LAKE HAVASU CITY, Ariz. - There's a narrow, two-lane stretch of old Route 66 that winds down the side of a mountain outside this desert town. With no guardrails, there's little room for error. A missed turn could be fatal.
This doesn't unnerve Phil Martens, Ford vice president of North America product creation. He's driving a 2004 F-150 SuperCrew pickup on this road at about 60 mph while fielding questions from a reporter.
Despite numerous severe bumps, Martens' judicious use of the brake pedal and many sharp turns, the F-150 doesn't waver. Neither does the driver. The test drive is a demonstration of how Ford Motor Co. spent its money on its most important product. The new F-series truck is slated to arrive at dealers late this summer, and there's a lot riding on it.
If it is a hit, the F series, the nation's best selling vehicle for two decades, will help Ford put much of its financial problems in the rear-view mirror. If it misses, the door is kicked wide open for General Motors to regain leadership in pickup sales with the Chevrolet Silverado and for Dodge, Toyota and Nissan to gain market share at Ford's expense.
What Ford hopes consumers find in the new F-150 is a level of refinement not seen before in a pickup.