The 2021 rumble before the Lightning EV hits – TechCrunch
Full size trucks are the meat of the American auto industry; it’s a hot category with the Ford F-150 leading the sales pack and the quick followers of the Chevrolet Silverado and Ram pickups.
But the air is thin at the top. What is often lost in truck coverage is the ferocity of automakers competing to win over discerning customers with optional and standard feature sets. And now, more than ever, these bundles rely heavily on in-vehicle technology.
Ford, as a best seller, must add bells and whistles without alienating its most demanding customers. The 2021 F-150 – as I was reminded in a recent test drive – epitomizes that effort and hints at what’s to come with the next all-electric Lightning pickup truck.
I tested the 2021 SuperCrew Lariat 4 × 4 fitted with a 3.5L PowerBoost Full Hybrid V6 engine in its home suburb of Detroit, 20 miles from where it was developed and manufactured.
Getting the exact details on pickup trucks is an art of custom packaging for automakers. This is one of the reasons why option packages are dizzying; the F-150 I tested was no exception. The F-150 offers six different powertrains, three body lengths and three cabin options, then eight trim levels, two and four-wheel drive.
This option-heavy strategy has paid off for automakers like Ford. However, as these companies add more technology and software, there is a risk of confusing their most loyal customers.
What sets the F-150 apart from other vehicles in its lineup is the importance of assistive technology to its major customers. On the new model I tested, a 12-inch display that houses the standard Sync4 infotainment system is the center of the dashboard and customer experience.
Sync4 was introduced on the Mustang Mach-E and on the new Ford Bronco. Sync has been continuously improving for a simpler user experience since its introduction in 2007. Sync4 doubles computing power and introduces over-the-air software updates.
The system obtains data from INRIX on traffic, construction (still one summer in Michigan), weather and parking availability from data in 20,000 cities and 150 countries.
The natural language processing used in the system provided more accurate responses to my voice queries and incoming SMS messages. One caveat to note: It was difficult to judge the machine learning algorithm as my test vehicle had been used by multiple drivers over the past few weeks.
For infotainment, I usually rely on Apple CarPlay, which, along with Android Auto, is easy to call because it connects wirelessly into the F-150 and minimizes distracted driving. Since they debuted in production vehicles – 2014 for CarPlay and 2015 for Android Auto – it seemed inevitable that Apple and Google would dominate the middleware infotainment system game.
Syncing also activates the supported apps Waze and Ford + Alexa.
Driving a full-size truck for the first time can be intimidating, and Ford is using camera technology to make the large platform easier to maneuver. The split screen helps a shy driver feel confident about navigating tight spaces.
Five on-board cameras act as guides that assist with steering and parking. Vivid graphics incorporated into the 360-degree view from above help set benchmarks where mirrors won’t do.
Behind the steering wheel is a 12-inch digital cluster. There’s a part of me that lacks the old-fashioned gauges of a classic pickup, but that’s not the direction Ford is going. Ford strives to create forward-looking vibes encapsulated by the Apple design-inspired aesthetic of the Mustang Mach-E.
With its in-car design, Ford tries to make the case that it is first a tech company and then a 120-year-old automaker. These serious aesthetic cues can be a bit too much on the nose as products age over time.
Ford is due to introduce Blue Cruise, an advanced driver assistance system it formerly called Active Drive Assist, on vehicles later this year through an automatic software update, which was not yet active on the model it did. I drove in June, although the gear was included.
The company says the system enables hands-free driving in areas spanning 100,000 miles of North American highway and will be standard on F-150 Limited vehicles in the Ford Co-Pilot360 Active 2.0 Prep Package. It will be sold as an option on the Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum models. The system uses a driver-facing camera to track gaze and head position to monitor concentration in response to GM’s Super Cruise.
The things that matter most
Beneath the foot-long display are the old-fashioned buttons and switches that show Ford knows its customers still prefer a manual tail here and there. Underneath is a shifter that folds down and flattens out into a 15-inch workstation, which I used for a while with a laptop in the car.
There are numerous charging stations and wireless charging throughout the cabin. While the interior of the F-150 is spacious, every square inch of the real estate is carefully thought out. The seats fold up 180 degrees for good roadside naps or to add extra cargo space.
The dark gray leather seats felt more functional than luxurious, especially for a fully loaded vehicle. (The Crosstown Ram competitor tends to outdo Ford when it comes to driving pleasure and interior design aesthetics.) Exterior and interior design emphasizes functionality, pure and simple. I carried two kayaks in the back and found some thoughtful hooks to connect to my bungee cords in the truck bed.
A multitude of 240-volt outlets are located at the back of the truck bed and two more are on board in the cabin. The truck bed also has a built-in rulebook on the tailgate with metric and imperial calculations. A 2.4 kilowatt generator is standard on the hybrid model, while the optional 7.2 kW generator runs for 32 hours with a full tank of gasoline.
I haven’t tested the F-150’s towing capacity, but for truckers these numbers are critical. It has a payload of 2,120 pounds and can tow up to 12,700 pounds (these numbers vary a bit depending on bed length and drivetrain). It also offers an emergency tow assist function, which helps to align the connection to a trailer. The model I drove was priced at $ 68,095, a significant jump from the base price of $ 50,980. In contrast, Ford produces an even higher-end F-150 version called Limited, which starts at $ 73,000.
Function in form
Before it goes all-electric, the hybrid powertrain gives Ford a much-needed boost to compete with Ram and Chevrolet, which already sell hybrid variants. The hybrid option is a logical compromise for customers who aren’t ready for the full Lightning EV that goes on sale in 2022, a launch that has already generated buzz and 120,000 pre-orders. I drove about 24 miles per gallon, an improvement over gasoline and best-in-class for non-diesel. That’s still not enough to bring Ford closer to a stellar emissions report, which is why the Lightning is so important.
In order to woo new electric vehicle customers, Ford needs to appease its current buyers who buy all of those trucks that we see on the road today. There are two types of pickup truck customers: those who rely on the feature for their daily calling or weekend warriors, and those who seek the capacity in case they might need it in a disaster scenario. The truck I drove does the job of pleasing both.
The F-150 has always been suitable for buyers who use it for home improvement, outdoor recreation, and towing projects. The vans also support workers who need a sturdy and functional vehicle. When Ford introduces something new to this model, it creates a lot of hype and high stakes on how these customers think about adjustments.
The buyer looking for safety came to my mind when I had the F-150 on loan at the end of June, so I kept the part about how it rolls. for the end. My test drive period coincided with a summer storm that hit Michigan and shut down major highways and left vehicles stranded for days.
Before the storm, I zoomed around town, adjusting to the big loose steering and wide turns and the rhythm of the stillness that occurs as the hybrid engine regenerates.
Once the storm hit I released the accelerator and picked up a steady, sure pace, hands 10 and 2. Lesser-performing passenger cars and crossover SUVs floated beside me in two feet of water on the Lodge Freeway. The F-150 plowed through the mud, undisturbed. I did not experience any skidding or stalling, unlike a friend who was forced to walk home because her Uber driver got stuck. The F-150 looks like a test case for a survivalist in an environmental disaster. The back-up generator is the additional safety blanket.
Full-size trucks have an innate quality to make the driver feel invincible, which ultimately is why people love their F-150s and why the company has driven so many miles with that slogan “Ford hard. “. It’s a delicate balance, keeping a truck simple at a price that offers power, substance and peace of mind.