Redesigned Ford F-150 offers hands-free driving, hybrid option

DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. is striving to maintain its full-size pickup dominance by redesigning the F-150 to incorporate — and improve upon — some of the most popular features that rivals have added in unsuccessful bids to dethrone it.

The 14th-generation pickup, unveiled virtually Thursday evening, is expected to offer best-in-class towing, payload, torque and horsepower when it hits dealerships as soon as November. The pickup will include functional tailgate upgrades, similar to what General Motors introduced on the GMC Sierra in 2018. Ford is adding a larger center touch screen, just as Fiat Chrysler added to its Ram 1500 in 2018. And the automaker is hoping to preempt a growing list of electric vehicle startups — including one that unveiled a prototype hours before Ford’s reveal — looking for a slice of the profitable segment by offering a hybrid powertrain and mobile power generators across all trims.

The F-150, the highest-volume member of the industry’s bestselling vehicle line for 43 consecutive years, will come with the next-generation Sync 4 infotainment system that features over-the-air updates. It also is expected to be the first full-size truck to offer a hands-free driver-assist feature once Ford activates the necessary software in the third quarter of 2021.

“We see it as our duty to deliver not just what our customers want and need, but what they might have never thought possible,” Craig Schmatz, the F-150’s chief engineer, said in a statement.

The next-generation of Ford’s most popular product takes on added meaning during a pandemic that has hampered sales and cut into profits. Ford will look for the F-150 to carry an even larger share of its business moving forward as it slogs through a global restructuring.

Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights for Edmunds, said the F-150 redesign marks a “pivotal moment” for the automaker.

“Ford may have more exciting launches with the Mustang Mach-E and Bronco on the horizon, but since the F-Series is what pays the bills, Ford needs it to succeed the most to get through this economic crisis and beyond,” she said in a statement. “Ford has been under intense scrutiny from Wall Street for a number of years, so the pressure is on [CEO] Jim Hackett and team to get this right and inspire investor confidence.”

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