At first glance, these trucks could be your neighbor’s run-of-the-mill 2012 Ford F-150 – but take a second look. There are a number of clues that suggest these trucks are, in fact, early mule prototypes for the next-generation 2015 Ford F-150.
We’d long heard Ford planned on putting the next F-150 on a diet, but it’s more imperative than ever the full-size truck sheds considerable weight. In late 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency implanted new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards that required the fuel economy of all vehicles sold to average 35.5 mpg by the year 2015. Likewise, the average fuel economy of light trucks will be ratcheted up to 28.6 mpg. According to TrueCar.com, Ford’s corporate MPG average for vehicles sold thus far in 2012 currently hovers around 22.1 mpg. Its average MPG for light trucks sold through August rings in at 19.6 mpg.
Although Ford doesn’t break out pickup sales figures by nameplate, the F-Series as a whole is by far the most popular vehicle Ford sells. Thus far in 2012, the company has sold a whopping 408,656 trucks in the U.S. For reference, that’s about double the volume of the Fusion, Ford’s best-selling passenger car. With that sort of volume, it’s obvious that eking fuel economy from the F-150 is nothing shy of paramount to improve Ford’s future CAFE standings.
Since Ford isn’t keen on downsizing its full-size F-150, those gains will likely be accomplished by way of smaller, more efficient engines, and substantial weight losses. Arguably, the 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 available in today’s F-150 lineup fits in with the first approach, as does a range of small, twin-turbocharged six-cylinders allegedly in development for the next truck. Even so, the next-generation F-150 is expected to take the second point -- an extreme weight loss -- to heart.
Although some reports suggested the next-generation F-150 would be an all-aluminum vehicle, we think it’s much more likely that the truck will use an array of lightweight materials to help keep the curb weight low. Early reports from Pickuptrucks.com reported the next F-150 could utilize a frame crafted from a magnesium-aluminum alloy, although the Wall Street Journal claims that pursuit didn’t yield enough weight loss for the cost involved.
Aluminum will certainly play a prominent role in shaping the F-150’s bodywork. These particular test mules – easily identified by their awkward panel fits, truncated cabs, and modified beds – allegedly sport a number of body panels fabricated from aluminum. The point of this exercise isn’t to test a production-ready 2015 F-150 in the wild, but for engineers to gain a good baseline as to how aluminum panels could impact fuel economy, durability, manufacturing and repair costs, and so on. We've heard rumblings the truck could potentially utilize aluminum stampings for the bed -- a tricky task, as the bed is subjected to more wear and tear than any other area of a pickup -- but at this point in time, details are sketchy at best.
As Ford officials previously noted, it’s still too early to say for sure exactly what lithe metals will end up on the 2015 F-150, but if Ford’s able to find away to increase their use, expect the finished product to shed a sizable 700 pounds or so.
Source: Pickuptrucks.com, WSJ