EXCLUSIVE-Ford aims for 3-mpg improvement in 2015 F-150 pickup

Paul Lienert

* Next-generation F-series arrives in fall 2014

* Ford wants to shave weight by 700 pounds or more

* Extensive use of aluminum, improved powertrains will help

lift mileage

DETROIT, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co is aiming to

boost the gas mileage of its next-generation F-150 pickups by

15-20 percent, thus shifting the battleground in full-size

trucks from power, durability and towing capacity to fuel


Ford is pursuing a different strategy from crosstown rival

General Motors Co, which Thursday unveiled its redesigned

2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups, touting such

virtues as more power and torque, a quieter cab and additional

safety features.

Ford instead is intent on hiking its average truck fuel

economy by up to 3 miles per gallon when it implements a $2

billion redesign of its full-size F-series in fall 2014,

according to an industry source familiar with the company's


The 2015 Ford F-150 "will be a game-changer that will alter

the dynamics of the truck segment," the source said. "They're

shooting for best-in-class fuel economy."

"Ford is committed to offering our customers leading fuel

economy (but) it's premature to talk about future products,"

said company spokesman Mike Levine.

The overhaul of its big pickup and the focus on improving

its mileage are important for several reasons -- to help

maintain the F-series' dominant position in the truck segment,

to help maintain a key source of the company's profits and to

help meet more stringent federal fuel-economy standards that

take effect in 2015 and 2016.

The F-series, which has been the best-selling vehicle in the

United States for 30 years, and sport-utility derivatives such

as the Expedition account for more than 90 percent of Ford's

global profit, according to Morgan Stanley auto analyst Adam


"Today's pickup buyers are more savvy and want greater

utility, technology and comfort features, along with improved

fuel economy," said Joseph Langley, analyst with LMC Automotive.

Ford aims to achieve its aggressive truck fuel-economy

target by shaving an average of 700-750 pounds from each

vehicle, largely through the extensive use of aluminum for

doors, fenders, cab and tailgate, said two industry sources

familiar with the F-series redesign program.

As part of the truck overhaul, known internally as the P552

program, Ford is redesigning most major chassis components such

as brakes and axles to further reduce weight.

The company also is developing a new family of highly

efficient engines under the internal program code Nano, the

sources said. The small-displacement V6 engines will employ

Ford's EcoBoost technology, including turbocharging and direct


The first of the Nano engines, a 2.9-liter V6, isn't likely

to appear until 2016 or later, the sources said.

Before then, however, Ford is expected to offer an

eight-speed automatic transmission in the F-series in 2014 or

2015, further enhancing fuel economy, they said.

Ford also is jointly developing with Toyota Motor Corp

a new family of hybrid gasoline-electric engines to

help meet even tougher emissions and fuel-economy standards

toward the end of the decade.

For model year 2013, the highest-mileage Ford pickup is the

F-150 XL 4x2 regular cab equipped with the 3.7-liter V6 and

six-speed automatic transmission. EPA ratings are 17 miles per

gallon in city driving and 23 on the highway. The

top-of-the-line F-150 Limited 4x2 SuperCrew with the EcoBoost

twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 and six-speed is rated at 15 city

and 21 highway.

(Reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit; Editing by Phil