Ford F-150 History
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The Ford F-150 full-size pickup truck is the best-selling vehicle line in the U.S.--and it has been for more than 30 years now. It's a work truck for millions of businesses, and daily transportation for millions more drivers who need its combination of ruggedness, cargo capacity, and towing ability. And in the process, it's become a bit of American culture.
See our 2013 Ford F-150 review for pricing with options, specifications, and gas mileage ratings
The Ford F-150 range is staggering in its breadth and depth. It runs from "rubber-mat special" base-line trucks ordered for fleet duty all the way up to King Ranch and Raptor editions that ladle on luxury features unimaginable to pickup buyers a decade or two ago. The truck can be ordered in variations that suit utility workers, contractors, ranchers, fifth-wheel trailer owners, and off-road racers alike.
Available in all sorts of drivetrain configurations, bed lengths, body styles, and trim levels, the F-Series shares some running gear with Ford's Expedition and Lincoln Navigator full-size sport-utility vehicles. Over the years, it has even spawned short-lived Lincoln Blackwood and Lincoln Mark LT versions--both resounding market flops.
The fabled F-150 competes most directly with the General Motors pickup truck twins, the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500. Added together, those two trucks have outsold the F-150 in some years, but the Ford nameplate hangs securely onto its "best-selling vehicle line" laurels. Then there's the (formerly Dodge) Ram 1500, the third in the home-grown list. While the two largest Japanese makers have now dedicated a decade or more and opened plants in the U.S. to build their competing trucks, the Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan remain far behind the trio of U.S. trucks.
The first Ford F-150
Ford first sold a full-size pickup truck without any passenger-car roots in 1948. Throughout much of the next decades its F-Series pickup trucks came with six- or eight-cylinder engines; three-, four- and five-speed manual transmissions; and a single two-door body style. By 1960, the "F-100" had been christened at the entry level, with F-250 and F-350 versions available with an early kind of four-wheel drive. As most trucks of the era were designed as "flareside" models, Ford added a plain-sided Styleside version that would dominate sales from then on.
For the fourth-generation F-100, Ford added a "Ranger" trim level and briefly built some trucks with unibody construction, returning to body-on-frame designs in the mid-1960s. Four-door models were offered, as were versions that adopted camper tops easily. A fifth generation arrived in 1967, with plainer sheetmetal but the essential truck features intact--V-8 or in-line six engine, two- or four-door body styles, and payload capacity into heavy-duty territory. The sixth-generation truck is known primarily for adding the 302 V-8 to the lineup, to spawning a new two-door Bronco SUV--and to bringing the F-150 badge to the lineup with a higher-payload version of the existing F-100.
The F-150 grew more upright and more capable in the next three generations of trucks sold from 1980 to 1996. Diesel engines and new automatic transmissions joined the lineup, and the Ranger name was split into its own compact-pickup truck lineup. An "Explorer" trim level joined the F-150 lineup, and would be spun off into its own SUV range in the same decade. In the eighth-generation truck that arrived in 1987, fuel injection became the norm, and flareside bodies went away for a time; rear anti-lock brakes were standard, for the first time on a full-size pickup truck. The ninth-generation truck went on sale in 1992 and brought with it a driver-side airbag and slightly smoother styling.
The tenth-generation F-150, sold from 1997 to 2004, marked a sea change in pickup trucks. Ever more the choice of commuters and daily drivers, the F-150 grew far more shapely and rounded in this generation--mimicking the lines of some of Ford's passenger cars. The old, squared-off truck was continued for a while, until Ford could tell if pickup-truck drivers would approve of the new looks. They did: the F-Series retained its best-selling title and grew even more popular. New engines came with the new body style, including versions of the Ford "modular" 4.6-liter and 5.4-liter V-8 that would prove very durable. The usual two- and four-door and extended-cab versions were available, as were four-wheel drive and a four-speed automatic, along with heavy-duty F-250 versions. Special editions introduced in this generation included the SVT Lightning, the Harley-Davidson F-150, and the King Ranch edition. Safety ratings were poor, though, and while this F-150 had good reliability, its cruise-control system was involved in a major recall for the potential of causing a fire. This F-150 spawned a short-lived Lincoln Blackwood version, along with the longer-living Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs.
The eleventh-generation F-150 arrived in 2004 and began to revert the truck's shape to its more angular past. A more upright grille, and more squared-off window openings were the hallmarks of the design. While it didn't change much mechanically, it did introduce standard curtain airbags and stability control to the full-size pickup range at Ford. The company put special attention into reducing the truck's cost and complexity, making it easier to build--and even more reliable. By some measures, it was considered the most reliable pickup truck ever built. Ford attempted another Lincoln pickup from this generation--the Lincoln Mark LT, which like the Blackwood before it, was a sales flop.
Today's Ford F-150 arrived in the lineup in 2009, with its sheetmetal even more crisply folded than earlier models--bearing many cues of a Ford F-350 Tonka concept truck from the late 2000s. The twelfth-generation F-150 wears a very large, very bright, very tall grille to emphasize its "truck"-ness, while it's also become one of the most capable towing and hauling light-duty trucks available in America.
In 2011, the F-150 received its most comprehensive powertrain update. To go with its cutting-edge technology--including Bluetooth, SYNC voice control, even ventilated front seats--the F-150 gained four new engines, all teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission. A 302-horsepower V-6 rejoined the lineup for the first time in more than a decade, and delivers the F-150's best gas mileage, at 17/23 mpg; turbocharging a version of the engine creates the EcoBoost, with 365 horsepower and a towing capacity of 11,300 pounds. A 5.0-liter V-8 with 360 hp brings Mustang-style engine noises to the full-size truck, along with 15/21 mpg fuel economy. Finally, there's the 6.2-liter V-8, with 411 hp and 13/18 mpg fuel economy, offered in the most upscale F-150s as well as the off-road Raptor.
For the 2012 model year, Ford added a new automatic all-wheel-drive mode to some 4x4 F-150s, and swapped out limited-slip differentials for an electronically simulated limited-slip function. Then on the 2013 Ford F-150, the automaker added MyFord Touch's suite of voice, steering-wheel, and LCD touchscreen controls to the pickup, with other minor changes to the front end, including high-intensity discharge headlamps to some models. The King Ranch model returned as well, with a new black interior choice and standard MyFord Touch, for a base price of more than $44,000.
The current F-150 does come in a host of cab, bed, powertrain, and suspension variations; there are three cab configurations with multiple wheelbases and box lengths each, providing choices to satisfy just about any trucker's need with the F-150. Properly outfitted, the F-150 can tow 11,300 pounds--while earning top crash-test scores (including IIHS Top Safety Pick status and a 'good' rating in the roof-strength test). Unlike GM's pickups, there's no Hybrid edition, and the F-150 falls behind the Ram's excellent ride quality. However, the current F-150 does have a well-built cabin, excellent shift quality and comfortable seats--as well as the off-road-ready Raptor model and some of the most up-to-date luxury features found on any truck.
As of early 2013, we're awaiting more details on the next-generation F-150 that's due within a year or two. Some reports have suggested that Ford is considering an aluminum-intensive body structure that could save hundreds of pounds and result in much-improved gas mileage. Recently, the Ford Atlas pickup concept showed that Ford will likely expand the availability of turbocharged EcoBoost engines in the F-150 when it's refreshed in the 2015 model year--though some of the Atlas' convenience features, like built-in ramps, aren't as likely to make it to production.