2015 Ford F-150: The world's best-selling truck goes aluminum to be lighter, faster, and stronger

Ford's F-150 has been the best-selling truck in the US for the past 37 years in a row. This year it gets a radical overhaul, moving to aluminum to save weight and getting a raft of new tech inside and out, making sure this workhorse continues to carry the Blue Oval forward.

Tim Stevens
Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
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Car Tech
Watch this: 2015 Ford F-150

DETROIT -- 763,402 sales in 2013. That'd be a huge number for just about any product you can think of, but when you consider that's how many F-150s Ford moved in 2013 alone, it's an eye-opening feat. That's fully 40 percent of the US truck market, capping off the 37th consecutive year as America's best-selling truck. And 2013 marked the 32nd year it's been the best-selling car of any kind in the US.

2015 Ford F-150 on the show floor in Detroit (pictures)

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The F-series dates back to 1966. In 2014, it gets a complete makeover, including plenty of new tech. Rather than just cameras for backing up, the new truck has four, providing a full bird's-eye, 360-degree view. Drivers can now see exactly what's around them on all sides, which should make navigating around cramped job sites (or Walmart parking lots) a fair bit easier. The front camera can also be triggered when pulling out from intersections, providing a much safer view of oncoming traffic.

The new truck makes extensive use of LED lighting, including optional LED headlights. Lights are also built into the mirrors that shine out and down, lighting up the ground around the doors, and lighting in the bed has also been augmented. There's a remote tailgate release, dampened by hydraulic pistons, and a 400-watt, three-prong outlet situated right on the dashboard. It's intended for charging tools, but we can't help imagining the joys of topping up MacBooks while road-tripping. When off the road, an integrated gyro displays roll and pitch on the 8-inch dash-mounted LCD.

2015 Ford F-150

Following in the footsteps of the 2015 Ford Mustang, the 2015 Ford F-150 is making use of a lot more aluminum to save weight. In the truck, almost the entire body is made of the stuff. (Only a few, tiny panels are made of anything else.) That, plus a new frame made of high tensile-strength steel, equates to massive weight savings over the outgoing truck. Sadly, Ford isn't quoting specific figures just yet, except that we can expect a maximum savings of 700 pounds. Assuming the heaviest 2014 F-150, the 5,900-pound AWD Super Crew, that's a 12 percent drop.

2015 Ford F-150 proves lighter truck can be heavy-duty (pictures)

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Aluminum bodies are nothing new, but putting an aluminum body on a machine destined for as much punishment as your average truck seems like a recipe for disaster. The rust-free nature of aluminum is an obvious advantage, but the durability of aluminum is lower than steel. To ensure that the aluminum bed could cope, Ford started by making prototype bodies that were visually identical to the current truck. Without telling anyone, the company deployed them in the real world.

Ford started by making prototype aluminum bodies that were visually identical to the current truck. One was sent to a Utah gold mine, its drivers told to treat it like any other truck. They did, and the 1.4mm-thick aluminum used in the bed proved even more durable than the steel in the current model.

The company went through four separate generations of previous-gen aluminum bodies, making subtle revisions each time to get the right thickness where needed for durability, the right thinness where possible to save weight and cost. These were mounted on the previous truck's frame, and Ford engineers were even so bold as to give these prototypes out to privileged customers for testing -- unbeknownst to them. One aluminum-bodied prototype F-150 was sent to a Utah gold mine, its drivers told to treat it like any other truck. They did, and the 1.4mm-thick aluminum used in the bed proved even more durable than the steel in the current model.

Ford's knowledge of how to work effectively with the material dates back several decades. The Aluminum Intensive Vehicle, a special-edition Mercury Sable in the early '90s, was the company's first all-aluminum bodied production car. In 1998, Ford-owned Jaguar went with aluminum for the body on the XJ, and of course the Ford GT made extensive use of the stuff. In a performance car, lighter weight means greater performance. In a truck, 700 pounds off means, all things being equal, 700 pounds more towing capacity.

2015 Ford F-150

The rest of the time that means 700 pounds less for the engine to haul around, so better mileage is possible from the same engines. And that's good, because most of the current engines will be maintained, including the 3.7-liter V-6, 3.5-liter EcoBoost, and iconic 5.0-liter V-8. A moment of silence for the 6.2-liter V-8 found in the Raptor, as it is no more. But, with the weight reduction, the 3.5-liter motor and its 420 pound-feet of torque should offer comparable performance to the mammoth V-8. Finally, a new 2.7-liter EcoBoost motor with stop/start technology joins the fray, slotting in between the base V-6 and V-8 models.

A stock truck completed the Baja 1000 off-road race, beating many heavily customized racers, before turning around and driving back to Detroit -- picking up a speeding ticket on the way home.

As with the new body, Ford tested the new 2.7-liter motor right under everyone's noses, entering another of the prototypes in the 2013 running of the Baja 1000. The stock truck (cheekily numbered 227) covered the 1,000 mile off-road race at speed, beating many heavily customized racers, before turning around and driving back to Detroit -- picking up a speeding ticket on the way home.

Ford F-150 Baja prototype
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The composition of the body is sure to be the most talked-about feature of this new truck, but the styling is not to be dismissed either. Think of it as a toned-down version of last year's Atlas concept. When conceptualizing the Atlas, Ford designers came up with a series of concepts, an ubersleek "bullet train" design on one end and a chunky, muscular "freight train" on the other. The Atlas fell somewhere in the middle. Many of the same styling cues are here, including the profiled windshield with its distinctive cutout, but the overall impact has been toned down quite a bit. It's a more purposeful truck than before, but falls well short of looking aggro.

Ford Atlas Concept looks ready for the road (pictures)

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It's also, we're told, considerably more aerodynamic than the outgoing truck. While Ford declined to quote any drag figures, the square profiling on the edge of the nose was actually hewn in the wind tunnel for effect. Other tweaks, like fillers between the bumper and grille and active aerodynamic shutters ahead of the radiator, create a brick that's somewhat more subtle when punching its way through the air.

2015 Ford F-150

Other improvements to the truck are many and myriad -- panoramic glass roof, rear doors that open 170 degrees, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, parallel-park assist, massaging seats, a smart hitch that can trigger the alarm if someone tries to steal your trailer -- and all culminate in what should be a heck of a truck when it hits dealers later this year. Trim packages will be similar to the outgoing truck (including XL, XLT, Lariat, Platinum, and King Ranch) but as of yet Ford isn't talking money, other than to say the new truck will "cover the same price range" as the outgoing model. When it comes to weight, getting so much less for the same cost is definitely a good thing.