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Why the Ford F-150 series is the best-selling vehicle in America today
by Canvas • March 7, 2019

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The Ford F-150 is an American institution.

No, that’s not the beginning of a commercial. It’s a simple fact. The F-150 is so deeply etched into American life that it’s difficult to imagine what farm life, construction sites, or Friday night football games would be like without the presence of the F-150 pickup truck.

While the F-150, and every model in the series, has experienced its share of competition through the decades, it has remained America’s best-selling vehicle for over 30 years. Translation: It has outsold SUVs, sedans, sports cars, and other trucks. It is also a top car subscription draw for truck lovers who don’t want to buy or own a truck. The F-150 has transcended auto trends, technological advances, and fickle generations. It has consistently demonstrated a high level of performance and has set the bar time and time again for what a truck should look and feel like on and off the road.

The question that puzzles proponents and critics alike is how the F-150 has sustained such popularity and praise long after its introduction to the market over seven decades ago.

1948: The Year of the Truck

When the Ford-150 was introduced in 1948, there was no such thing as a true truck. Manufacturers built trucks on the same chassis as cars. Ford built the first truck in 1917, and it was designed to fit onto the Model T Ford body at a slightly higher price. All other trucks followed the same format until the development of the F-150 about 30 years later.

The first generation F-150 was equipped with a manual transmission as well as the driver- and passenger-side windshield wipers. This was advanced technology in 1948. A few years later, in 1953, the truck was fitted with a new engine, upgraded chassis, roomy interior, and optional features such as a radio, dome light, armrest, and a cigarette lighter. It was also during this period that the Ford truck was actually given the title F-150 to match its impressive performance. There were also designations given to the F-250 and so on.

Further Developments With the Ford F-150 Series

Ford also pioneered the 4WD F-150 pickup truck in 1959, giving the model greater off-road capabilities. Then, in 1965, engineers took the truck to a whole new level by changing the body style and adding front-end suspension and what was known as a Twin-I-Beam. Both the four-wheel-drive and the added suspension made the F-150 a favorite among farmers, construction workers, and teenagers looking for a truck they could have fun with on the weekends. The Twin-I-Beam allowed the front wheels to operate independently and drastically improved the truck’s maneuverability. It also made the ride less bumpy on rough terrain.

From that point forward, Ford continued to make innovations that set the F-150 way ahead of the competition. Designers added the four-door crew cabin early 1965 and the 4.9L straight-six engine, which became a staple of Ford trucks at a reasonable price over the next 30 years.

From 1973 to 1979 Ford would continue to demonstrate the F-150’s dominance in the truck market. The series received generous upgrades such as extended cabs, front disc brakes, air conditioners and heaters, galvanized steel, and the debut of the 4WD SuperCab. The ’80s brought further innovations to the F-150 such as improved aerodynamics, higher fuel economy, and the introduction of diesel-based engines. Ford eventually added electronic fuel injection, a five-speed manual transmission, power windows, locks, mirrors, and at least two dozen other options and standards. It is important to note that many of the innovations were Ford inventions that other manufacturers would later copy.

The 1990s & Beyond: Ford F-150 Sets the Standard

Since the 1990s, the Ford F-150 continued to set the standard in automotive technology, critical praise, and mass appeal. By 1990 it officially became the biggest-selling vehicle in America, and by 1996, it surpassed both Chevy’s and GMC’s combined sales of all their truck models.

The late ’90s and Millennium models received the same type of industry-changing upgrades that previous models in the ’70s and ’80s had experienced. There were also significant distinctions between the F-150, F-250, and F-350 that placed them in vastly different markets, thus, expanding their mass appeal. In 1997, Motor Trend Magazine named the new F-150 as Truck of the Year. By 2001 there were over 900,000 units sold, springboarding the U.S.’s most-sold vehicle into the new millennium.

Ford embraced automation and new-engine technology in 2004 with the introduction of the flex-fuel three-valve 5.4L engine. Navigation and safety features emerged in 2008, giving Ford the North American Truck of the Year Award from Motor Trend, as well as the highly coveted Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) “Best Pick” award. The latest F-150 models feature triple-bar grilles, roomy interiors, lightweight chassis, and some of the highest towing capacity of any truck on the road. Plus, drivers who want more power can enjoy the F-150’s V8 engine or a 3.5L direct-injected, twin-turbo EcoBoost engine nestled inside a fully aluminum body.

With the emergence of car subscriptions such as Ford’s Canvas over the past five years, the Ford F-150 has risen to the top of most popular vehicles. Subscribers who would rather look at a long-term option without actual ownership can still take advantage of the F-150 and everything that it has to offer.

Why the Ford F-150 Series Is Downright Irresistible

Reliability: The X Factor

There are currently more F-Series trucks on the road with an excess of 250,000 miles than any other truck manufacturer. This is no accident. Recent F-150 models have been road tested up to 10 million miles before being released to the public. Road tests included long hauls with heavy-cargo trailers through desert lands, mountains, extreme hot and cold climates, and rough terrain. Engineers specifically configure shocks, springs, tires, suspensions systems, engines, transmissions, and exhaust systems to handle extended, high-speed, off-road excursions. Other than basic maintenance such as changing oil or air filters, trucks continue undergoing excruciating tests until they operate flawlessly.

These tests directly correlate with the F-150’s reliability — the “X factor” that explains their popularity. Truck enthusiasts don’t just see the F-150 as a purchase. Instead, they often view it as a long-term investment into their work, everyday lifestyle, and their need for the occasional joyride.

Fuel Efficiency in a Truck?

If you say the word “efficiency,” the last thing that would come to a consumer’s mind is a full-size truck. Yet the F-150 continues to impress even its staunchest critics with its fuel efficiency.

Ford’s engineering team has given special attention to improving the F-Series fuel efficiency. First, the company adopted the use of military-grade aluminum, decreasing its weight by 700 pounds. Second, engineers upgraded to a 3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost engine. While generating 365 horsepower and 420-ft-lbs of torque — which is impressive enough — the powertrain still gets 19 mpg in the city and a whopping 26 mpg on the highway.

The Ford F-150 Can Pull It

Don’t let the 700-pound weight loss fool you. The F-150 still has plenty of muscle under the chassis. It is still quite capable of hauling heavy cargo long distances over rough terrain. Late models come packed with different power/torque combos.

The base 282-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 produces 253 ft-lbs of torque and has a max tow rating of 7,600 pounds or a payload of 1,910 pounds. The 2.7-liter turbocharged V6 generates 325 horsepower and 375 ft-lbs of torque and will tow a maximum of 8,500 pounds with a payload of 2,250 pounds. The 5.0-liter V8 gives 385 horsepower and 387 ft-lbs of torque. It has enough power to pull 11,100 pounds with a maximum payload of 3,300 pounds. At the top of the scale is the 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 that enables the F-150 to tow 12,200 pounds or haul a 3,270-pound maximum payload.

This type of power makes the F-150 ideal for off-roading and driving around the farm or the worksite.