When the 2021 Ford F-150 debuted in late 2020, the headlines focused on its available hybrid powertrain, but the Blue Oval’s innovations for the truck didn’t stop there.
As we found out during the recent Automotive Tech Week Megatrends conference hosted by WardsAuto parent Informa Tech, Ford spent considerable time and effort researching how its customers use their trucks and built many of the new F-150’s features around their findings.
Ehab Kaoud, the F-150’s chief designer, explains how during a presentation on the impact of user experience on the new truck’s design.
To achieve their goal of a user-centric F-150 (pictured below), the team at Ford spent time with people who use their trucks as everyday tools on job sites across the country.
The automaker sent researchers to visit cattle ranchers, construction sites and more, totaling over 1,000 hours of time on-site. That time yielded more than 18,000 photos and 600 videos with insights on how people use their trucks during a “day in the life” of various professions.
The research had a direct and significant impact on the 2021 F-150’s feature set and design, especially on the interior. Three headlining options coming out of Ford’s time in the field are the stow-away shifter, folding work surface and Max Recline seats, all of which make for a striking visual and tactile impact, but also have legitimate uses in real work environments.
Ford’s researchers found truck owners love the feel and look of an actual gearshift lever. Many vehicles, trucks included, have moved to rotary or dial shifters, and even push-button shifters in some cases, but many people still prefer to grab and shift the old-fashioned way.
The benefit of not having the giant shift lever, of course, is that it opens up the center console area for storage and other features. Ford’s solution lets owners have their cake and eat it, too, as the physical shift lever folds out of the way when not needed.
That innovation led directly to the creation of the F-150’s available foldable work surface. Without the gear lever in the way, Ford’s engineers were able to create a flat surface large enough to hold a laptop or even a lunch spread.
Researchers found many people spend their lunch breaks sitting in their trucks and frequently use the cabin as a mobile office, so the folding desk offers owners an on-the-go space to eat and work without interruption.
Ford’s research also found truck owners spend so much time in their vehicles that many take naps and even sleep overnight on the job site in the cab. The near flat-folding Max Recline seats offer a comfortable sleeping surface when there isn’t time to hit a hotel or head home to a warm bed.
Finally, the F-150’s available tailgate workbench (pictured below) came out of watching how people use their truck beds on the job site.
A tablet holder gives owners the ability to quickly pull up directions and other information, while anchor points located across the tailgate allow for secure equipment setup. Full-length tie-downs even double as a bottle opener for when the day’s work is done.
It’s easy to wonder how some design decisions are made in vehicles today, but seeing the benchmarking process and the research that is behind innovative new features is a great way to understand how and why designs are adopted.
While it’s true the Ford F-150’s optional features don’t come cheap, their designs and implementation show an understanding of the people who will use them most.