Learning From Elon: What if Ford Went Mirrorless to Save the World?


Ford F150 Mirrorless

A few days ago, Gas 2 editor Chris DeMorro shared Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s plans to take his cars “mirrorless” in the near future, cutting back on the car’s aerodynamic drag by a significant percentage and dramatically improving range – especially at highway speeds. Elon Musk isn’t always right (example: he missed the chance to call his Hyperloop concept “the Musk Tube”), but I think he’s dead-nuts-on here, and it got me thinking: what if Ford went mirrorless?

I chose Ford for a few reason reasons. First, their F-150 pickup is the best-selling vehicle in the US, so any changes that improve MPG for that vehicle would have the largest overall repercussions in regards to America’s fossil fuels usage. Second, the Ford F-150 Tremor article we ran a while back was hugely popular, so I’m guessing you guys like Ford trucks. Third, I may have overly harassed Ford’s main PR/social media dude at June’s Further With Ford trends conference, so saying some nice stuff about their latest and greatest truck product is probably the least I could do to make it up to the guy, you know?

Let’s get started, then!

My first move was to make a rendering of what a Ford F-150 Tremor, with just a few minor, MPG-enhancing changes might look like. I’ve included that, below …

Click to Enlarge
Click to Enlarge

… along with a few notes on my thinking behind the changes.

  • Lower the truck. I know that, for work trucks, hauling, etc. a higher truck allows for a softer suspension and a nicer ride, but it also cuts back on fuel economy by increasing frontal area on the tires and by pushing more air over the trucks’ un-aerodynamic underbellies. Something reasonable, like “crossover height” should be a good compromise, with airbags on higher-end models making up the difference in ride quality.

  • Replace the side mirrors with webcams, using shrouded covers that can shade the small “webcams” and keep them functional in direct light/glare.

  • Cover the cheap, tubular running boards with a composite cover to clean up the airflow there. I’d say something about using plant-based plastics here, but Ford’s already doing that!

  • There’s a large air intake at the front bumper of the F-150s that doesn’t need to be there for most (read: empty-bed) driving. I’ve drawn in a plastic flap to cover this and cleanup the airflow at the front of the truck. Ford has a few options on how to implement this, and could go the Chevy Cruze Eco route of making this flap mechanical, or it could just make it an ultra-cheap manual flap. Bonus: getting engine oil up to temp. in winter would be a lot easier with this simple feature in place!

  • There are two large tow-hooks on the front bumper of the F-150 which could easily be covered by inexpensive plastic covers that could be “popped off” on those rare occasions when the tow hooks are needed.

  • Finally, I removed the round foglight cut-outs because it’s not 1987 anymore and they look ridiculous.

What kind of a difference will changes like this really make? With a reduction in frontal area and drag of around 10%, I think a 1 MPG difference on the combined rating is a fairly conservative estimate. Given that the average 2013 F-150 gets 18 MPG. Given, also, that Ford sold 645,316 F-series trucks last year, and that each one of those is driven about 12,000 miles/year, we can get a pretty good idea of how many gallons of gas that might save American drivers.

By my numbers, the figure is a staggering 22.6 million gallons of gas. More than 400,000 55-gallon “barrels”, in other words, just from getting 1 more MPG out of the F-150. Don’t take my word for it, though: check the math.


Keep in mind, that’s 22.6 million gallons saved, PER MODEL YEAR. If Ford did something like this for 5 years in a row, they’d save their customers more than 330 million gallons of fuel. At $4/gallon, that’s well over a billion dollars. They’d improve air quality. They’d improve their customers’ health. They’d play a big part in helping America achieve energy independence. All from a few simple changes.

How likely are minor changes like these to get that 1 MPG out of the F-150? Gas 2 commenter and all-around smart dude Neil Blanchard did the math for us in that Tesla article’s comments thread. Here it is, for your enjoyment.

Replacing the optical mirrors with video mirrors reduces the aerodynamic drag two ways: it reduces the frontal area (about 1 square foot?) and also by reducing the coefficient of drag (Cd) because the shape is sleeker and generates less turbulence. The Model S has a Cd of 0.24 – and I’ll make a WAG on the frontal area; say 27 sq ft.

If that is the case, the CdA is 27 x 0.24 = 6.48 sq ft.

Early on, they (Tesla) mentioned a Cd of 0.22 for the Model S, and this may also be from smoother wheels, let’s say for the sake of argument that using video mirrors would yield a Cd of 0.23.

The revised frontal area is 26 sq ft and the revised CdA is 5.98 sq ft. which is a bit over 7.5% reduction.

I’ve been using video mirrors for more than four years, and I have been averaging more than 46MPG all year – it’s a Scion xA and the EPA Combined is 30MPG, so that is a 50%+ improvement.


Original Content and Images: Gas 2.

About the Author

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.