Ford's big news at North American International Auto Show Monday was its completely redesigned 2015 F-150 pickup truck that replaces steel with high-strength aluminum in much of the body.
The F-150 is consistently the best-selling vehicle in the country, making a complete redesign a dicey thing to do. On the one hand, Ford needs to keep up with its competition in exterior and interior design and features, performance and fuel economy. On the other, the American automaker has to be careful not to change too much and risk alienating its loyal customers.
Ford's use of aluminum helps give the truck better fuel economy -- it weighs 700 pounds lighter than its predecessor -- but doesn't take away any of the payload or towing capacity that truck buyers look for.
Ford appears to have found a good balance. Despite some major changes to the structure and engine, the truck is still instantly recognizable as an F-150, and should continue to boast the versatility and capability that have made it so successful.
Read on for more on the biggest vehicle debut of 2014 (so far).
Exterior DesignFord has made some tweaks to the truck's exterior atheistic, giving it a modern, more aggressive look, while retaining most of the signature shape that makes it easily identified as an F-150.
Notable changes to the outside include a big new grille, revamped headlights and tail lights, more prominent wheel arches and an overall more aggressive stance.
All in all, there aren't too many notable differences to the exterior of the new F-150. The biggest changes are largely unseen at first, appearing on the interior and beneath the sheet metal.
InteriorFord says that the cabin has been refreshed to improve comfort and ergonomics. The seats and buttons are now placed in order to improve legroom and allow for easy access to the infotainment and other vehicle control buttons and knobs.
There are some cool new convenience features, such as BoxLink, which is a combination of metal brackets and custom cleats used to secure a variety of accessories in the cargo box, from ramps to storage bins to bed dividers. It also has rear under-seat storage in Super and Crew cabs, providing hidden storage for valuables, as well as a boxside step, an automatic rear liftgate and integrated loading ramps.
The new F-150 adds some technology features, too, including an 8-inch touchscreen that comes with a variety of truck-related apps, 360-degree camera view to aid in parking and trailer-hitch assist, which helps the driver line the truck up with the trailer without the help of a spotter.
New Engine And FrameThe biggest news for the F-150 is its aluminum frame and new 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine.
Going from a steel to aluminum frame cut about 700 pounds off of the F-150's weight, Ford says. That's a huge amount, and it should result in a significant improvement in fuel economy and driving dynamics. For customers worried about the strength of aluminum versus the more conventional steel, Ford notes that many military vehicles, such as the HMMWV and Bradley Fighting Vehicle, use a very similar sort of aluminum alloy in their construction.
The new 2.7L V6 engine, which is turbocharged, is also an important update. Ford says that it will produce power similar to that of mid-range V8s, yet get better miles per gallon, courtesy of its smaller size.
Bottom LineFord says that the new F-150 was "torture-tested" for over 10 million miles, in conditions that ranged from negative 20 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. That should help put to bed any concerns truck buyers have regarding the new aluminum frame.
The truck will go on sale late this year, and will come in a broad selection of trim levels. Many numbers have yet to be announced, such as pricing, power, towing capacity and fuel economy.
Overall, the F-150 looks like it's going to be more capable and, importantly, more fuel efficient than ever before. We'll have to wait until we drive it to make any big claims, but at first glance, it seems Ford will likely maintain its status as King of Trucks.