By Peter M. De Lorenzo
Detroit. The number of armchair auto experts out there has certainly grown exponentially with the overwhelming power of the Internet. It's in keeping with the 140-character "experts" who weigh-in on everything and everyone with their instantaneous "hater" vitriol designed to lay waste to reasoned perspective and rational thought at every turn, before moving on to the next target/victim.
One of the good things about the car business, however, is that no matter how sure the instant outsider "experts" are about what they think is going on in this business, they can never really understand it and never really know what's going on, which remains amusingly refreshing.
They will never understand the sheer pervasiveness of this business in this town and in this region, how it encompasses everything and everyone all the time in a relentless 24/7 slog that never ends. How it swallows little tool and die shops all the way up to massive supplier conglomerates whole. How this industry affects countless households either directly or indirectly in this region. And it's not just here in this immediate area, either. It's in towns that dot the Midwest and around the country, with businesses large and small that are totally dependent on the rhythm and hum of the industry.
It's within this supercharged, intensive environment then that the single most important launch in automotive history is about to take place. Yes, you read that correctly. The launch of the all-aluminum Ford F-150 isn't just another vehicle launch, not even close, in fact. For what it represents to the Ford Motor Company, for what it represents to the autoverse as previously described and writ large here and across the country, and for what it represents to the technical car building future of the U.S. auto industry as a whole, it is the single most important vehicle launch in automotive history.
That autoverse around here has been living and breathing the new F-150 for three years now. Within Ford the design, engineering, product development and manufacturing functions have been consumed with the detailed execution of this new truck. I mean consumed. And the extensive supplier network has been right there with them every step of the way.
From dawn until dusk and far into the night, this immediate region has been focused on not just building the best pickup in the history of the U.S. automobile industry, but the best vehicle, period. Surprised? You shouldn't be. The notion that pickup trucks are some moribund aberration for a fading industry is such nonsense and so irrelevant to this discussion that it should be dismissed here and now if anyone out there is clinging to it. (There are even some touchy-feely enclaves around the country that find pickups to be out of touch with the burgeoning green agenda, but I'll save that discussion for another column.)
When it begins rolling off of the assembly line today (Veteran's Day), the new F-150 will be a technical tour de force, employing advanced technologies, innovations and learnings - far beyond the obvious advantages of the aluminum structure - that for its specific mission and capabilities will make it every bit as impressive in its own right as the new Corvette Z06 is.
That is not a flippant statement, either. Ask anyone in this business about the steep technical climb involved in making a vehicle of substantial mass dynamically perform yet still fulfill its workhorse role and they will tell you that those challenges are immense.
As I've said before, the Mustang may represent the "soul" of the Ford Motor Company but the F-150 is indeed "The Franchise." The success of the Dearborn-based automaker will be determined by the success of the F-150, pure and simple.
But there's a greater mission going on here as well. The success of the F-150 directly affects the U.S. auto industry as a whole. The F-150 remains the bellwether for the health of the industry, where it is and where it's going.
So even if you may not give pickup trucks a second thought - maybe you're not interested in them or you have no need for one when it comes to your personal transportation - understand that the launch of this all-new F-150 is a very, very big deal.
And for many of the aforementioned reasons, it will be an extremely accurate barometer for the health of this industry going forward.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
(All photos by Sam VarnHagen/Ford)
The all-new 2015 Ford F150 at Ford Motor Company's Dearborn Truck Plant