When Ford Motor Company set out to redesign the F-150 — the 2009 Motor Trend Truck of the Year — the truck team knew it wanted to improve fuel efficiency. Even before fuel economy jumped from 10th to third place among pickup buyers' top purchase considerations, the design team knew it needed to deliver a substantial improvement over the outgoing model, without sacrificing any capability.
While Ford's truck engineering team worked to make fuel efficiency gains through powertrain performance and weight reduction, the design team focused on what Director Pat Schiavone calls the “black art” of aerodynamics.
The new F-150 SuperCrew 4X4 with a 5.5-foot box has the lowest coefficient of drag — 0.416 — of comparable configurations. That's 6 percent lower than a comparable 2008 F-150.
“Not only did we make the F-150 more aerodynamic and fuel efficient, we also improved upon its tough truck image in a way customers will appreciate,” said Pat Schiavone, Ford truck design director. “The notion that vehicles need to be jelly bean shaped to be aerodynamic is a myth. You can take any vehicle design and tune it to be more aerodynamic. It's something of a black art, but the new F-150 is proof that it works.”
The 2009 F-150 has a fleet-wide fuel economy improvement of 8 percent versus the 2008 model. For trucks equipped with the 5.4-liter V-8 engine, fuel economy improves by as much as 12 percent. At the same time, the new F-150 delivers class-leading towing capability of 11,300 pounds and hauling capacity of 3,030 pounds — a combination no other competitor can match.
In addition, Ford is announcing the introduction of the new F-150 SFE (Superior Fuel Economy) edition delivering up to 21 miles per gallon on the highway while still providing 7,500 pounds of towing capability.
Key aero improvements for the new F-150 include:
A new chamfered shape to the rear of the cab, which incorporated the center-high-mount stop lamp. This shape helps direct aerodynamic wake over the pickup box efficiently.
The top of the tailgate, which angles outward to create a bold lip. This wider surface at the top of the tailgate works with the cab chamfering to direct airflow over the box efficiently.
The front bumper valence and spoiler design, which has been improved to better manage airflow underneath the truck without compromising off-road driving capability.
“The valence panel not only improves aerodynamics, it looks cool, too, because it's lower to the ground,” said George Bucher, Ford chief designer. “On one of our competitor's trucks you have to remove the valance panel if you want to go off road, but we tucked ours back by the wheels so that our customers aren't inconvenienced.”
Bucher added that redesigned valence panels also improve the aerodynamics of the new Ford Escape and Super Duty.
Other areas that Ford's truck designers focused included the grille opening, running board, side mirrors and doors. Conventional wisdom suggests that a grille opening needs to be large to maximize air flow to the radiator, but the size of the grille opening on the new F-150 was optimized to allow enough air into the radiator while blocking the excess to minimize drag. In addition, designers shaped the running board and side mirrors and inset the doors to minimize wind noise and drag.
As on all new vehicle programs the design team used easily modified digital models to refine designs for optimal air flow prior to physical testing in a wind tunnel.
“It used to be that designers hated dealing with aerodynamics, but now we're developing new aesthetics based on those needs,” Schiavone said. “Aerodynamics opens a design door for us, allowing us to look at vehicle design in a different way that benefits our customers.”