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Henry Payne: Ford F-150 Hybrid is one tough nerd

By Henry Payne, The Detroit News on

Published in Business News

If the last generation Ford F-150 concentrated on brawn, then the 2021 F-series is about brains.

America's best-selling pickup is back for its 14th generation, and it's one clever cookie. Think fully digital displays, over-the-air-updates, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, a stowable shifter and a hybrid powertrain that acts as an onboard generator that can operate an armful of tools.

Built Ford tough? Built Ford smart.

Five years ago, pickup buyers got a crash course in metallurgy as the 2015 F-series became the first truck to sheath itself in aluminum. Though based on the same rugged steel ladder frame familiar to full-size pickups, the F-150's toned, aluminum bod allowed a weight savings of up to 700 pounds, making it more athletic and fuel efficient. The Ford weathered all sorts of taunts from its competition (remember Chevy's aluminum bear cage ad?), but came away unscathed, posting big sales numbers as well as class-leading towing and payload.

Funny thing, though. The aluminum revolution didn't follow. Other truck-makers ignored Ford's tin lead. Now comes F-150 with the first hybrid drivetrain in class, and my bet is that it won't be the last.

That's because the benefits of going hybrid in trucks is — like super sports cars — about more than preening green.

 

Tell performance car buyers that a battery will make their car more sustainable, and you'll get yawns. Tell them its torque will rocket it to 60 mph faster, and they're all ears. Today, hybrid supercars abound — and wait until you get a load of the forthcoming, 1,000-horsepower hybrid-electric Corvette.

"It wasn't enough that a hybrid F-150 got better fuel economy," said engineer and F-150 program supervisor Mike Schneider. "We wanted to use it to really enhance a work truck's capability."

The onboard generator was born. Trucks are rolling toolboxes, and truck guys have been carrying around bulky gas generators in their beds for years. Schneider himself has a $2,300, 5 kW generator that takes two people to load into the truck bed.

Opt for the F-150's "Powerboost" hybrid, twin-turbo V-6 engine option (a $3,300 premium over the 2.7-liter V-6) and a 2.4 kW generator is integrated into the truck (a 7.2 kW option is also available). My F-150 Lariat tester had the 7.2 kW option with five plugs bristling from the rear bed: four 110 volt outlets, one 240 volt.

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