How the F series stays in front
Innovation fuels decades of domination
DETROIT — In about two months, Ford is expected to declare its F series America's top-selling pickup for the 41st year and the industry's highest-volume vehicle of any kind for the 36th year.
The F series, a line that includes the F-150, Super Duty and medium-duty commercial trucks, hasn't just been a ubiquitous American workhorse since it debuted in 1948. It also has been the automaker's cash cow, consistently one of Ford's most profitable vehicles — one nameplate that consistently pays the bills.
The seeds of the F series' success were sown long before the truck debuted. In the 1910s and 1920s, Ford made establishing dealerships in rural areas a priority. The F series was Ford's first truck that was not based on car underpinnings.
The truck's long-running success is built on three pillars:
1. Capability: Many F-series owners use their trucks to haul and tow heavy loads. With each new model, new engine or midcycle freshening, Ford has raised the bar on the F series' payload. The latest F-series offering, the F-450 Limited introduced this fall at the State Fair of Texas, has a towing rating of 15 tons, or 30,000 pounds.
- 1917 Model TT: Ford put a pickup bed behind the cab of the popular Model T car and priced it at $600 (equivalent to roughly $11,600 today); 1.3 million were sold over its lifetime.
- 1928 Model AA: It had a 1.5-ton chassis and came in 2 lengths, with new powertrain and axle options for greater capacity.
- 1933 Model BB: Many were outfitted as mail and freight vehicles, ambulances and stake trucks.
- 1935 Model 50: Its more powerful flathead V-8 allowed for heavier loads and bigger beds.
- 1948 F series: Ford launched a line called Bonus Built trucks, available in sizes from the half-ton F-1 to the 3- ton-rated F-8.
2. Equipment: Another key strand of the F series' DNA is the number of safety and convenience features. Ford has aggressively adapted car-based safety features to its trucks. Lane-keeping assist, blind-spot detection and a 360-degree camera that helps drivers maneuver trailers into tight spaces are examples. Some premium F-series trucks offer custom-stitched leather seats, suede headliners, panoramic sunroofs, real wood trim and more.
3.Appearance: Styling has been a key reason why the truck has continually sold well. From one-piece windshields to the classic rounded schnoz of the 1948 models to the faux fender flares on the front of the 1965 trucks, Ford has appreciated that pickups could be used for family transportation, not just work, and has made style a key design feature.
Mark Williams, editor of enthusiast website pickuptrucks.com, says another reason for the F series' continued success is Ford's research that includes not just its customers but those of its competitors.
"Ford goes to people who have not bought the truck and asked what they want in their next truck," Williams said. "Ford has done this better than anyone else. They are painstakingly disciplined on focusing on the customer."
Despite the F series' seemingly unassailable grip on sales leadership, Ford has never let up on innovating. The company has taken major gambles on new technology to widen the gap between the F series and its challengers. Two examples: the twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 that debuted in the 2011 model — the first gasoline turbo engine used in a full-size truck — and the weight-saving aluminum body that debuted on the 2015 F-150 and now is used for Super Duty versions as well.
Here's a look at major F-series innovations and milestones:
1948: The F series Ford's first postwar vehicle, debuts Jan. 16. It features a one-piece windshield and a slew of models, F-1 to F-8. Unlike its predecessors, the F series rides on a dedicated truck frame.
1953: Ford reworks the suspension to improve the ride and tighten the turning radius. For the first time, a Ford truck is available with an automatic transmission. Ford adds two zeros to the F-1, making it the F-100.
1954: The flathead V-8 engine is retired after 22 years of production, replaced by an overhead valve V-8 that cranks out 130 hp, up from the old V-8's 106.
1956: Ford adds tubeless tires, a 12-volt electrical system, bigger engines and a larger windshield that extends over the door posts.
1958-59: Power steering and four-wheel drive become optional; Ford is the first domestic automaker to offer a 4wd system built in-house. Quad headlights debut.
1961: The fourth generation debuts with new styling. The unibody cab/bed is a rare misfire; all previous versions had a separate bed.
1965: The re-engineered F series adds Twin I-Beam suspension, which smooths the ride without affecting towing and hauling. Also new: a Camper Special for recreational use and 289-cubic-inch and 352-cubic-inch engines.
1966: The fifth generation debuts with crisper styling and improved visibility.
1968: Factory-installed air conditioning is offered as an option. Previously, the only choice had been a dealer-installed, below-the-dash system that reduced legroom.
1973: The sixth generation debuts, adding a heavy-duty model, stronger and more rust-resistant sheet metal and technical upgrades including front disc brakes.
1974: The SuperCab model, with room for six passengers, debuts and 14 F-series engine choices are offered globally.
1975: Ford replaces the one-ton F-100 with the 1.5-ton F-150 nameplate.
1976: Cosmetic tweaks, including a revised split grille, help the F series overtake Chevrolet in sales the following year.
1980-85: The seventh generation debuts with a new body and frame, the first time since 1965 that Ford replaces both at the same time. Ford's goal with this version is better fuel economy. A four-speed automatic transmission is optional. A lightened frame proves too fragile, a problem remedied by 1982. Three body styles and two bed lengths are available. A 5.0-liter engine is fitted with fuel injection.
1987: The F series becomes the first pickup with standard rear antilock brakes.
1994: A driver-side airbag becomes standard, beating Chevrolet to market by a year.
1997: Overhead-cam V-8 engines debut.
2010: Ford's new 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel V-8, the first in-house diesel built for the F series, debuts and sets industry benchmarks for power and refinement.
2011: Ford upends the industry by launch-ing the first twin-turbo V-6 in the F-150 and making it the new premium engine. The 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine, one of four new engines, cranks out 365 hp and 420 pounds-feet of torque — more than most competitors' biggest V-8s. The F-150 becomes the first pickup with electric power steering.
2013: An 8-inch touch screen is added to premium models.
2014: Ford switches the industry's top- selling vehicle from a steel body to one made of aluminum, dropping the curb weight by as much as 700 pounds. A 2.7-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost engine becomes the smallest powerplant available in a full-size pickup.
2016: The F-150 gains a remote tailgate release, inflatable rear seat belts, adaptive cruise control and park assist.
2017: The F-150 becomes the first truck with a 10-speed automatic transmission. Ford unveils the F-450 Limited, its most expensive luxury truck yet. It has a suede headliner, heated and cooled seats, leather stitching, real wood trim and the ability to haul as much as 15 tons. All in, the truck sells for around $100,000 — new pricing territory for consumer pickups.
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