The 'new' F-150 has been introduced at several automobile shows around the country and the question has always been, 'Are people really going to buy an aluminum pickup?' Maybe the aluminum part will pass the tests, but what about the rest of the truck?
Ford recently invited a select number of automotive journalists, mostly from the Detroit area, Texas, and Canada, to attend a very short media event. It was called 'Tough Testing Forum' and was held at the Ford headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. The basic premise was to begin selling the public on the 2015 F-150 before it even hits the showrooms later this year.
Ford conducted grueling tests with extreme heat and extreme cold, including the highest point of the Continental Divide as well as frozen lakes. However, most of the testing was conducted at Ford's Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn. The durability testing has already surpassed the 10 million cumulative mile mark, and that is just on this 2015 model.
Doug Scott, Ford's Truck Group Marketing Manager, simply explained it by saying, “Built Ford Tough has to mean something to our customers and the public. It is more than just a slogan.”
Before the journalists were divided into groups for demonstrations throughout the Research Center, Pete Reyes introduced many of the engineers behind the scenes. Pete is the Chief Engineer for the new 2015 F-150. “We wanted to build the toughest and most capable F-150 ever,' he said. “We challenged the team to torture the truck harder than any F-150 before it, while making it as much as 700 pounds lighter.”
The first prototype was called the X-1 and was an aluminum alloy body put on a 2009 chassis. Initial results were so promising that they continued forward with much more hope and excitement. Reyes called it 'hard-core engineering.' Most of the drive testing was done using the 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine. The truck towed trailers over mountain passes, crossed a frozen lake The truck survived salt vats, riverbeds, heavy loads, steep roads, and high-humidity chambers. Doors and tailgates were slammed and re-slammed, using robotic machinery. Heavy objects were release and dropped onto the rear bed, much like owners often do, either by accident or on purpose.
In the research center, testing was on 'things' rather than the body or the driving dynamics. One test was the Fingertip Abrasion Test. This involved a synthetic skin covering a mechanical finger. It repeatedly pressed switches and dials to test the durability of the paint and ink to be used on the actual switch or dial. It even included exposure synthetic perspiration, as well as common substances found on human hands and fingers, such as mustard, ketchup, sunscreen, and insect repellant.
The exterior and interior 'badging' was called the Ford Blue Oval test. Various combinations of materials and molded-in color components were extensively subjected to ultra-violet exposure, thermal states, and humidity. We were told that the badges and blue oval should last the lifetime of the truck.
Another test was called Solar Weathering and various colored materials were subjected to accelerated weathering, representing a year in the Florida sun. The fade resistance was measured for both exterior and interior materials so as to optimize what would be used on the new 2015 F-150.
The Seven-Channel test used a special torture rack especially built by Ford to violently twists and shakes the pickup in seven different ways. It is used to stress the truck for situations that might bend the frame. The Drum Drop test was named for the Ford engineers that dropped 55-gallon drums at an angle. The drop force insured that the sharp edge rim of the drum was measured for impact to allow the cargo box floor to be up to 'tough' standards.
All F-150 engines are first tested on a dynamometer which is supposed to simulate a truck pulling a heavy trailer at full throttle. Thermal shock takes the engines from extreme heat to extreme cold in just seconds. The durability is tested for wear and survivability of the seals, gaskets, heads, liners, and the engine block.
Although not all F-150 are considered off-road capable, users often find themselves in off-road terrain. Ford believes that their customers need to trust their trucks as much as possible in these situations. The Twist Ditch test creates a situation with one front wheel hanging in the air with the opposite rear wheel leaving the ground repeatedly. This puts unusual stress on both the body and the frame.
Bottom line: Ford engineers are noticeably excited about this new pickup with the aluminum body. But that is not the end to end all. Almost everything about this 2015 F-150 will have been upgraded, improved, tested, and tortured. The Built Ford Tough moniker will have be duly earned because of the Tough Testing. Expect to see advertisements about the Tough Testing as the first pickups begin to roll off the assembly line later this year.