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June 26, 2020 9:30 AM, EDT

Ford Unveils Updated F-150, Adds Hybrid Model

Ford F-150Ford F-150 by Ford Motor Co.

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Ford Motor Co. has unveiled the updated version of its flagship F-150 pickup, revealing a truck almost identical in size with the previous model but with far more technology.

The truck Ford showed June 25 has a number of design features targeted at fleets and commercial users. About a third of light pickup trucks are purchased by businesses, fleets and other commercial users, according to industry estimates.

One of the big upgrades is an electrical architecture that can be updated over-the-air. Most of the updates will take only minutes because of the modular nature of the truck’s electronic systems, Craig Schmatz, chief engineer for the 2021 F-150, told Transport Topics. But some will have to be scheduled at a time when the vehicle is not in use.

Laptop use in Ford F-150

One option allows the center console to fold into a desk area to review papers and work on a laptop. (Ford Motor Co.)

He said Ford will use the system to add features during the life of the vehicle — it will charge for some — and for preventive maintenance and other functions that increase uptime.

Buyers who opt for a truck with an embedded modem also have access to Ford’s new telematics platform. The system is designed for commercial vehicle customers to monitor their fleets through GPS tracking and geofencing.

Fleet managers will get vehicle health alerts so that they can plan maintenance services. They can analyze driver behavior and also manage fuel expenses. The over-the-air updating system also can be used to make future upgrades to the telematics program.

Another option allows the tailgate to double as a workbench. It has a built-in ruler and built-in areas to hold tablets, cups and pens. C-clamp pockets are built into the top of the gate to hold materials down, such as wood about to be cut for a project.

Ford added cleats to the side of the tailgate, serving as tie-down points to help secure extra-long items. For tailgating, the cleats double as bottle openers. The automaker improved the existing bed lighting to illuminate not just the bed but also the tailgate work surface.

Ford is offering a hybrid version of the F-150 for the first time. It includes an onboard power system that will allow drivers to operate power tools and other equipment at a work site.

One option allows the center console to fold into a desk area to review papers and work on a laptop. Called Pro Power Onboard, it comes standard with 2.4 kilowatts of output on the hybrid. An option raises that to 7.2 kilowatts of output on the hybrid.

Ford F-150 tailgate

The tailgate can double as a workbench. (Ford Motor Co.)

The system also is an option available with a 2-kilowatt output on the conventional gas engine versions of the new truck. Owners can access the power through outlets inside the cabin and up to four cargo bed-mounted 120-volt 20-amp outlets. There is a 240-volt 30-amp outlet on the 7.2-kilowatt version.

Inside the cabin, Ford is offering another option that allows the driver to transform the center console into a workspace to sign papers, eat lunch or operate a laptop when the truck is parked.

The F-150 is Ford’s most important vehicle and provides an outsize share of the company’s profits, according to analysts at Morgan Stanley Research. Ford sold about 900,000 F-Series trucks last year, accounting for more than 5% of the entire U.S. new light vehicle market, according to the Motor Intelligence research firm.

The truck last received a major redesign for the 2015 model year, when Ford launched its aluminum truck body and cab. The new model retains the same use of aluminum.

Improvements in the F-150 typically migrate to Ford’s heavy-duty commercial trucks. The F-250 and F-350, for example, received aluminum bodies for the 2017 model year. The F-450 and F-550 and F-600 also now have aluminum bodies.

Without discussing details, Ford said commercial customers can expect to see many of the new features migrate to the next generation of heavy-duty trucks.

The 2021 F-150 will start with three engine choices besides the hybrid powertrain, and a diesel model is planned. The base model comes with a 3.3-liter V-6. Like the current truck, Ford will offer a 2.7-liter turbocharged engine. The largest gas engine is the 5-liter V-8. Ford is following a General Motors fuel efficiency strategy by incorporating cylinder deactivation into the V-8 powerplant.

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Later, Ford will launch an optional 3-liter diesel. All F-150s now have a 10-speed automatic transmission.

Ford said the hybrid will offer 12,000 pounds of towing capacity.

The automaker also is taking a step toward autonomous driving. It plans to offer an over-the-air upgrade — for an extra fee — that will offer hands-free driving on more than 100,000 miles of premapped highways in the U.S. and Canada. The system uses a camera to monitor the driver’s head and eye position to make sure they can take control of the truck quickly if needed. It won’t let them nap or engage in another activity.

It will be available in the third quarter of 2021 but will only work on the trucks equipped with Ford’s Active Drive Assist Prep Package — the hardware.

The truck will be built at a factory in Dearborn, Mich., and another near Kansas City, Mo. Ford has not yet provided price or fuel economy information. It goes on sale in the fall.

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