Ford (NYSE:F) unveiled its all-new 2015 F-150 at a huge and glitzy event in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena on Monday morning.
If you're at all interested in pickups, or in Ford, you've probably heard by now that the new truck features aluminum body panels over a new frame made largely of high-strength steel, and that those new materials make the new F-150 a lot lighter than the current model.
You've probably also heard that the new truck will offer several new engines, including an all-new 2.7-liter turbocharged V6. That sounds like a small engine for a full-sized pickup, but Ford is betting that buyers will find it a stronger choice than you'd think, thanks to the new truck's much-reduced weight.
But there's a lot more to know about the new F-150. My Motley Fool colleague Rex Moore and I were at the event in Detroit, and we spent some time talking to Ford executives and getting up close to the new truck. We didn't get to drive one, but we sat in a few.
Here are three things I learned about the new F-150 that might not be obvious from the photos or articles you've seen so far.
It may be aluminum, but it doesn't look cheap. Or feel cheap.
Ninety-five percent of the new F-150's body panels are made of aluminum alloy, Ford says. But this isn't beer-can aluminum. It's a stiff and sturdy "military-grade" aluminum alloy, the same metal used on the U.S. Army's Humvees, the company said.
Up close, the trucks' body panels look like, well, like Ford trucks. Tap on the panels of the new F-150 and they sound and feel like sturdy sheet metal. Press on them, and they don't flex a bit. But they do save up to 700 pounds of weight over the current truck, and that translates to better performance and fuel economy.
It's a big bet for Ford, but the company is convinced that it has a winning hand. Ford executives told us that the company did extensive durability tests with the new body panels, not just for dent resistance but for corrosion. Panels were sprayed with salt and with an acidic solution to ensure that they wouldn't rust, even after several years of heavy use.
And Ford -- secretly -- built several F-150s with cargo beds made out of the new aluminum alloy and handed them over to a mining company, an energy company, and a construction firm. Ford didn't tell the testers what was different about these trucks or what was being tested, but simply told them to use the trucks as they normally would.
Two years and 300,000 miles of testing later, Ford is convinced that it has a sturdy truck. And a fuel-efficient one: Ford chief operating officer Mark Fields told us that the new F-150 would actually improve Ford's corporate average fuel economy numbers, rather than drag them down.
That fuel economy should play very well with fleet buyers -- and regular folks, too.
Ford did very well with these trucks' interiors
Pickup interiors have come a long, long way over the last 20 years or so. Having essentially invented the idea of a "luxury" pickup, Ford is pushing it another step forward with the new trucks.
We took a long look inside a 2015 King Ranch model that had a very well-executed interior, well-assembled with good leather and brushed metal trim. All of the new F-150s feature a well-designed dash and seats that seemed both roomy and likely to be comfortable for longer rides.
Ford's love-it-or-hate-it MyFord Touch infotainment system will be available on many of the new F-150's trim lines. The touchscreen system has many fans, but also many critics who contend that the system is slow and balky and hard to operate while driving.
Ford has heard those complaints; it included old-school knobs and switches for many controls in the new F-150. The idea is to make it easy for a driver wearing work gloves to operate the truck's key systems.
These trucks have a lot of subtle high-tech touches
The new F-150 looks very familiar. It's all-new, but it looks like what it is: a Ford truck. But Ford trucks have become very sophisticated vehicles.
Advanced aluminum alloys and high-strength steel. New turbocharged engines with stop-start technology. Ford's Active Parking Assist system. Cameras that go beyond "backup cameras" to give a full 360-degree view. LED headlamps. A tailgate with power lock and release.
From 20 feet away, the new F-150 looks like a Ford pickup, no big deal. But up close, you can see that Ford has incorporated a lot of -- often subtle -- high-tech touches in its new trucks. These are the kinds of things that can turn curious test drivers into buyers.
The upshot: A "bold move" that could pay off big for Ford
Executive Chairman Bill Ford emphasized that Ford was not out to "play it safe" with the new F-150. Ford has led the full-sized pickup market for decades, and the company feels that it's in a good position to take a big leap forward with its all-new model.
There's a chance that this could backfire, of course. If problems with the new body panels (or any other aspect of the new trucks) crop up, Ford might have to scramble to hold on to its customers.
And we don't have fuel economy numbers or pricing information on the new truck. Ford hasn't released those yet.
Fields told us that the new F-150 will go into production in the fourth quarter of 2014. We'll find out then what pickup buyers think of Ford's latest bold move.