DETROIT – Ford has led the fullsize pickup category since Jimmy Carter’s first year in the White House, and few companies are as good at giving its fans, owners and followers something to grab on to in a midcycle update. It’s a strategy designed to maintain that leadership.
A lot is at stake for Ford to keep the F-150 right as it displays the refreshed pickup at the North American International Auto Show here. The pickup market is shrinking with more of the market going to work and fleet trucks, while the personal-truck market shrinks in favor of those buyers choosing SUVs over open-bed trucks.
Ford relies on the profits of its pickup leadership to fund the rest of the company, especially to keep the profits flowing while its electric-vehicle business is a profit drain.
For the ’ 24 F-150, the centerpiece of attention-grabbing improvements is an available “Pro Access Tailgate,” which swings out like a door on a refrigerator. In contrast to the Ram Multi-function Split Tailgate, which clearly inspired Ford product planners, Ford’s version of the tailgate swings open in the center while leaving equal bits of the tailgate to the left and right.
The idea for the sideways-swinging tailgate enables the driver to walk up to the edge of the bed and access items without stretching awkwardly across the gate. The whole gate will still drop down for extended loads. Ford executives say their product planners staked out parking lots of big-box home-improvement stores to see how pickup owners use their trucks to carry various items.
Ford has a history of enhancing and rethinking the tailgate. In 2006, the automaker introduced a fold-down tailgate step, and quickly followed with a handle that retracts into the tailgate for greater stability and safety while ascending into the truck bed. More recently, Ford has added a work surface complete with built-in ruler measurement to the tailgate.
Ford also updated its grille to go “coast-to-coast” across the entire width of the front end, as well as the Ford logo. It will appear subtle to many customers, but the new badge is less contoured, with a flatter surface. Instead of the blue oval being double outlined with a thick outer ring and a thinner inner ring, there's a single line inside the edge. The Ford script is bigger in the new badge.
The ’24 F-150 also offers a new Stolen Vehicle Services system that is app-based and informs the owner if the truck is on the move for criminal reasons. The alerts range from a GPS-based trigger that tells the owner his or her wheels are being heisted.
The powertrain changes a bit, too. Ford has eliminated the 3.3 L V-6 that was the standard, instead making the 2.7L twin-turbo V-6 the new default engine. The hybrid 3.5L PowerBoost engine that had been an upcharge over the gas-only version of that engine is now the same price. It’s part of Ford’s effort to drive up its fleet mpg. Ford will continue to offer the 5.0L V-8.
In an unusual midcycle change, Ford says it has replaced the electrical architecture of the truck before it gets a total makeover. The 12-in. (30-cm) touchscreen is now standard along with a 12-in. digital instrument screen behind the steering wheel, and the infotainment system will still run Sync 4.
Every ’24 F-150 comes with BlueCruise 1.2, and every buyer gets a 90-day trial of the advanced system that allows hands-free driving on thousands of miles of roads in the U.S. and Canada, but it will require a monthly subscription to maintain access to it after that. Welcome to Ford’s strategy for revenue streams connected to certain vehicle features. Standard driver-assist features include pre-collision assist, exit warning meant to prevent drivers from opening doors into traffic that could take out the door or worse, lane-keeping assist and a blindspot warning system.
Ford also previews changes to the profitable Raptor and Tremor trims at NAIAS. The Tremor gets a new grille and front bumper to which you can attach a winch kit. The Raptor and Raptor R continue. The R comes with the 5.2L supercharged V-8 producing up to 700 hp.
Traditionally, Ford has offered a wide range of configurations for the F-150 to accommodate the various needs of work-truck buyers. But the company is on a mission to cut costs and production complexity, and so is being open about scaling back possible configurations by 90%. That will reduce choices, but doubtfully enough to drive the Ford faithful across the street to General Motors or Ram.
Deliveries of ’24 F-150s start sometime next spring, but the order bank is open now.