When Pete Reyes, chief engineer for the 2015 Ford F-150, talks about the all-new pickup truck he can't help but smile. That's because he knows what kind of punishment this new truck has endured and how long his team has been working on it.
From the outset of the project, which started the day after the 2009 models were shipped to dealerships, Reyes said, Ford knew this truck was going to have to be something special in order to meet changing buyer needs as well as governmental regulations.
"We knew this would have to be special in order to meet all the targets we wanted to hit. We could have played it safe but we decided to go for it, starting with the frame and working through the entire truck," Reyes said. "Where we've done multimillion-mile testing on F-150 in the past, we knew we'd have to go way beyond that, into Super Duty territory, to prove this new truck was tough."
Ford engineers said they put the new F-150s through thousands of hours and 10 million lab miles of testing to make sure they would be tough enough to survive their likely punishment. Ford also wanted to provide some solace for skeptics who would want to believe that moving to a new alloy material for body panels and bed structure would make the truck weak and vulnerable. "That's just not the case," Reyes said.
During a recent media event in Dearborn, Mich., we found out that Ford has looked at every detail of this new truck. Engineers tried to make the designing and engineering of the parts better and the assembly simpler. They also tried to make the pickup more durable than the one it's replacing. From badging to fasteners to abrasion testing, we saw what Ford did and got a chance to talk to the engineers in charge of those systems. We have to admit that sometimes the level of detail they're working with seems insanely inconsequential, but in talking to the people behind these projects we discovered they are most certainly passionate.
Our favorite deep-dive station focused on the new fully boxed frame. Although the changes are difficult to see at first glance, they are significant and impressive. We're told they will pay huge dividends once we see the results play out from behind the wheel.
To begin, Ford engineers used much more high-strength, cold-rolled steel in the frame, precisely pinpointing how thick the frame needs to be at any given section or bend point.
Current-gen F-150s use 23 percent high-strength, 70,000-pounds-per-square-inch steel, while the 2015 model will use almost 80 percent (more similar to three-quarter- and one-ton frame construction than most light-duty pickups). Also, by using supercomputer software to calculate the exact thicknesses and strengths needed, Ford engineers were able to eliminate about 60 pounds from the frame construction alone.
Much of that frame-weight savings is a result of using many different gauge thicknesses all over the frame. The new frame has essentially the same overall shape, with a slightly deeper center section (it was 9 inches tall and is now 10 inches), but the rear and front sections of the frame (both of which are very important because they support the payload bed and powertrains, respectively) are where some more drastic changes occurred.
The rear section of the fully boxed frame is slightly widened and lowered, looking like a 5-inch-square tube foundation, in order to provide a stronger platform for towing. Eight cross-members (one more than the current pickup) use both aluminum and high-strength steel to be stronger and lighter.
The front section of the boxed frame has been modified and slightly widened to provide better support for the new engines and deliver better ride and handling. The newly tuned shocks and springs will help too. The front frame tubes have a corrugated design in the rails in order to allow for more strength and better crush support and energy dispersal. Finally, the "front horns" have been completely fine-tuned incorporating a 12-corner strategy that gives the tube ends more strength and a more predictable reaction in an accident.
The new backbone ladder frame is completely hydroformed and rolled with compression to newly designated thicknesses to make the structure lighter and stronger. As much as people are straining to understand how the body of the new pickup can be made out of aluminum and still be durable, the bigger news could be how well this new frame will improve the ride, capabilities and safety ratings. But we'll have to wait a little longer to report on those details. More to come.
To download the most up-to-date specs for the 2015 Ford F-150, click here.
To read the Ford press release regarding materials usage, click here.
Cars.com photos by Mark Williams
NEW FRONT HORN OLD FRONT HORN
REDESIGNED LOWERED/WIDENED BOX FRAME UNDER BED
NEW MULTI-THICKNESS CROSS-SECTION OF 2015 FRAME
OLD CROSS-SECTION AND CROSSMEMBER FROM 2014 FRAME