Friday 18 December 2015

Ford F-150 powertrain looks set to blossom

One thing is for sure, 2016 could be an interesting year in the life of Ford’s F-150 pick-up truck that this year saw the automaker launch aluminium into the sector as well as a new family of EcoBoost turbocharged gasoline engines.
Detroit may be but a shadow of its former self, but it remains a happy hunting-ground for rumour and counter-rumour, of spy-shot and counter-spy-shot. For automotive journalists it offers a paradise of its own. For, aside from the bleak winds, there is always something happening.

Against this backdrop, Ford Motor Company is not a company to rest on its laurels; it moves ever forward, relentlessly exploring new avenues, trying to open up new markets and exploring new ideas.

Inevitably, Dearborn is the one place in the world where not only do Ford ideas blossom but rumours abound as to what it might or might not do next. Separating the wheat from the chaff is always difficult.

But according to at least, several ideas are bubbling away in the Ford pot and all relate to the F-150. The first is a fact.

The first 2016 F-150 capable of running on compressed natural gas or propane has rolled off the assembly line.

Equipped with a 5-litre Ti-VCT V8 engine, the 2016 Ford F-150 is available with a factory-installed, gaseous-fuel prep package that includes hardened valves, valve seats, pistons and piston rings so that it can operate on natural gas, propane or gasoline through separate fuel systems.

The addition to the line-up also makes Ford the only automaker to offer a half-ton pickup capable of running on CNG or propane.

According to Ford, the F-150 CNG is capable of achieving over 750 miles on combined tanks of gasoline and CNG, depending on tank size. It delivers an estimated 22 mile/gal on the highway and 18 mile/gal combined.

The sting in the tail is thus: CNG/LPG engine from the factory costs $315, but the customer then has to choose a Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifier to supply fuel tanks, fuel lines and unique fuel injectors. That cost can range from $6,000 to $9,500 depending on fuel tank capacity.

“It’s exciting to see the first F-150s with the CNG/propane-prepped 5-litre V8 headed to customers,” said Jon Coleman, Ford fleet sustainability and technology manager. But then he would say that, being the man he is.

“Whether running on gasoline, gaseous fuel or both, the 5.0-liter V8 F-150 offers hardworking customers terrific towing and payload and now, the ability to operate on alternative fuel,” he adds reassuringly.

                                                         Fact or fiction?

So that’s that’s that then. What’s next is rumour. Make what you will of it.

Spy photographs taken adjacent to Ford’s Dearborn headquarters, show an F-150 truck features a Venturi exhaust tip, a trait typical of diesel engines. Added to which, the photographer claims to have heard the tell-tale diesel rumble.

Rumour has it the truck uses a new 3-litre V6 turbocharged diesel that is related to the 3.0-litre unit in the new Range Rover diesel, a remnant of the two companies being tied together in the past. In the Range Rover, the engine produces 254 bhp and 443 lbft torque.

Under the hood of the F-150, reckons Ford will team the V6 diesel to the brand’s new 10-speed automatic transmission.

“We do not speculate about future products. While diesel is a solution, it is not the solution,” notes Mike Levine, Ford trucks communication manager, predictably and a good man to go to in times like this. His name often appears when journalists are touting for information. But Levine, as a Ford stalwart, not only knows the rule book inside out but knows how to stonewall in Ford fashion along with the best of them.

He told the journalist with characteristic Ford-speak: “EcoBoost offers the ideal combination of performance and fuel economy that over 60 per cent of F-150 customers are choosing.”

So nothing new there then. The engine under the hood could be a VM Motori 3-litre V6, but most unlikely.

Of course, all things are possible. Across the Pond in the UK where the V6 diesel is built in Ford’s Dagenham Engine Plant, Essex, things are moving.

Back in January of this year, Ford announced a £475million investment in diesel engine production at the plant. It is said the facility will produce 350,000 low-carbon diesel engines a year when the conveyers start rolling in November.

The investment was planned to create 300 new jobs and produce 2-litre diesel engines. Opened in 1931, the Dagenham plant employs around 3,000 people. In 2013, Dagenham made 790,000 engines and Ford says it has plans to build one million engines a year at the plant in the east of London.

The first of the new 2-litre four-cylinder engines began to roll off the line last month and will be used in commercial vehicles (CV) in 2016. Just as important is the second phase which will add a further 150,000-a-year capacity of the engines which will be used in Ford passenger cars. Job 1 for the second phase looks like 2017 with the engine set to be available in passenger cars from 2018.

                                                   Dagenham engine family

Other engines produced at Dagenham at this moment include: the 1.5- and 1.6-litre diesel engine family, the 2.2-litre diesel engine for CV applications and the 2.7- and 3-litre V6 diesel “produced for customer applications”.

Now, it is possible, that JaguarLandRover’s (JLR) demands for the 3-litre V6 with its compacted graphite iron (CGI) cylinder block could deplete as power and torque levels of its own Ingenium engines increase.

Ford being Ford will not want to waste the investment it has made in vee diesels at Dagenham and so may want to find a new home for the 3-litre V6. Its own F-150 could be one such home. This would put the truck in late 2016 on a par with the Chrysler Ram 1500 with the VM Motori 3-litre CGI engine.

On the other hand, Ford’s Chihuahua Engine Plant in Mexico makes the 4.4-litre V8 CGI diesel as well as the 6.7-litre CGI Power Stroke diesel.

Meanwhile, the third rumour about Ford could be more than a rumour. A hybrid model of the F-150 could be released in 2020 if Mark Fields, Ford chief executive officer, is to be believed.

In a recent interview, Fields confirmed Ford is working on a hybrid version of the popular F-150 pickup as the company looks to make its line-up greener.

Ford recently announced that it will be investing $4.5 billion into electrified vehicle solutions and has admitted that its hybrid vehicle sales have not progressed in the US the past few years as well as expected.

Fields acknowledged during the interview that greener vehicles are “necessary” as global pollution becomes more of an issue.

Last year, Ford global production development head Raj Nair said the same thing in terms of having a rear-wheel-drive hybrid truck by 2020, but also added that hybrid SUVs will be part of the mix.

A few years back, Ford had planned to collaborate with Toyota on hybrid technologies, but the partnership was called off in 2013.

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