands-on demo of the new system off the Detroit River, near Grosse Ile, MI. Full disclosure, we didn't back the trailer into the water, (your author had no interest in potentially damaging the roughly $50,000 boat/trailer Ford brought in for the test). We did, however, conduct a brief test in the safe confines of a nearby parking lot.
Our immediate impression of this technology is that it will be a boon to novices or first-time towers, a group of which your author is a member. It takes the mystery out of backing up a trailer, and while there's still a learning curve involved, it's significantly easier than doing things the old-fashioned way. The knob itself is easy to modulate, allowing drivers to make fine adjustments to the trailer angle as needed. You still need to have your wits about you when using the system, but in general, the overall process is far more straight forward.
Ford didn't hand out pricing during yesterday's event, although we were able to confirm that PTBA will be available as part of the Trailer Tow Package. That means everyone from entry level XL buyers to top-of-the-line Platinum owners can take advantage of the trailer assist.
• Pro Trailer Backup Assist™ for the 2016 Ford F-150 makes it easier for drivers of all skill levels to back a trailer up to launch a boat or park in a driveway
• Segment-first technology allows customers to steer a trailer instinctively by turning a knob left or right to indicate direction; the truck controls its steering and limits vehicle speed
• Pro Trailer Backup Assist is the latest example of Ford changing the way the world moves – delivering smart solutions that improve the productivity of customers so they can spend more time on the job or enjoying the lake
DEARBORN, Mich., May 21, 2015 – Ford, America's truck leader, pioneers towing innovation again by introducing Pro Trailer Backup Assist™ for the 2016 Ford F-150 – a segment-first technology that makes the challenge of backing up a trailer easier than ever for both experts and infrequent towers alike.
Backing up a trailer can be tricky. The truck's front wheels have to be turned the opposite direction the customer wants the trailer to go. Turn too hard and the trailer can hit the vehicle, or jackknife. Whether working alone or with a spotter, backing up a trailer can be a tension-filled ordeal.
Pro Trailer Backup Assist helps take the frustration out of backing up. It works by letting the customer steer the trailer with a control knob while the truck steers its wheels and limits vehicle speed.
To operate Pro Trailer Backup Assist, the customer rotates a knob to indicate how much the system should turn the trailer. The technology automatically steers the truck to turn the trailer the desired amount. The system may limit vehicle speed to enhance occupant comfort over various road surfaces. The result is less time required to back up a trailer with improved confidence – it even helps towing experts by reducing time lost to maneuvering mistakes.
"Pro Trailer Backup Assist is a smart solution to save time and increase productivity for our customers," said Doug Scott, marketing manager, Ford Truck Group. "Instead of struggling to back up their trailer, they can spend more time on the job or enjoying the lake."
Leveraging advanced camera technology, Ford engineers developed the trailer tracking system strategy and tested it for almost a decade. Along the way, Ford earned five patents for the technology, with 10 more pending.
Driver-assist features now on F-150
Pro Trailer Backup Assist joins a suite of driver-assist technologies already available on the all-new 2015 F-150. Among these features is Curve Control, developed exclusively by Ford engineers to help in those cases where customers may enter a turn too quickly. Curve Control helps drivers maintain control of their vehicle by automatically reducing torque and applying four-wheel braking. This can reduce vehicle speed by up to 10 mph in approximately one second – assisting drivers in staying on their intended path.
Available lane-keeping system is designed to help prevent a driver from drifting outside of the intended driving lane. The system is designed to detect the left- or right-hand road lane markings using a camera mounted between the windshield and rearview mirror. A vibration in the steering wheel is used to alert the driver. The system can also provide steering torque to help guide the vehicle back into the lane if needed.
Segment-exclusive adaptive cruise control and collision warning with brake support uses radar in the front of the truck to measure the distance and speed of vehicles detected ahead. Using this information, the F-150 can automatically maintain a consistent following distance set by the driver. The speed will be maintained if adaptive cruise control is activated and the vehicle is traveling at least 15 mph. Collision warning triggers visual and audio alerts if the system detects the following distance is diminishing too quickly and a collision may occur. It also pre-charges the brakes if the driver needs to stop suddenly.
Ford trailering innovations and leadership
Pro Trailer Backup Assist for the 2016 F-150 is the latest in a long line of segment-first and class-exclusive Ford truck innovations and capabilities that make trailer towing easier. Others include:
• Segment-first integrated trailer brake controller, 2005: The first integrated, factory-installed trailer brake controller for the 2005 F-Series Super Duty, the Ford system ties into the truck's brakes to activate the trailer brakes by sensing truck brake pressure
• Segment-first trailer sway control, 2009: The first trailer sway control for the 2009 Ford F-150, the Ford system senses differences in movement between truck and trailer, using the wheel brakes in both vehicles to counteract sway
• Segment-first smart trailer control module, 2015: First system to the truck's productivity screen to show the driver which lights on a trailer connected to the truck aren't working – meaning the driver or a passenger doesn't have to get out of the truck and walk around the trailer to find lights have blown out
• Class-exclusive dynamic hitch assist, 2015: A rearview camera feature that incorporates a dynamic line based on steering wheel angle in the display helps customers line up their truck and trailer with no spotter or need to exit the vehicle
• Best-in-class light-duty towing, 2015: 2015 Ford F-150 can tow more than any other light-duty pickup truck – up to 12,200 pounds
• Best-in-class heavy-duty towing, 2015: 2015 Ford F-450 Super Duty can tow more than any other heavy-duty pickup truck – up to 31,200 pounds