As Denis Leary has ensured we are aware, the Ford F-Series has been the best selling truck in the U.S. for 39 years. Every 40 seconds the Blue Oval sells an F-Series truck. In fact, if every F-Series sold over the last decade were lined up end-to-end, they would stretch around the globe. The list of impressive sales statistics, superlatives, and accolades is lengthy. But we are not here to sing the company’s praises. We are here to dispassionately investigate how Ford has maintained its leadership in trucks year after year.
The scope of this inquiry is exceedingly broad. For example, we could dive into Ford’s leadership in commercial and upfitter truck sales; design and functionality; materials and platforms; and even distribution and marketing. However, addressing the range of leadership factors is prohibitive. Therefore, this article focuses on one narrow aspect of Ford’s truck leadership, its powertrain preeminence in the most important full-size truck sub-segment, half-tons.
The first F-Series was produced in 1948 but it was not until its sixth generation that Ford won the sales crown. Over the following four decades, the Big Three offered similar powertrain lineups. They each started with an in-line 6, then progressed to a pair of mid-displacement V8s. Dodge lacked a big block V8 to compete with GM’s 454 and Ford’s 460, so it outflanked its cross-town rivals by introducing its brand defining turbo-diesel Cummins in 1989. Ford and GM responded with capable turbocharged diesels of their own, and the heavy duty race was on.
None of the Detroit Three distinguished themselves through distinctive powertrains until five years ago when Ford changed the competitive landscape. Gone were three decades of predictability. In 2011 Ford introduced a new 3.7L V6, the Coyote 5.0L V8, and its revolutionary 3.5L Ecoboost V6. The EcoBoost, Ford’s branding for its family of gas powered turbocharged direct injection engines, was not simply a transplant of the 3.5L EcoBoost already employed in the Explorer/Taurus/Flex. The F-150 engine was retuned; the Garret turbos swapped out for more robust BorgWarner units, and other enhancements made to address the extreme duty cycles demanded of trucks. Torque, the stock-in-trade for trucks, was neatly spaced between the three offerings at 278, 380, and 420 pound-feet, respectively. Special edition F-150s, such as the Raptor and Harley-Davidson, as well as the Super Duty received the new 6.2L big block gas V8.
“In the ten years preceding 2011, Ford averaged a 36.4 percent market share in full-size trucks and even surpassed GM’s combined Chevrolet/GMC share twice. So why did Ford make such a radical change to its engine lineup?”