Pity the poor car companies. On one hand, the EPA is telling them to build more fuel efficient cars and trucks. In the wake of the Paris climate summit last week, those standards are likely to get even tougher. On the other hand, consumers are saying they could care a flying fig leaf about gas mileage. They want the biggest, baddest, boldest ground pounders they can get.
Want proof? This year, Ford will sell less than 39,000 of its Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi hybrids but more than 570,000 F-150s. Most pickup truck and SUV factories in America are adding second and even third shifts to build all the vehicles buyers say they want.
Recently, Ford CEO Mark Fields told NPR, “So yes, we’re working on [an] electrified F-series, and it’s really around a conventional hybrid.” By F Series, does he mean all models, including F-250’s, F-350’s and Super Duty trucks or only the F-150? Fields didn’t say. The phrase “conventional hybrid” probably rules out any plug-in hybrid powertrains, however.
“Part of our job as a company and as an automotive manufacturer and now as a mobility company, is to think of what the world is going to look like five, 10 and even 15 years from now,” Fields said. “And our view, very simply, is that over time, oil is a nonrenewable resource. And therefore, over time, higher levels of electrification will be necessary not only to meet consumer demand in that time frame but also to meet the regulatory requirements.”
Ford just announced it has ended its collaboration with Toyota to develop hybrid pickup trucks, claiming the Toyota system was not suitable for rear wheel drive vehicles like the F-150. It remains to be seen how consumers will react to having a hybrid powertrain in their beloved pickup trucks. How will it handle heavy loads and trailer towing duties, for instance? The truth is, adding an electric motor with its instantaneous torque may improve the pickup truck experience. After all, Tesla customers are gaga over the prospect of towing horse trailers and such with their Model X SUVs.
Messing with an icon is always risky, as Jeep found out when it dared substitute square headlights for the traditional round headlights that were a Jeep trademark for generations. But Ford has recently introduced EcoBoost engines and aluminum bodies to its F-150 lineup without much complaint. As long as it looks like a truck and drives like a truck, things will probably be OK at Ford headquarters.