Photos courtesy of Ford Motor Company
As part of testing prior to the start of full production and sales, Ford provided two pre-production 2011 F-Series Super Duty pickups to Florida Power and Light. How have the trucks held up since September 2009, moving equipment across the state’s highways and servicing hardware in the Everglades?
“So far, so good,” said Claude Masters, FPL’s vehicle acquisition and fleet manager at Ford's first drive media introduction for the new Super Duty.
How did the power utility wind up with two Super Dutys more than six months before they’re set to go on sale? FPL is recognized as a “top 10 benchmark fleet” by the U.S. work truck industry, Masters said. FPL is also a member of Ford’s fleet advisory board, which is made up of a select group of commercial customers that provide feedback to the company for current and future products.
“We told Ford that the new trucks have new engines, a new transmission and diesel exhaust fluid [system for emissions],” Masters said. “If we heard all of that stuff on the first day of sales, we’d be very skeptical [customers]. If [Ford] wanted us to, we’d be the guys to test it, and we’ll tell others what we think.”
Ford also could closely monitor the trucks out in the field using wireless remote data collectors that continuously send information back to Ford’s engineers.
Both of FPL’s Super Duty pickups are equipped with Ford’s new in-house designed and manufactured 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V-8. One is four-wheel drive, and the other is two-wheel drive.
“Most of our fleet runs on diesel fuel,” Masters said. “There’s a strategy behind using diesel because we get a lot of hurricanes [in Florida]. We’ve had up to 9,000 vehicles doing hurricane restoration, and they all ran on diesel. It’s easier to find diesel than it is to find gasoline, and I can run [the test trucks] on biodiesel.”
FPL champions the use of renewable fuels, so both trucks have been running on B20 biodiesel (80 percent ultra-low sulfur diesel, 20 percent biodiesel). The utility runs its own quality checks on the fuel to make sure it exceeds ASTM International standards, so problems such as contaminated fuel won’t damage the engines.
One of the earliest concerns that FPL’s fleet operators had was how much of an impact refilling DEF would have on drivers. Time spent refilling fluids and taking care of other maintenance items takes away from tending to business activities.
DEF is one method used by clean diesels to scrub harmful nitrogen oxide pollution from the vehicle’s exhaust stream. The urea-based solution (32.5 percent industrial urea and 67.5 percent deionized water) is held in a separate storage tank and injected as a fine mist into the hot exhaust gases. The heat turns the urea into ammonia that, when combined with a special catalytic converter, breaks down the nitrogen oxide into harmless nitrogen gas and water vapor.
“On some commercial vehicles, our guys have to add DEF every second or third fill-up,” Masters said. “Ford told us the target was to add DEF at the time of the first oil change, at around 7,500 miles. After checking the oil life monitor, we waited until the trucks had 9,000 miles to change the oil and add DEF. The DEF tank still had more than 25 percent DEF remaining. That was a good-news story because we’re trying to figure out if adding urea and oil service intervals could get out of balance.”
DEF use can vary with a diesel engine’s duty cycle. The harder an engine works, the more DEF may be used to clean the exhaust. One of the Super Dutys has been used primarily unloaded on the highway, and the second has been used to pull a 9,000-pound enclosed trailer carrying sophisticated electronic equipment and a 21-foot boat needed to navigate the remote swamps where some FPL equipment is located.
“If I had to guess how often the second truck is pulling a trailer, it’s about 60 percent of the time,” Masters said.
The Super Dutys have racked up about 15,000 miles.
Ford has said its new Super Dutys will have best-in-class fuel economy, promising an 18 percent improvement for its diesel pickups. What kind of mileage has FPL observed?
“One guy drives all over the state,” Masters said. “If he’s driving from South Florida to North Florida, he used to have to stop to fill the truck up. Now he doesn’t. There are also remotely monitored driver logs and manual records. I can’t tell you that fuel economy has improved from 15 mpg to 18 mpg, but anecdotally they’re seeing an improvement of anywhere from 18 percent to 25 percent. I can’t provide a specific number because the trucks idle so much.”
Based on the maintenance track record of Ford’s two previous diesel engines, Masters is keeping a close eye on the trucks’ reliability and durability.
“I’m expecting the turbocharger and fuel system to have a better track record [than the previous 6.0-liter and 6.4-liter diesels],” Masters said. “So far we haven’t had any problems. There haven’t been any service-related interruptions to the trucks.”