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Why Ford's Next F-150 Could Fail

Ford's Atlas Concept truck, unveiled in January, is thought to be a preview of next year's all-new F-150. Photo credit: Ford Motor Co.

Could Ford's (NYSE: F  ) upcoming new F-150 be a failure?

It seems really unlikely, doesn't it? After all, Ford's current truck is still a class leader, even though it's in the final year of its run. And Ford's other recent products have mostly been smash hits, and the F-Series is the company's most important product line, hands-down.

Ford clearly knows – in great detail – what pickup buyers want right now. The updates it has made to the F-150 and its Super Duty siblings have kept it fresh and competitive, even as it approaches the end of its model life.

But there's an all-new F-150 coming next year. And while its chances of being a success are pretty high, there are still some ways in which Ford could miss the mark – and fall behind arch-rival General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) .

GM took a conservative approach, but still raised the bar
GM has brand-new trucks of its own, of course. The current versions of the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra are looking somewhat long in the tooth, because they are – the designs are several years old now, and GM hasn't been as good as Ford at making updates to keep them fresh.

GM's 2014 Chevy Silverado is an evolutionary design. Photo credit: General Motors Co.

But the General's all-new trucks will be arriving at dealers later this year, and early reviews have been quite positive. It's true that GM took an evolutionary approach, rather than a revolutionary one – the new trucks are a bit bolder-looking than the old ones, but the overall look is similar. And while there are lots of improvements, most of them are incremental – a little more towing capacity here, a nicer dashboard there.

Taken together, of course, those improvements make the new truck a big step forward from the outgoing versions, say reviewers – and they should have no trouble finding buyers when they hit dealers this fall.

It won't be surprising if they steal some sales from Ford – that's how it goes when you launch a new truck. But the question is, will Ford's new truck, due next year, be enough of an improvement to win them back – and then some?

That's a complicated question.

New fuel-sipping engines are a safe bet
Ford has made it pretty clear that fuel economy will be a priority for the next F-Series. GM made it a priority, too: Ads for the new Chevy Silverado are expected to make a lot of hay out of the fact that GM's new high-tech V8 actually beat Ford's much-advertised V6 EcoBoost pickup drivetrain on EPA fuel-economy tests.

Naturally, Ford is expected to respond with fuel-saving improvements to its engines, such as "stop-start" technology that automatically turns the engine off when you stop, and starts it again when you press the gas pedal.

It's also possible that Ford will bring a hybrid pickup to market. Ford is known to be working with Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) on a hybrid powertrain for pickups and full-sized SUVs. It's not clear when that will be ready for market, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it introduced as an option on the next F-150.

Are you ready for an aluminum pickup truck?
But Ford is expected to go well beyond tweaks to its engine designs in its pursuit of a more economical pickup. Rumors have suggested that Ford has used aluminum extensively in the new truck, in place of steel, in a quest to cut the F-150's weight by hundreds of pounds.

That has worried some potential buyers, because aluminum isn't anywhere near as strong as steel. Obviously, Ford's truck designers aren't clueless – they'll likely keep the aluminum up front, with plenty of steel supporting the loaded section in back. But taking that much weight (as much as 700 pounds, rumors suggest) out of a pickup may not sit well with some fans.

Ford's also expected to make heavy use of aerodynamic tweaks to lower the truck's fuel consumption. Last year's Ford Atlas Concept show truck had funky gas-saving features like "active wheels", with shutters that close at highway speeds to streamline the truck and save gas.

Those may or may not end up in production. But they show the lengths that Ford went to in its testing to try to wring maximum fuel economy out of its next F-150. And if the changes turn out to be radical, some conservative pickup buyers may choose to look elsewhere.

How far down this road will Ford go?
In all likelihood, Ford will make sure that its F-Series fans feel at home in the new truck. It should have plenty of improvements along the lines that GM has shown – an improved ride, a nicer interior, and more convenience features – while still delivering the utility and towing capacity that serious truck users expect. And if Ford's other recent products are anything to judge by, it'll look great and sell just fine.

But it's also possible that Ford, feeling the pressure of ever-tightening fuel-economy regulations, will go a little further (or maybe more than a little further) down the gas-saving road than buyers expect. A hybrid pickup is likely to raise some eyebrows among truck fans, but if it performs well, objections will fade.

Aluminum body panels or frames could be a tougher sell, though. If a pickup isn't seen as rugged, it'll struggle in the marketplace. To hang on to its class-leading position, Ford will have to prove that its new F-150 is an improvement in all ways over the great truck it's replacing – and that's always a challenge with diehard truck buyers. We'll see how this plays out next year.

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Read/Post Comments (39) | Recommend This Article (20)

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  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 8:25 PM, smpsn447 wrote:

    i will never buy another GM product. I'm not a Obummer supporter. enough said.

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 8:26 PM, 2fools4nun wrote:

    "...there's an all-new F-150 coming next year. And while its chances of being a success are pretty high, there are still some ways in which Ford could miss the mark..."

    ...and the world could end tomorrow and I could win the lottery

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 8:36 PM, Cpschult278 wrote:

    No you couldn't 4fools2nun!! It is simmmmmple math an since 2 people cannot win the jackpoy that leaaaavvveees you completely out of luck!! Sorry bro!

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 8:38 PM, altmd71 wrote:

    Aluminum frames or side panels will increase insurance premiums because they are much harder and more expensive to repair.

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 8:55 PM, NotaLiberal wrote:

    I don't care if they make the F150 out of glass and it gets 2 mpg ....I will still buy it . I wont even ride in a chitty-chevy, they are garbage and will always be garbage !

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 9:04 PM, Djadu wrote:

    However, the pick-up truck set are a pretty savvy bunch and when you factor in the cost of hybridization you actually lose as it take years to even break even. Sorry, I'll stick with the General and improvements in transmissions (8 speed) and fuel savings through cylinder shut down technology. Way more power and torque standard in the General's stable when you need it.

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 9:11 PM, 18RC wrote:

    Ford & Chevy will bankrupt your bank account via numerous 4 figure repair bills. Tundra and Tacoma will preserve your bank account.

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 9:29 PM, AmericanFirst wrote:


    The GM 5.3L and Ford Ecoboost will be the volume engines. The GM 5.3L does not produce as much HP / Torque as the Ecoboost. The 5.3L - 1 mpg (if real) will not make a difference when the customer is looking for the most versatile truck, the customer will choose the EcoBoost.

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 9:34 PM, AmericanFirst wrote:


    Do you really think Ford would launch a new truck that didn't match up or be superior to the competion? Where have you been the last thirty five years? With your superior background maybe you can apply for a product consulting position with Ford. I'm sure they would value your expertise!

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 9:51 PM, bambooster wrote:

    Ford already goofed by taking the Ranger out of production. Don't they realize that not everyone needs or wants a larger pickup truck? It's not just about fuel efficiency, but also size and purpose.

    My driveway is too narrow for an F-150, but the Ranger fits just right. The F-150 is to high for me to load and unload it from the side (I'm a professional gardener); I am short, and the Ranger is the right height for me to move heavy shrubs, bags of mulch and other materials easily over the sides without having to work from the tailgate.

    And, in the winter, it's a lot of work to clear snow off a larger vehicle, while my Ranger is easy to keep clear of snow and ice, and even to cover with a tarp.

    If Ford has any sense, they'll start making Rangers again and change the marketing focus to women, and to homeowners who need a small but very practical utility vehicle. I'd hate to have to get a Toyota Tundra if they don't... Toyotas rust too quickly as they are not designed and planned for northern climates with road salt. Ford, I hope you're listening. My Ranger is 14 years old and I'll have to keep it together with chewing gum and string!

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 9:55 PM, EugeneNight wrote:

    "That has worried some potential buyers, because aluminum isn't anywhere near as strong as steel."

    That's not quite true, aluminum has a certain stiffness that steel doesn't. You can have wider areas of aluminum with less bracing.

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 10:01 PM, AmericanFirst wrote:


    Ford via International has not utilized the 6.0L Diesel for approx. 6 years. The current Ford Diesel 6.7L outsells the GM Twins Duramax and Dodge Cummins. Ford now mfgs. the current Ford 6.7L Diesel Engine.

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 10:44 PM, Jeffkory wrote:

    I retired from ford as a mechanic- During my 16 years with ford I owned 2 new lemon f150's- Never again. Ford never listened to the people that had to fix their production blunders.{ The dealership mechanics }. Their way of business is = if it breaks under warranty we fix it- If it breaks 1 day after warranty expires- it's your problem. Now they have problems with their eco boost in 400 thousand f 150's- I doubt there will be a recall- If your lucky yours will break under warranty. Remember all the house fires from the brake light switch on the f-150 It took years and the gov't to make them recall them..

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 10:51 PM, ronedon1964 wrote:

    Well IMHO, Ford will do fine and so will GM. They have to.

    "Ford clearly knows – in great detail – what pickup buyers want right now."

    Yeah and they both know trucks have the biggest profit margin.

    Ford had the biggest jump start with the "Eco-Boost". The recent tech advances in turbos are the new "Big Blocks" of the past and they both know it. Ford was first out of the blocks and GM is doing it with their cars now. As far as more aluminum? At least we will have plenty of Fluoride for many cities municipal water supplies.

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 11:15 PM, crash3085 wrote:

    LOL, so GM sort of freshened up the same old Silverado and gave it an uglier interior, and you think Ford needs to worry? These two trucks are for different markets anyway and pickup buyers are probably the most loyal of any auto buyer. Those who like GM will buy GM and those who like Ford will buy Ford. But yeah, I don't think the new Silverado is going to be a problem for the F-150. Ford does need to put something back in place of the Ranger though.

  • Report this Comment On May 29, 2013, at 11:35 PM, squirl033 wrote:

    wanna boost mileage? here's a thought! make the damned thing SMALLER! no one needs a pickup with a hood that's higher than the ROOF of most sedans, just to carry firewood or tow a boat or carry a camper! American manufacturers need to stop catering to the small-penis crowd and make trucks that will do the work without being the size of a semi-tractor.i'd be willing to bet that downsizing would easily save them at LEAST as much weight as using aluminum, and would make the vehicles much safer for everyone else on the road in the bargain!

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 1:12 AM, CorvetteCujo wrote:

    I've sold pickups for 8 years, and am a GM Certified truck specialist. Ford sells more because of a lower base price point. If you put the equipment on the Ford that is standard on the GM's, the Ford costs more. The active fuel management (8 cyl, 4 cyl) works well in a car, but almost nev activates in a truck. Where GM. wins the mileage game is the Vortec engine technology, yielding better and more complete combustion. Their transmission technology is the other key. For the person suggesting smaller trucks, they get worse mileage.than the big ones! (4 speed vs 6), and cost almost the same (within $1,000) when similarly equipped. And then you have no tow capacity, cargo space, or interior space. And no resale value. As for the Toyota argument, the Tacoma costs Silverado money, gets worse mileage and and has a plastic bed. Tundra is a half ton truck period. It can't tow fifth wheel trailers, livestock, cars, large boats, anything over 10,000 lbs. And there is no option for diesel power. The hybrid is the biggeste of all. It is still predominantly a gas engine, with a lot of costly and heavy equipment added. GM tried it twice. It does not sell. A viable hybrid would have an electric motor at each wheel, with a small diesel generator for extended range. You will never see this as long as big oil can buy votes, and non-viable companies get bailouts instead of bankruptcy and a better business model. Thanks for letting me participate. CorvetteCujo

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 1:17 AM, dwiunit wrote:

    I wonder if Chevy/GMC still uses rear drum brakes instead of rear disc brakes like Dodge or Ford on their full size trucks.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 1:24 AM, jevan122 wrote:

    As a Ford really irks me that an uninformed writer could make negative comments about the best selling pickup in North America while other companies struggle to make ends meet when not filing for bankruptcy.

    The Ford F-150 is here to stay and will be # 1 best pickup in the years to come.

    Go pick on Toyota and their multi recalls.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 1:44 AM, Danimal7 wrote:

    Barring a MASSIVE flaw in the truck it wont affect sales much, there is too much truck loyalty.

    The Ranger went away because the current high end SuperDuty diesel models get better mileage by far than the Ranger ever did even in the 70s when they had motorcycle engines. i work in a place where we use them hard, heavy loads, off-road is the norm and 4x4 is frequent. The new diesel SuperDuty gets 10 mpg better under extreme conditions than my 10 year old (well maintained) V-6 Ranger ever does in ideal conditions.

    Ford mistake was not marketing that engine as the cheap economy version in their base small trucks. (you tell me which is better a 245 hp V-6 that gets under ideal conditions at 45 mph 17 MPG or a V-8 diesel with 400hp that gets 25 MPG under heavy load in 4wd) Ford knew that engine was in development for years and saw it as a bigger punch in the face for compact truck owners than sheer size. Thus the compact "economical" truck disappeared from the US market.

    if they really wanted a sell on that technology it would have marketed as the cheaper option powerplant on base model F-150s. An empty F-350 weighs nearly twice as much as the heaviest Ranger. There is enough diesel mechanics around they get they would lose on the higher diesel maintenance costs (mostly applies to heavy use) and general longevity of diesels compared to gasoline engines (aka your work truck with half a million miles on it runs just fine there is no lustification to replace it). Sad that nearly all vehicles are built to fail. The corporation is designed to make profit, not make the best product out there unless the best product happens to be what makes the most profit. There are corporations that focus only on making the best product, but those items are enormously expensive and the business is usually subsidiary to a larger corporation, (in automotive terms Ferrari owned by FIAT etc.)

    Sorry for getting off topic, but i don't see Ford losing much on the next version of the F-150, they seem to have that market fairly well pegged.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 2:10 AM, Burt52 wrote:

    From the moment I saw pics of the newly designed F150, I knew that 1) it's going to be a huge winner and 2) that I'll wait to replace my '98 F150 another year because I gotta have this truck and 3) concur with other comments, I'll never buy an Obamamobile from GM.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 2:45 AM, btc909 wrote:

    Ford doesn't want a Ranger in the US because Ford knows US buyers would buy them like crazy. This also would take the F-150 off it's sales crown. Ford would make more money off of every F-150 vs. a Ranger. Many buyers don't need an F-150 sized truck. I wouldn't consider a Tacoma an ideal alternative & the Dakota was always an overpriced joke.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 3:48 AM, Bartstar86 wrote:

    The reason I own and will continue to own another Ford F-150 is because the local Ford Dealers treat me good. UNLIKE the local Chevy and Toyota Dealers that ripped me off in the past!

    Nobody talks about vehicle sales when it comes to how the dealerships treat local people and 50% of the reason for sales on a vehicle is the job of the local dealership. I would LOVE to own a Toyota or Honda before I would own a Ford, but the local Toyota and Honda Dealers are crooks, rip-offs, dishonest!

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 8:11 AM, lm1b2 wrote:

    My brother bought a New GM pick up in 1991 after warranty expired, paint peeled,i bought a 1996 Buick Regal same thing, the car was a total lemon,ever thing that could go wrong with a car did,and after putting huge amounts of money into repairs,at 87 thousand miles the engine went. i will never buy another GM product,Ford has nothing to worry about !

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 8:32 AM, CALNNC wrote:

    I've owned pickups for 40 years, and an F150 since 1985. It has been a good truck, with 365,000 on the odometer and only a water pump and alternator replaced. But, new pickups are not 'green' to use that PC word. Compared to my F150 of 1985 or any truck over 25 or so year old, especially before the huge Dodge Ram PU's came on the scene, they are a pile of steel and plastic, and they still have a bed size that has not changed. They have become luxury cars with an outside carry space. If they would go back to just making a useful, common sense, don't need a step stool to get in, truck, it would make a lot more sense and be more enviro friendly to the PC crowd than these behemoths of today.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 9:08 AM, Jeffkory wrote:

    I have owned all the brands in my 40+ years of driving- I worked for ford { mechanic 16 years} I would never own another ford- Not under warranty- Same with dodge- I never had a Toyota - My neighbor has a toy truck TIRD- It is always in the repair shop- For me the GM trucks were always dependable and built well- Oil changes- brakes-tires-batteries just the usual maintenance- Ford and dodge needed large expensive repairs once they got around 100k on them- engine gaskets- and electrical nightmares and not dependable. And they had the worst gas mileage- I seen on the news ford eco boost engines loose power in the rain- They won't have a recall unless the gov't steps in { its the way they do business } If it brakes under warranty they fix it- If it brakes 1 day after warranty expires- It's your problem..

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 9:23 AM, Repinsymra wrote:

    "I wonder if Chevy/GMC still uses rear drum brakes instead of rear disc brakes like Dodge or Ford on their full size trucks."...I own a 2001 2500 6 litre Chevy with 275,000 miles on her..disc brakes at all four're a little behind times.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 9:25 AM, swammie1 wrote:

    After seeing the new GM product. I don't think that Ford and the new F150 product team is worried at all.

    The 2015 F150 will blow that product out of the water in terms of fue economy and functionality. I think consumers will love the new truck from Ford.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 9:31 AM, lesbest54 wrote:

    Hey, all I wanted to do is post a comment why all the info. What is Ford going to do with there E150 van models? It's long overdue. If they can put money to revamp there Mustang they can do it to there other models.This model is too long overdue FORD!

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 11:26 AM, gwtx2 wrote:

    That Chevy is one ugly truck. It looks so sweet and innocent. The Ford looks tough. Like a truck should look.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 11:34 AM, joef271 wrote:

    They made a big mistake when they stopped

    makeing the sport trac

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 1:06 PM, TMFMarlowe wrote:

    @jevan122: As a Ford shareholder, it really irks me that a Ford employee would leave that kind of comment without actually reading the article.

    (It doesn't really irk me, but c'mon. At least read the article before you start hollering about it. I didn't say anything bad about the current F-150.)

    John Rosevear

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 2:54 PM, eightteen wrote:

    im sorry but trucks arnt work toys anymore there turning into the luxary vehicle to own vheicls are the only ones i have ever owned and ever will own and drive.ive never had any luck with fords or dodges.but i think its funny most ford owners will never by a gm vehicle cause the last chevy they had it was always needijng repaired when it was something minor and the ford is always getting fixed.i hate the feel of fords there ride is not comfortable the interior looks cheap.and i dont wanna deal with owning a diesel engine that has been changed to something else in a few stuck with the dmax its still the same thing today as it was in 01 just different emissions stuff on it,

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 3:46 PM, MRamseyWSJ wrote:

    As the author of the Wall Street Journal article that broke the news last summer, I simply would like to make the point that Ford's use of aluminum is not "rumored" on the next-gen F-150. It would be better to say it has been reported.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 4:22 PM, tomdebcap wrote:

    Wait until that first non warranty turbo failure occurs. And then the other one fails. Pretty expensive. Simple is better.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 4:23 PM, tomdebcap wrote:

    I have drum brakes on my 2007 Seirra and still have not replaced them at 150k.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 4:30 PM, bambooster wrote:

    I read that the Ranger was axed because sales were decreasing, though they still were making a fine profit. From the report, F-150 sales were surpassing Ranger's because Ford was able to increase fuel efficiency in the F-150 to the point that it got the same mileage as the Ranger... so people would get more truck for the same gas dollars if they bought an F-150.

    But to repeat my earlier complaint, not all of us want or need a big-arsed truck. A small, light truck that is a great little workhorse is what many of us need. I'm a professional gardener, and I'm not a big person, so the Ranger is just the right size and weight for my work needs. I can't afford and don't want a luxury vehicle, I need a light pickup truck.

    The Toyota Tacoma is not an option because, again, Toyota's metals do not hold up well to road salt. They are rustbuckets here in the frozen North.

    Put a more fuel-efficient engine in a Ranger 2X4 and 4X4 and let us have a small, light but rugged pickup that serves a very important function.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2013, at 4:59 PM, debug013 wrote:

    After owning trucks for the last 30+ years. I am a die hard Ford fan. I wouldn't trade my 2010 F150 Supercrew straight across for any new Chevy, Dodge, Toyota or heaven forbid Nissan truck on the market. I once bought a new 1978 Chevy truck and soon discovered my mistake, when at 600 miles the oil light came on. I checked the oil and it was a quart low. I thought well maybe they just failed to fill it properly at the factory and topped it off another 600 miles and oil light comes on again. I took the truck to the dealership and they told that a quart every 600 miles was normal. I told them that my 5 yr old Ford with 120,000 miles didn't use any oil. Two weeks later I got rid of that Chevy and bought a new Ford and have driven Ford every since.

  • Report this Comment On June 04, 2013, at 11:16 AM, TMFMarlowe wrote:

    @MRamseyWSJ: That's a fair comment. But with due respect to your reporting... you and I have both followed this business long enough to know that it ain't official until it hits the stage at NAIAS.

    John Rosevear

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