Ford Motor is bringing a new level of technology to its 2021 F-150 pickup to attract new buyers while also trying to please its loyal customers with new features tailored to them.
It's a fine line for Ford to walk, as its F-Series trucks, including the F-150 and its larger siblings, account for a substantial amount of the company's profits. The automaker is in the midst of an $11 billion restructuring plan as it pivots to emerging technologies such as all-electric and autonomous vehicles.
On Thursday evening, Ford digitally unveiled traditional and hybrid versions of the pickup, both scheduled to begin arriving in dealerships this fall.
New unique features include a segment-first hands-free highway driving system, 12-inch screens and over-the-air updates. Ford is promising its hybrid model will deliver both great performance and fuel efficiency.
"The needs of truck customers have and continue to evolve," Todd Eckert, Ford Truck Group marketing manager, said during a media briefing. "They expect everything on their truck to add value."
For more traditional truck customers, the 14th-generation F-150 offers the towing and capability they've come to expect as well as new features designed to make working, even sleeping, in the truck better. They include newly designed work areas on the center console and tailgate, lay-flat seats and an integrated generator that can power tools at work sites or televisions and speakers at tailgate parties.
"This is what they need to do. They built on what they already know these buyers need," said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst at IHS Markit. "This market is so significant for them."
Ford did not disclose pricing and performance specifications for the pickups. Starting pricing on 2020 models ranges from about $30,000 to $70,000.
The 2021 F-150 features new interior and exterior designs, additional storage and six available engine options, including a 3.0-liter diesel and 3.5-liter "PowerBoost" hybrid V6 engine. All engines are paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission.
Ford said the new hybrid model is targeted to achieve roughly 700 miles on a single tank of gas and deliver at least 12,000 pounds of available maximum towing. That's in line with or better than current models with V6 engines.
Ford expects the hybrid model — its "most premium powertrain" — to account for about 10% of sales. That compares with its "EcoBoost" V6 engines, which currently account for about 60% of sales.
Standard on hybrid models is a new integrated power generator with 2.4 kilowatts of output or an optional 7.2 kW of output. The standard model could charge everything for a tailgate party or a jackhammer and compact concrete mixer.
The power generators are available in 2.4-kW and 7.2-kW versions for non-hybrid models with gas engines. The generator works by taking energy from an onboard lithium-ion battery. The vehicle's engine may need to be on to assist in charging the battery.
"I think a lot of the technology is being deployed smartly into things that will be useful, not just flashy," Brinley said, adding there's been a trend in recent years for pickups to be more tech-focused and mainstream.
The generator, which Ford is calling "Pro Power Onboard," is located in the box of the pickup.
Ford, according to officials, spent a lot of time redesigning the vehicle's interior to be more functional, both physically and technologically.
"We know that our customers spend much of their days and sometimes their nights in the vehicle," said Craig Schmatz, chief engineer of the F-150. "We wanted to really increase the functionality for them to be more productive in the cab as well as more comfortable."
In addition to redesigning the interior of the vehicle, Ford also is offering a stowable gear shifter that allows for a flat surface between the passenger and driver for laptops or other needs such as signing documents.
Both front seats also can fold nearly 180 degrees to allow for more comfortable sleeping arrangements, according to Ford.
The most noticeable changes in the interior are the large available screens. They include a new 12-inch infotainment screen in the center of the instrument panel as well as a 12-inch, all-digital driver information cluster behind the steering wheel.
The larger screen behind the steering wheel will assist in communicating with an optional hands-free driver-assist system that's similar to Tesla's Autopilot or GM's Super Cruise.
The "Active Drive Assist" system will be able to control a vehicle's speed, braking and steering through a system of cameras, radar and other sensors on 100,000 miles of pre-mapped divided highways in the U.S. and Canada.
Customers can purchase a pickup with the hardware for the system later this year, but they will have to wait until the third quarter of 2021 to use the technology. Ford plans to release software at that time to enable the technology via a remote, or over-the-air, update. It can also be installed at a dealership.
The vehicle being capable of over-the-air updates, Ford said, also will be key to assisting in expediting safety recalls and other upgrades.
"It can help conduct preventative maintenance, it can reduce repair trips and it can provide improved performance," said Stuart Taylor, executive director of Enterprise Connectivity at Ford.
The new pickup also comes with additional standard and optional safety features to prevent accidents.
Ford produces the F-150 at plants in Dearborn, Michigan, and Claycomo, Missouri.