DETROIT (Reuters) -- Ford Motor Co. is aiming to boost the gas mileage of its next-generation F-150 pickups by 15-20 percent, thus shifting the battleground in full-size trucks from power, durability and towing capacity to fuel economy.
Ford is pursuing a different strategy from crosstown rival General Motors, which Thursday unveiled its redesigned 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, touting such virtues as more power and torque, a quieter cab and additional safety features.
Ford instead is intent on hiking its average truck fuel economy by up to 3 miles per gallon when it implements a $2 billion redesign of its full-size F-series in fall 2014, according to an industry source familiar with the company's plans.
The 2015 Ford F-150 "will be a game-changer that will alter the dynamics of the truck segment," the source said. "They're shooting for best-in-class fuel economy."
"Ford is committed to offering our customers leading fuel economy (but) it's premature to talk about future products," said company spokesman Mike Levine.
The overhaul of its big pickup and the focus on improving its mileage are important for several reasons -- to help maintain the F-series' dominant position in the truck segment, to help maintain a key source of the company's profits and to help meet more stringent federal fuel-economy standards that take effect in 2015 and 2016.
The F-series, which has been the best-selling vehicle in the United States for 30 years, and sport-utility derivatives such as the Expedition account for more than 90 percent of Ford's global profit, according to Morgan Stanley auto analyst Adam Jonas.
"Today's pickup buyers are more savvy and want greater utility, technology and comfort features, along with improved fuel economy," said Joseph Langley, analyst with LMC Automotive.
Ford aims to achieve its aggressive truck fuel-economy target by shaving an average of 700-750 pounds from each vehicle, largely through the extensive use of aluminum for doors, fenders, cab and tailgate, said two industry sources familiar with the F-series redesign program.
As part of the truck overhaul, known internally as the P552 program, Ford is redesigning most major chassis components such as brakes and axles to further reduce weight.
The company also is developing a new family of highly efficient engines under the internal program code Nano, the sources said. The small-displacement V6 engines will employ Ford's EcoBoost technology, including turbocharging and direct injection.
The first of the Nano engines, a 2.9-liter V6, isn't likely to appear until 2016 or later, the sources said.
Before then, however, Ford is expected to offer an eight-speed automatic transmission in the F-series in 2014 or 2015, further enhancing fuel economy, they said.
Ford also is jointly developing with Toyota Motor Corpa new family of hybrid gasoline-electric engines to help meet even tougher emissions and fuel-economy standards toward the end of the decade.
For model year 2013, the highest-mileage Ford pickup is the F-150 XL 4x2 regular cab equipped with the 3.7-liter V6 and six-speed automatic transmission. EPA ratings are 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 23 on the highway.
The top-of-the-line F-150 Limited 4x2 SuperCrew with the EcoBoost twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed is rated at 15 city and 21 highway.