>> Tuesday, March 31, 2009
As gas prices spiraled skyward last year, Ford product planners became more than a little concerned over the long term future of the company cash cow, the F-150 pickup. Although the all-new F-150, then undergoing final testing before launch, was a careful evolution of a highly successful formula, no-one knew whether that meant much anymore.
In May, as the average price of a gallon of gas neared $4.00, the F-150 was knocked off the top of the monthly sales charts for the first time in 17 years, outsold by Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Toyota Camry, and Honda Accord. That sent a chill through Dearborn: Ford's product planners knew that for most of the 30-plus years the F-150 had reigned as America's -- the world's -- best selling vehicle, gas had cost $2 a gallon or less. The world had changed. America was changing. Maybe the F-150 would have to change, too.
The solution wasn't rocket science: develop a pickup truck that was smaller and lighter. The product planners looked at three options -- adapting the T6 Ranger pickup being developed by Ford Australia for the world market; engineering a unibody pickup off the Ford Flex's D4 platform; or engineering a lighter, more fuel efficient truck using as much existing F-150 hardware as possible.
The T6 Ranger was discounted because it was simply too small. A D4-based unibody truck looked costly and time consuming. That left a lighter truck built around the new F-150 hardware.