June 26th, 2020 by Paul Fosse
I follow Mike Levine on Twitter. He is Ford’s North American Product Communications Manager. I found that he did a great job for the company during the announcement of Ford Mustang Mach-E. That is a vehicle that Ford went all out on, and I think the company at least hit a triple, maybe even a home run, we shall see. That vehicle and the backstory behind it gave me hope that Ford was ready to make some bold decisions and take some risks to make up for lost time in electrifying its lineup.
A few days ago Mike was hyping up the “All-New Ford F-150” on Twitter and someone else commented that they wouldn’t have a full EV for a couple years but it was rumored that they would have a hybrid powertrain. Ford has really been behind the rest of the industry (except for the Mustang Mach-E) in coming out with hybrids and EVs, even recently discontinuing the C-MAX Energi (I bought 2) and the Fusion Energi. I thought, this could be a great moment of leadership for Ford and it could have an exciting hybrid powertrain in every F-150 like Toyota (another laggard) recently announced with its Sienna Minivan, a vehicle I praised for moving the industry forward even though it doesn’t have a plug.
Other the other hand, Ford could design a vehicle like the Toyota RAV4 Prime that has decent all-electric range, enough that if you have good charging infrastructure, you can barely use any gas around town. The RAV4 Prime also has amazing performance and sells at a very reasonable price.
Or Ford could provide a mild hybrid option on the F-150. The mild hybrid usually adds a little complexity, adds a little cost, and improves mileage a little bit. It basically doesn’t even move the needle. It is pretty much greenwashing, in which you expect the biggest benefit is the publicity you will get for “doing something to help the environment.”
The press release doesn’t even mention hybrid in the title or as a heading. Wow, it doesn’t look like they are even trying to fool the public on this one. Then I found this bullet point:
“Class-exclusive 3.5-liter PowerBoost™ Full hybrid engine delivers Built Ford Tough capability – it is targeted to have the most torque and horsepower of any light-duty full-size pickup, at least 12,000 pounds of maximum available towing capacityᶧ and a targeted EPA-estimated range of approximately 700 miles on a single tank of gasᶧ”
Okay, they are focusing on the power. This must have a very powerful electric motor to have the “most torque and horsepower.” Nope, the 35 kW electric motor produces at most 47 horsepower. Just to show you how ridiculous this is, the 2004 Toyota Prius had an electric motor with 67 horsepower, or 43% more, and it’s a far smaller vehicle and not a car known for great acceleration by any standard (I found 10 seconds from 0 to 60 MPH typical).
So, where is Ford getting the power to beat it’s Ford Raptor truck? It is using the same displacement engine with twin turbos and the same EcoBoost technology it unveiled a decade ago. It looks like Ford boosted the compression ratio from 10.0 to 10.5 to 1. What do they think this is, a 1960s muscle car? Don’t they know anything about hybrids? You update the engine to use the highly efficient Atkinson cycle. The disadvantage of this cycle is reduced power output. This isn’t a problem if you properly design your hybrid to have a decently sized battery and electric motor, so that you have plenty of power on demand. That’s the concept that allowed Toyota to make its RAV4 Prime the company’s second fastest vehicle, only behind its Supra. Instead, Ford uses twin turbos, high compression, and an expensive 10 speed transmission to achieve its performance.
As I explain in this article and Honda has shown in its recent Honda Accord and other hybrids, you can use the high torque available at all speeds of an electric motor to greatly simplify your transmission and can even use a one-speed transmission for highway driving (avoiding the conversion losses of using the engine to produce electricity to power the electric motor) and use the high torque electric motor to replace the other gears.
I thought it was a little funny that Ford didn’t mention the expected EPA mileage, just the estimated range. Ford said it will have a 30.6 gallon fuel tank. Imagine my surprise when I do the math — 700/30.6 is less than 23 MPG!
Ford had 25 MPG diesels in its last-generation model, and even its last-generation gas model had greater range and only 1 MPG less in combined mileage! So, they didn’t make a lot of progress on fuel mileage. Maybe they made amazing advances in their other engines? Nope, Ford told Car & Driver that other engines are “basically the same” as the previous generation. This the announcement they have the gall to call “All New?”
To be fair, though, since this is a high-performance vehicle, you need to compare the vehicle to the previous-generation Raptor above, so the 23 MPG should be compared to the Raptor’s 16 MPG. 44% better miles per gallon enabling 124 miles of range and more power and torque is a decent result and worthy of some praise.
The truck also uses the new powertrain to provide 120 and/or 240 volt outlets in the bed to provide power for work or fun. It is unclear whether the 1.5 kWh battery is powerful enough to provide power without the engine running.
The truck also has an innovative features that allows the front seat to lay flat so you can sleep in the truck, and also a way to fold the shifter so you can make a desk in the front seat. However, it seems they could have just mounted the shifter on column instead of this folding design that may prove troublesome on an essential item.
The thing that really shocked me after reviewing this announcement is how conservative it was. Sure, Ford added a few fancy features, but don’t they realize the threat to their business the Tesla Cybertruck is? Before the shutdown of the economy forced Ford into reporting huge losses in the 1st quarter (while Tesla was able to remain profitable), I heard analysts explain that Ford makes all of its profits on the Ford F-150. That means the combination of all of Ford’s other products combined lose money in good economic times like 2019. So, Ford has to realize it is important to get this right. Recent history is filled with companies like Ford that dominated their markets — like Ford dominates the pickup market in the United States — but failed to recognize a competitive threat from an innovative, faster moving company.
Tesla and Elon Musk’s other companies, like SpaceX and The Boring Company, have shown time and time again that they are laser focused on innovating their products as fast as possible to advance their missions. Ford had an opportunity to move the ball aggressively toward electric technology before Tesla gets a product on the truck market, and I feel like the automaker wasted that opportunity.
Am I saying this pickup will be a flop? No, I think it will be loved by Ford’s traditional customers, but I’m saying it will do little to protect Ford from losing share to Tesla, Rivian, and others when they release fully electric trucks with amazing capabilities next year.
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