The Ford F-150 is the bestselling vehicle in America, and in our interview segment this week we have one of the men responsible for that remarkable success, Ford F-150 Marketing Manager Brian Bell. AOTR host Jack Nerad caught up with Bell at a recent Ford drive event that featured the new truck in its natural element, and, despite Covid-19 precautions, the conversation about the new truck was lively and informative.
In the road test segment co-host Chris Teague will discuss the considerable merits of the Cadillac CT5 sedan. With more sporting potential than you might guess, the CT5 reminded Teague of some of his favorite cars of yesteryear.
Hyundai is not a name you would normally associate with performance vehicles, but the N Line version of the all-new 2021 Elantra is a performance sedan with excellent bona fides including its 201-horsepower turbocharged engine. And the power is just the beginning of the tweaks Hyundai engineers made on the new Elantra N Line.
The rumors that continue to swirl around the possibility of an electric car from Apple topped the news segment. In a bit of whimsy, Tesla Motors’ Elon Musk tweeted that just a few years ago he tried to peddle his company to Apple only to be rebuffed by Tim Cook. What a combination that might have made!
And as we come to the end of 2020 we also reflect on some of the biggest news stories in the auto industry from this year and from years gone by.
The following is a transcript of America on the Road Episode 35. It was created with AI, so please forgive some grammatical and spelling errors. The machines are smart but not as smart as we are…yet.
America on the Road Episode 35
Introdution / Car News Segment
Jack Nerad: This is America on the Road, winner of the International Automotive Media Conference Gold Medal Award for radio and now in its 24th year on the air. Thanks for being with us as we bring you the latest automotive information from around the world and a very happy new year to you. This show is going to air on New Year’s eve originally and you might be listening to it then or you might be listening to it some months after new year’s eve, who knows? America on the Road is brought to you by Drivingtoday.com and the Coalition for Vehicle Choice. I’m Jack Nerad with me is co-host Chris Teague Chris, thanks so much for being with us.
Chris Teague: [00:37] Thank you for having me, Jack. How are things in your current corner of the world?
Jack Nerad: [00:41] Things would just swell it was a little cold this morning. We had a hail storm yesterday. It was very uncharacteristic for us — lightning, thunder, and hail almost never happen in Southern California but we did have it. You would probably welcome that as being good weather compared to what you’re experiencing in Maine right?
Chris Teague: [00:59] It’s actually not been too bad. We had some rain but it’s just been very cold. Christmas day was rainy and gross but I can’t complain too much.
Jack Nerad: [01:08] Okay well very good. It is sunshiny here today as we’re putting this together. This week we have a special guest whose name is Brian Bell. He’s marketing manager for the 2021 Ford F-150 pickup truck and he’ll be giving us a close-up look at that what we can expect from that new truck, which has some pretty cool things. I’ve driven it. I think I reviewed it on the show already but we’ll talk to him about it. And in the car review segment Chris what were you driving this past week?
Chris Teague: [01:34] I was driving and I’m still driving the 2021 Cadillac CT5.
Jack Nerad: [01:39] Ah very good well. You’re not driving it as you’re doing the show, right?
Chris Teague: No, no.
Jack Nerad: [01:46] Okay, well very good. I’m going to be talking about the Hyundai Elantra N Line, which is not a subway line. It is actually a version of the Elantra that’s kind of sporting, so we’ll talk about that. But before we do any of that let’s take a look at the week’s automotive news.
Here’s a story that we found and it’s about Apple. We were talking about Apple last week looking as if it’s going to introduce a new car suddenly, I mean kind of out of the blue somebody let that slip and in response to that Elon Musk of Tesla fame did some tweeting and said that he reached out to Apple um during the development of the Model 3, which really wasn’t all that long ago. That was their stab at a volume car and I guess it has become essentially a volume car for them, and he was looking to sell Tesla to Apple and for about 60 billion dollars which to Apple is chump change right? So kind of interesting. What do you think about the idea of Apple and Tesla combined?
Chris Teague [02:59] I think there’s some shared and I’m going to sound like going back to business school here I think there’s some shared competencies there and they definitely share a lot of the same sort of consumers and buyers early adopters, tech-heavy people who like the premium products. So I think there could have been some good you know inroads are good dual sort of benefits for both companies there, but this whole thing about the Apple car — we talked about this last week — is you know they were going to build it and they’re not going to build it; now they are going to build it, but you know everyone seems to be thinking it’s going to be coming very soon but I think it’s going to be further than that. But very interesting from Tesla given how valuable they are today.
Jack Nerad: [03:40] Right and interesting too that Apple has gone out and hired a bunch of ex-Tesla people to be part of their auto adventure, whatever that venture turns out to be, whether it’s building cars, designing cars to be built elsewhere and then marketing them as Apple cars or that whole thing is just gonna going to explode I think over the course of the next several years as we hear more about it. But kind of a bombshell at the end of 2020 to hear about this and hear about the fact that Tesla almost became part of Apple and essentially I guess Tim Cook of Apple just snubbed Elon Musk and said I don’t need a meeting with you and on they went.
Chris Teague: [04:28] I guess you need to question or at least think about what Elon’s priorities were in that sale other than financial what would be the benefit there for him.
Jack Nerad: [04:38] I think he I think they were despondent there for a while I think they were very worried about how this whole thing was going to come together especially as they started to build vehicles in larger volume. That’s not easy to do. When you’re building 20,000 of something, of a vehicle in particular, over the course of the year, I’m not saying that’s easy but it’s sure a lot easier than building 300,000 of something. That that takes an exponential kind of growth and learning curve.
So right here’s another story at the end of the year Automotive News, which is one of our favorite trade publications looks at the top stories from years past. Of course the top story this year was the coronavirus and what it has done to the auto industry and interestingly it hasn’t been as tragic for the auto industry as it seemed like it might be in mid-March. I think the auto industry is going to come in at something like 14.5 million unit sales for 2020, which is certainly off the 17 million that we had the year before but it is not down around the 10 or 12 million that some people were predicting when coronavirus first struck, so that was the big story of this year. Some of the big stories through the years are kind of amusing or were amusing to me. I guess I’m a bit of a car history buff but the big story in 1956 was the rise of imported car sales. Now I’m not sure that you, Chris, would think in 1957 that the rise of imported car sales would be the biggest automotive news story of the year.
Chris Teague: [06:20] No, but it is interesting in light of the way cars are built today where you know Toyota, Honda, Subaru, basically every major auto manufacturer has a facility or a presence here domestically as well as you know abroad and there are all sorts of gauges percentages of domestic product that are made. So it’s interesting to hear you know I guess at some point it’s not surprising but it’s interesting like I said to compare to today’s marketplace or climate.
Jack Nerad: [06:49] Right. The following year 1958 marked the enactment of the price sticker law the fabled Monroney label that we all refer to, the manufacturer’s suggested retail price label that is on every car. Before 1958 that was not required it didn’t have to be there and that was put in there as a consumer protection. Other interesting stories along the way, this is a nice two-year thing where in 1968 a guy named Bunkie Knudsen — his name really wasn’t Bunkie but that was his nickname that he went by. Bunkie was named president of Ford Motor Company after he had quit as the executive vice president of General Motors so that was a big deal.
I mean you leave General Motors to become head of Ford and then the following year he was fired as president of Ford Motor Company. He was in the job for 19 months, so interesting stuff I think along the way.
In 1987 here’s a big one for Chrysler. In 1987 Chrysler bought American Motors, which doesn’t sound like that big a deal except when you realize that American Motors own Jeep, and Jeep has become the biggest thing that Chrysler has going. So without that purchase in 1987 who knows what would have happened with Chrysler and now of course Chrysler in a big move for 2019 has launched into what could be a merger with PSA with Peugeot, that French auto builder, so stuff happening certainly and it will ever be thus right. I mean there is the soap opera that is this car industry.
Let’s talk a bit about some cool cars that are going to debut next year which is fast coming upon us. There is the GMC Hummer EV what’s your take on that Chris?
Chris Teague: [08:45] We talked a little bit about this when a little after the debut a couple of months ago. It’s hard to see — you know people are obviously very excited about it — but it’s gonna be hard to see how many they sell of them at a hundred and some odd thousand dollars a pop. I guess once everything is said and done, they may sell a bunch. People seem to be very excited. I was just kind of hoping that we get over this hump of these ultra-expensive ultra-luxury EVs and start building more middle of the road vehicles that people like myself could actually end up buying. Of course, Tesla is doing that sort of with the Model Y and the Model 3, but they’ve also had a few years of building EVs under their belt so I think it’ll be exciting. I would love to get behind the wheel of one.
Jack Nerad: [09:00] Well, talking about a more affordable EV, let’s talk about the Volkswagen ID 4. That will certainly be much less expensive maybe as low as $35,000 or so, about the same size as the Tiguan. There are a lot of similarities to a lot of vehicles that are already on sale in Europe what’s your take on that and how that might fit into the American market.
Chris Teague: [09:59] How do I want to say this? Well, Volkswagen is doing a great thing so they’ve got that the ID, sort of I’ll call it a platform or whatever, and then they’re going to build a few different things around it. I hope that people latch on to it and buy it. The pricing looks to be right. The range is decent or very good actually for the price at around 250 miles, so that might be when more and more people start dipping their toe in. Ford with the Mach-E this year and going in the next year they’re kind of getting some of that too, but those are a little bit more expensive. So I think it’ll be it’ll be good to see an EV from a major manufacturer landing at around $40,000 with a good amount of range to go with it.
Jack Nerad: [10:39] That’s an important price point I think. The average transaction for a new vehicle is right around that. I think it’s $38,000 or something like that. It’s actually gone up fairly significantly in 2020. I think those people who could still afford to buy new cars were shelling out for new cars and snapping up some deals out there that were certainly available in 2020 and that sent the transaction price higher. At the same time, we had many fewer cars being sold.
Here’s one more cool car that we can talk about and then we’ll go on to a different segment. That’s the Volvo XC40 recharge another EV what what are your thoughts on that vehicle Chris?
Chris Teague: [11:22] I had nothing but great things to say about the standard XC40 I think I think it mixed just enough quirk in with the sort of upscale compact crossover formula to make it work really well. If they’re able to match that with the recharge then I’m on board one hundred percent.
Jack Nerad: [11:40] Well, we’ll see and we’ll get a chance to drive all these vehicles coming up. That’s the beauty of this job is we get to drive the new stuff while it’s still really really new and we will be doing that over the course of the next few weeks and certainly reporting that to you right here on America on the Road.
When we come back we’ll be doing our road testing the Cadillac CT5 and the Hyundai Elantra N Line so stay with us for that. With Chris Teague, this is Jack Nerad and you’re listening to America on the Road.
Road Test Segment
Jack Nerad: [12:16] Welcome back everybody to America on the Road. Jack Nerad with you along with Chris Teague and we’re so thankful he’s with us and we’re thankful that you’re with us. Let me say this right before we get into road test time: if you like the show please pass it along to a car friend of yours, somebody who enjoys automobiledom. We think they might like the show and I hope if you like it I imagine your friends would probably like it so pass it along. Now let’s talk about vehicles we’ve road tested this week and Chris you were driving the Cadillac CT5.
Chris Teague: [12:53] I was and as I said earlier I still am. This is the 2021 CT5 the premium luxury model. It starts around $46,000 my price as tested is just under $57,000. This car comes standard with a two-liter twin-scroll turbocharged engine. But this car, as many of our test vehicles are, has been upgraded with a three-liter twin-turbo V6 that puts down 335 horsepower to all four wheels. This car has optional all-wheel drive and this my test model does have that option equipped. If that sounds like a lot of horsepower it is, especially for what is essentially a luxury cruiser. This car can do to 60 in somewhere just under 5 seconds which was sports car territory not all that long ago and still kind of is for many sports cars. It’s very nice inside, very spacious so up front.
Jack, here’s where I tell you how tall I am, at six feet tall absolutely no problem finding a comfortable driving position.
Jack Nerad: And it’s good that we got that in in the second segment. We don’t have to go to third or fourth segment to get in your height; we’ve got it right now.
Chris Teague: Yeah I’ve got to get it in. Maybe I’ll start doing my weight; it’ll help me stay accountable too.
Jack Nerad: That would be interesting. Yeah, I’d be curious about that actually.
Chris Teague: I’m not going to drop that on there right now. Okay, with full-size car seats in the back there’s no contact between the front seats and the back so there’s plenty of leg room in the rear as well and this car has a really gently sloping roof. It’s actually quite beautiful from the outside but unlike some cars, it doesn’t chop off the head room in the back seat so if you are six feet tall or taller you’re still going to have plenty of room to ride in the back.
There are plenty of options in this car, I think it’s an eight-inch touch screen. It runs Cadillac and GM’s the Cadillac user experience. It’s very colorful it’s, very intuitive. Once you kind of settle into how the menus are arranged and Apple Carplay specifically where it’s located, you can hop right in and go. The connections are great this car has wireless device charging as well.
Jack Nerad: [14:59] Which is great too because Cadillac’s of years prior not so good. I mean most of the General Motors infotainment interfaces were great and then Cadillac’s inexplicably was just horrible or if not horrible just not nearly as good. So I’m glad to hear you say that.
Chris Teague: [15:16] They’ve come they’ve come a long way and the same was true even in the XT crossovers that I tested earlier this year. They’ve definitely made leaps and bounds in a positive direction. This car has, like I said, a long list of options: 18-inch wheels, heated and cooled front seats, leather wrapped steering wheel — anything you can slap into a luxury car minus a panoramic moon roof and massaging seats this car has. On the road, it feels like a big heavy American sedan. One of my first cars was a 1976 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham ‘dElegance. It was like 20 feet long and that felt substantial for all the obvious reasons. But this car has that same sort of almost you know floating down the road.
Jack Nerad: [16:01] Were you a livery driver? I mean I’m kind of surprised that that’s an early car that a young person would have.
Chris Teague: [16:08] No, that was one of my first cars. My very first car was a 1971 Oldsmobile 442, so I went through the large old cars quickly at first but that was a very nice one so. But this car you know replicates that feeling to a degree. Obviously it doesn’t have velvet bench seats and things like that but it does kind of bring back that old kind of American feeling luxury. My wife remarked you know this thing must only get like 10 miles to the gallon; it feels like it weighs you know 15,000 pounds but it still gets around 25 miles on the highway I think I even beat that almost 26, at least according to the car so they’ve done a good job. They pulled off the luxury feeling and made it made a really special feeling car.
Jack Nerad: [16:50] Very cool. I haven’t had a chance to drive a CT5 so I look forward to doing that. I expect it to be quite good, and I think they’re kind of underrated in terms of performance too. I mean now you talked about the performance. It’s not something that people immediately associate with Cadillacs, really good performance, but a lot of the vehicles do offer pretty darn good performance these days, don’t they?
Chris Teague: [17:17] Yeah and this isn’t even the high-performance V version right? Yeah you see some of those coming out and you know there are rumors about what might come down the road for this car, but five seconds 0 to 60 it’s not too much you can’t really turn your lip up too bad at that. That’s a pretty stout number. The steering weights up nicely there’s not a lot of feel to it. That’s probably my biggest complaint with the steering and the performance is the steering feels very numb, but the brakes are very confidence-inspiring very solid and in sport mode this car doesn’t hang with the best of them, but it’ll definitely be good for a few thrills.
Jack Nerad [17:53] Well, speaking of thrills and thrills from a manufacturer, from a brand that you wouldn’t necessarily expect thrills from, you’d expect high-quality vehicles from but not necessarily thrills. The vehicle I was driving was the 2021 Elantra N Line from Hyundai. It is the performance version of the Elantra and don’t scoff at that because there is real performance out of this vehicle. The Elantra is all-new, this version of the Elantra is all new for 2021 and as I say, the N Lineine is their performance-excitement version. It has a lot of the right stuff, absolutely. I mean you start with the turbocharged engine 201 horsepower out of the engine, which is nice to push a compact sedan down the road. It’s not going to bowl anybody over with its performance but it’s certainly a very good performance. The engine is a 1.6 liter turbocharged engine. The six-speed manual transmission is the transmission that was in the test car that I had.
They had a special drive for those of us in the North American Car of the Year jury to get behind the wheel of the Elantra N Line because it hasn’t been out there. It’s not out there in any numbers even yet. I think we were driving a pre-production vehicle. It also has the option of a seven-speed double-clutch transmission, which is would be nice. I didn’t get a chance to drive it but it has a manual shift mode in addition to being an automatic and it is quick shifts is what it promises through its paddle shifter so it’ll be interesting to get a chance to drive that.
Then it has the other things that kind of support that engine. Some of them are just looks. In terms of design it has a different grille with a distinctive red character line and red means fast. If you see red on the car you can bet that car is fast. It has a different front bumper fascia it has a different rear fascia it has a diffuser because you need a diffuser because that’s how you spell speed, as well a lip spoiler, because that will spil your lip. No, but it is a little spoiler and I think a tastefully done spoiler on the back of the car.
It has 18-inch wheels which is a big advantage and your choice of tires. There’s either an all-season tire from Hankook or the Goodyear Eagle summer tires and that’s on the vehicles with the six-speed manual transmission because manual transmission spells summer tires.
There’s twin exhaust. It’s got some real stuff. I mean this is one of those vehicles that an enthusiast who doesn’t have a ton of money can buy this car, be really happy about it out of the box, maybe do some stuff to it to make it even a little bit more personal.
It has a lot of great interior pieces that also support this whole performance look, so I’m a big proponent of these kinds of vehicles that are performance versions of something that is a pretty good generalist kind of car. A good four-door five-passenger compact sedan and then you put a little more horsepower through it and change the suspension tuning and give it some better tires and all of a sudden you’ve got something that I think is exciting to drive and exciting for a lot of people.
Chris Teague: [21:34] I agree. I think you know Hyundai’s done a really good job with their N Line and also the N, just like Honda did with the Civic so many years ago with the Si and the Type R. But as I’m hearing or seeing you know there would be an Elantra in next year at some point, which is even hotter but, and I have no idea the degree to which this is happening, but it’ll be exciting to see where the aftermarket goes with these cars. As you said personalizing, people taking putting their own touch on their car. So I’m all for it. I love the tuner culture and the hot regular car culture, so I’m excited.
Jack Nerad: [22:07] We haven’t seen a whole lot of that with Hyundai yet, Of course, there really haven’t been the platforms. Certainly, the Honda Civic is the poster child for being hopped up and new-age kind of hot rodding, but we’ll see because I imagine a lot of people are going to look at this vehicle and go, yeah, this is a very good platform, a high-quality platform with a lot of the right stuff to begin with including a very strong standard engine and then you go from there. I think you’re absolutely right — the tuner culture can get after this Elantra N Line pretty rapidly. So, a couple of great cars that we like performance-oriented from manufacturers you don’t necessarily associate with performance, the Cadillac CT5 and the Hyundai Elantra N Line, a contender for North American Car of the Year. We’ll see how it fares there.
When we come back we will be taking your listener questions and answering at least one of them, and maybe more so stay with us for that. With Chris Teague I’m Jack Nerad with you, and thanks so much for being with us right here on America on the Road.
Jack Nerad: [23:16] Welcome back everybody to America on the Road. With Chris Teague, Jack Nerad back with you for question and answer time. You send us your questions; we give you our answers and the twain meets it’s a wonderful symbiotic relationship that we have with our audience and we’d love to hear your question. If you want to send us a question send it to editor @drivingtoday.com, and we’ll answer it on an upcoming show. Of course Driving Today is the sister website to America on the Road and let’s take a question here. Here’s a question from Vancouver, Washington, and the question is this: Where was my car built? How can I figure out where my car was actually built? I think a lot of people would like to know that, Chris. What are your thoughts on that?
Chris Teague: [24:09] We talked about this a little bit before. You can find it in a few different places, and I think that I’m going to get you to talk about the most complicated one, but the first is on your car’s window sticker. You should be able to find the final assembly location there. That doesn’t tell you where all the parts came from; it just tells you where they were all put together before your car either rolled off the assembly line or got on a boat or however it got to you. The other way is with the vehicle identification number or the VIN, which is a 17 digit number or a name you could probably call it. It’s made up of numbers and letters, but in that number, there are characters that indicate where your vehicle is made. Right, Jack?
Jack Nerad: [24:49] Absolutely true, and we were talking about the Monroney Label I think in the first segment because it was authorized in 1958 and became law and that does indicate where your vehicle was assembled and I think in most instances the Monroneywill also tell you the percentage of domestic content, American-made content, in the vehicle so that’s good to know. If you want chapter and verse.
Chris Teague: [00:00] I can get you can get a CT5 right now if you’d like. There you go so U.S Canadian and 19 major sources of foreign parts. Ah wow, so right at your fingertips you had that what are those percentages. They don’t add up to 100 so this car was made from unobtainium at some point. The 55 percent of the car are U.S. and Canadian parts, 19 percent of the parts are from China, and then the other 24 percent is unknown, at least according to the Monroney Label.
Jack Nerad: [25:47] Well, hopefully they were made somewhere or beamed down to us from another planet perhaps. In terms of the vehicle identification number, it is a very handy dandy source of information if you know how to decode it. There are actually decoders online — you can just key in your VIN and it’ll tell you a bunch of stuff about your car and probably tell your fortune, your shoe size, and what you should weigh and your suggested body weight — all of that stuff. With Chris being six feet tall I think he’s probably maybe 185 would be a good body weight, but I’m not sure you’re going to get that from your VIN.
You can learn from the VIN your model year, the make of the vehicle, actual model of the vehicle, the engine size, and the manufacturer. In the listener question where your car is made is just the first digit of that 17 so you don’t have to go very far. You don’t have to count into the 17; you just look at the first piece of code. If it’s a 1 a 4 or a five, the car was built in the United States and you win a cigar. Well, you might not win a cigar but it was built in the United States. A two indicates it was built in Canada, a three indicates Mexico, a J indicates it was built in what country?
Chris Teague: [27:09] Jordan? No, I’m sorry, Japan.
Jack Nerad: [27:12] Yes. Good. Luckily you had three guesses so you got that one right. A K indicates?
Chris Teague: [27:19] South Korea?
Jack Nerad: [27:21] Very good. And then what does S indicate?
Chris Teague: [27:25] I’ve done some homework since our last discussion. It’s England.
Jack Nerad: [27:28] Good, a bit of a memory test. W indicates it was assembled in Germany. Z indicates what country?
Chris Teague: [27:37] We talked about this before. I do not know the answer.
Jack Nerad: [27:41] It is one of my favorite countries actually, and a great country for food maybe not so great for cars. Well, I guess some of the best cars in the world come from Italy. All of that you can learn just from one digit in that 17-digit code that is on every vehicle.
Chris Teague [28:03] That’s interesting. There are a whole lot of other things we should get into on the next episode about the rest of those digits.
Jack Nerad: [28:08] When we come back we’ll be doing an interview with a guy who is the marketing manager for the Ford F-150 pickup truck. His name is Brian Bell and we’ll be speaking to him when we come back, so stay with us. With Chris Teague,Jack Nerad with you right here on America on the Road.
Special Guest. Exclusive Interview with Brian Bell, Marketing Manager for the Ford F-150 Truck
Jack Nerad: [28:33] Welcome back everybody to America on the Road. Jack Nerad back with you and we’re remote right now in Tejon Ranch north of Los Angeles, California, driving the all-new 2021 Ford F-150 pickup truck. An absolutely crucial vehicle for Ford Motor Company, always has been; always will be I think. With me is Brian Bell he is an expert on the truck marketing manager for the truck thanks so much for being with us we appreciate it.
Brian Bell: [28:59] Thank you I appreciate taking a few minutes to come out to the ranch today
Jack Nerad: [29:03] Well it’s an exciting day to drive this vehicle after hearing so much about it for so long. How would you characterize the importance of the F-150 to Ford Motor Company?
Brian Bell: [29:17] Well, you know, I tell everybody I have the best job in all of the auto industry, right? I am the marketing manager for what is the industry-leading vehicle, sales-wise the U.S top-selling truck for 43 years. It just doesn’t get any better and it’s such a critical vehicle for Ford Motor Company. It’s big volume, very loyal customers, we want to keep keep them happy and in the fold and so it’s a critical truck for us.
Jack Nerad: [29:43] it’s kind of like managing the New York Yankees, right? You have this expectation of excellence hanging over you which is both a good and bad thing I would think.
Brian Bell: [29:53] It is, but it makes it so great to work on. I won’t kid you, I love working on the F-150
Jack Nerad: [29:59] Well when we come to this 2021 F-150, again an all-new iteration of this, tell us what you think the consumer should know as the most important features the most important things about this truck.
Brian Bell: [30:12] There are so many stories. This is an all-new vehicle for us, over 90 of the parts are new in the truck. We kept some things that were core right our high strength military grade aluminum alloy body, our high strength steel frame was a great combination to build the truck on. We launched in 2015, Super Duty launched in 2017, and our customers really appreciate it, so we’re continuing with that combination of materials.
Then we’ve got some new some great additional stories coming to the vehicle this year. Our new full hybrid powertrain called the Power Boost — it’s a phenomenal engine. It’ll have the most horsepower and torque in our lineup with 570 foot-pounds of torque you know so basically we took our 3.5 EcoBoost engine, which is fantastic and has been very powerful, our top towing powertrain, and we added a full hybrid powertrain system to that to give customers really the best of all worlds. So you’re getting power and capability and efficiency all at the same time. It’s a really great combination; we’re really excited to bring it to market.
Jack Nerad: [31:11] When a lot of people think of hybrids they probably still think of fuel economy. They don’t think of better drivability, better low end torque better you know all those other things that this enables you to do. Tell us a bit about the advantages beyond fuel economy of this hybrid powertrain.
Brian Bell: [31:27] So this hybrid powertrain being the most powerful engine in our lineup right like I said it’s 570 foot pounds of torque. It will tow over 12,000, actually a 12,700 pound trailer is it’s max tow rating for it, so a ton of capability right when you think about that size trailer behind the truck. At the same time, it’ll go over 700 miles on a tank of fuel so it’s a great combination for our customers.
Jack Nerad: [31:49] Right and I kind of have to compare it a lot of times to say a turbo diesel installation in a full-size pickup truck where you have a lot of torque. You also have a lot of range. You have high fuel economy. What you don’t have though typically is immediate torque. I mean the drivability of this new hybrid powertrain I think is spectacular
Brian Bell: [32:12] Oh yeah, you get all that electric power to really help give you that boost all the time, right ?s So it really is a great combination for customers. And then we added to that engine knowing and researching our customers that they’re looking for a different kind of power with their vehicles so with our hybrid powertrain we actually added our Pro Power Onboard system, which is an onboard generator. Every hybrid will come standard with a 2.4-kilowatts of power generator system in the vehicle, which is like a portable generator and you can option up to a 7.2-kilowatt version, which to put in context is enough to power 28 refrigerators at the same time. So it’s a lot of electrical power in addition to all this great traditional performance.
Jack Nerad: [32:49] Do you think it’s the amount of electrical power that you could power a bunch of tools on a job site?
Brian Bell: [32:58] That’s the idea behind it. When we see customers, a lot of truck customers they take generators with them. When you take a generator you’ve got to lock it down, secure it. You’ve got to take fuel for it. We said we can do that for you and make it a great system, build it right into the truck and you can take it to the job site and power a whole job site’s worth of tools with 7.2 kilowatts of power. You can have a humongous tailgate at any football game you want. It’s great for campsites. It’s great — like there’s an image behind us on the wall right now a person working on our new our new tailgate work surface with the Pro Power Onboard, so you can actually work off the back of your truck. Think of a home improvement project, right? I redid my deck last year. I used the back of my truck for that work, that tailgate as my workbench. Now I’ve got power with it too.
Jack Nerad: [33:45] Right. Well let’s talk about that tailgate. There’s kind of tailgate wars, right, in the full-size pickup truck realm. You know a bunch of different brands are touting the wonderfulness of their tailgates. Tell about the F-150 tailgate, what’s special about it.
Brian Bell: [33:58] So we added a tailgate work surface to the truck this year, which is reall — we again, researching customers we find that they use that tailgate like a workbench so we just gave a better one. It’s a flat surface; it’s got some tape measures built in; it’s got additional tie-downs that will double as bottle openers. It’s actually got clamp pockets in it so you can actually clamp the wood or whatever you’re working on down to the tailgate. At the same time, we continue with our tailgate step, which is works great, right? It’s in the end of the tailgate so you can climb up in the bed easily and you tie that with our Pro Power Onboard system so you’ve got electrical power right there for your tools or your battery chargers, whatever it is. It’s a great combination for our customers.
Jack Nerad: [34:34] Let’s talk about interior. Let’s start with interior space and interior usability because I think you’ve done a lot of things to make that interior both roomier and probably a lot more usable. Talk about that.
Brian Bell: [34:49] We have done a lot to the interior of the truck and you know from a comfort-usability standpoint. We’ve upgraded the materials and finishes and the stitching. When you crawl around the trucks you can really see what we’ve done to the inside of them. At the same time, we’ve added dual glove boxes; we’ve added unde- seat lockable csed storage in the rear seat that actually will fold down out of the way if you want the big flat load floor or you can pop it up and then you know cover it with the back seat, so it’s closed lockable hidden storage in the truck.
Jack Nerad: [35:18] And you can pop it up into the whole grocery bags for you there’s a lot of versatility to that.
Brian Bell: [35:24] Customers tell us they want versatility with trucks. That’s really key to them at the same time.
Jack Nerad: [35:28] And it’s lockable right? I mean you could put stuff in there, potentially valet park and that stuff would be secure.
Brian Bell: [35:33] Yes, you use the key from the vehicle to lock the seat down and it locks under there so that they can’t get to it. They can’t see it, so it works great that way.
Jack Nerad: [35:41] These vehicles are often used dual use, right? I mean they’re used for work but they’re also used for leisure. A lot of peopleclaim bragging rights about their truck and it’s the family vehicle of choice these days because of the crew cab configuration. Talk a bit about that and how that figured into what you put together in the 2021 F-150.
Brian Bell: [36:02] Well you know what one of the real fun things to work on when you’re when you’re working on F-150 is I get a wide range of customers and uses. We range from our XL work truck that still has manual crank windows — right — for those customers those real commercial fleet customers with it all the way up to our Platinum trims– Platinum, Limited and King Ranch, which are very premium, some of the most premium vehicles you’ll find on the road. The key to it all though is that it all starts with being a truck. Everybody that buys a truck needs a truck first, so you don’t sacrifice on that or adjust that. It all starts with being the best truck you can be whether you’re buying the high series or the low series or one in the middle. So that’s what makes it so great to work on.
Jack Nerad: [36:40] So what makes it a truck? Is it payload. Is it towing capacity? What are the things that make a truck a very useful truck?
Brian Bell: [36:48] It’s payload and it’s towing capacity, but it’s also things like towing confidence. So the functionality of the features that we put in to help customers actually tow better to allow them if they’re not comfortable towing we help them with that. So you know about 75% of our customers tow a trailer; they tell us less than half tow regularly so we want to help them take the challenge out of that with things like you know Pro Trailer Backup Assist and our new trailer reverse guidance camera system. One of the most difficult things towing is backing the trailer up. We actually let you steer the trailer with Pro Trailer Backup Assist, which we launched a few years ago. Now we’ve added a trailer guidance camera system so that you actually see down the sides of the trailer and can see which way it’s going, to angle or go, to really help you put it the right place you want it to go. So it’s not just towing capacity; it’s towing confidence and towing features that help with that.
Jack Nerad: [37:36] I kind of interrupted us talking about the interior of the vehicle. We talked about the back seat area but let’s talk about the front seat first and what’s going on there and then we could talk about infotainment system as well.
Brian Bell: [37:46] Sure. So, there are a couple more things in this in the cab of the truck from a functional standpoint that are really interesting. About a third of customers tell us that they use a laptop in their vehicle. When you look they don’t have any place to do that so we actually have come out with our interior work surface. In the vehicle, both in our bench seat configuration and in our bucket seat configuration, there’s an actual work surface that will fold out and give the customer a place to actually use their laptop, tablet, writing pad, eat their lunch right in the vehicle. It’s a great idea. It’s one of those that you think about for a long time — they wish this should have been there a long time ago, right? The way customers use the trucks. So we included that in the vehicle. At the same time we noticed in our research, customers actually will take rest in their vehicle, right? Long haul going down, they’ll pull into rest area, take 20 minutes to kind of get caught up, so we have our full flat seating surfaces that fold back almost 180 degrees. At the same time when the seat folds all the way down. The bottom actually lifts up, so it becomes flat for you to lay in and there’s a shoulder adjustment for you, so you get really comfortable in there for that if you’re looking for it. So, again really identifying, watching customers living with them, seeing what they need ,what would make that truck better for them, what those things that they do that nobody’s ever thought of before.
Jack Nerad: [38:58] Let’s talk about infotainment. You have a big screen, you have some voice activation, a bunch of things going on. Tell us about those features.
Brian Bell: [39:07] Yeah so we’ve switched, we’re launching Sync 4. We’re the first vehicle the company to launch our new version of Sync. It has twice the processing power of the previous version. Much more user-friendly from a wording standpoint, right? So you can actually use wake words to wake it up now, say, okay Ford, wake to wake it up, and say take me to the closest gas station avoid toll roads. It will do that. It’s that simple. You don’t have to be very precise anymore with the words. At the same time, we have our new 12-inch digital touchscreen in the middle of the truck. It’s a great new screen — landscape design lets us put multiple things on at the same time. We actually have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay wirelessly in the vehicle now and it doesn’t take over the whole screen so you can have your Apple up or Android Auto or Apple CarPlay up for your music. You can use our navigation system with Sync if you would like at the same time. It’s a great, great feature set.
Jack Nerad: [40:02] You could have the two navigation systems battling one another. Why don’t you take our listeners through the various levels of F-150? Obviously, there’s a lot of volume here. There’s a lot of iterations of it. I think you have for example 11 different grill configurations tell us a bit about that.
Brian Bell: [40:22] Sure. We call it the power of choice because like I said before we have customers that run a full gamut of what they need the truck for and what they’re purchasing it so we start with our XL at the entry level in the vehicle line and it’s it can be very basic, right? Manual windows.
Jack Nerad: [40:39] I love the idea of crank windows. They work even when the car is turned off.
Brian Bell: [40:43] We have customers that tell us they want to keep those, so we’ve kept them for them. At the same time, we have included an eight-inch touchscreen and Sync 4 standard in that truck. So for those customers that need that Bluetooth wireless passive of their phones they have that capability now. So you go XL and we have a package in their STX this is very popular for us; it’s kind of a sport version of that. We go up to XLT, which is our highest volume series. It’s our mid series in the lineup. It’s a great truck. We can actually get the 12-inch screen on that, you get LED headlamps on it, you know, push-button start — the things customers are really looking for.
Jack Nerad: [41:17] What kind of an average transaction price that you’re looking for that midline vehicle?
Brian Bell: [41:23] Oh, you mean not the total vehicle line? In the midline it’s going to be in that probably $40,000 range by the time you get, you know, high 30s to 40 by time you put the four-wheel-drive. Most of our customers are buying four-wheel drives and the crew cab configuration.
Jack Nerad: [41:36] And then, take us through the rest.
Brian Bell: [41:40] Sure. So after XLT you have our Lariat, which is our first high series — leather seats. We put heated-cooled seats in it. We have our new LED projector headlamps that have dynamic available in there. And then you go up into our premiums — King Ranch, Platinum Limited. King Ranch is very country western style. We work with the actual King Ranch in Texas, in Kingsville, Texas, which is a very old existing ranch in the U.S. with over 800,000 contiguous acres.
Jack Nerad: [42:09] I think it’s bigger than some states. I think it might be bigger than Rhode Island if I remember.
Brian Bell: [42:13] I think it is. Yes.It’s the only ranch you could spot from space. When I was there the ranch folks told me that because they owned some land on the coast of Gulf of Mexico and it’s not lit — it’s undeveloped — so you can see it in satellite pictures.
But then we have Platinum, which is another premium series kind of more urban design but both of these have real materials, real woods in them and highlight high-quality leathers and finishes. And then at the top, we have our Limited, kind of sport design. It’s got 22-inch wheels. At the same time we put our suede headliner in it and leather wrap the dash and other things, so it’s very luxurious at the top of our line.
Jack Nerad: [42:53] Why don’t you tell me what you think is — to you — what is the most exciting feature or a couple of features where you think this time around in 2021 you really knocked it out of the park with this or that?
Brian Bell: [43:06] There are a few things that I’m always excited about. Pro Power Onboard, the onboard generator. We’ve had so much interest in that and it’s so helpful, right, for customers not to have to buy the generator, carry it, store it, drag it, plus theft issues, things like that. The hybrid itself is just a fantastic addition to our powertrain lineup with the capability it has, the performance. It’s got power capability and the efficiency, all at the same time. And then you know I think some of those touches that where we just paid attention to customers again like the tailgate work surface, the interior work surfaces. Those just show we’re really trying to make the truck a better vehicle for customers to use in their everyday lives and that’s what we really try to do.
Jack Nerad: [43:50] Let’s take us through the powertrain choices we’ve we talked about kind of the high line but let’s take it from the bottom to the top.
Brian Bell: [43:57] Sure. So, we have six powertrains in F-150. We start with our 3.3 liter V-6. For 2021 we’ve actually tied that to our new 10-speed transmission that we launched a couple of years ago so that’ll be the first time that that’s had the 10-speed. Our whole lineup uses the 10-speed now.
We have our very popular 2.7 EcoBoost which has been a great engine for us since we launched it in 2015. Our 5-liter V-8 — so there’s a lot of customers, our V-8 buyers, we don’t just give them a V-8. We give them a great V-8 and we improve it. So for 2021 we actually increased the horsepower and torque; we’ve added displacement on demand to it, again improving that V-8 engine for our customers to give them a great powertrain. We have our 3.5 EcoBoost, then we go to our diesel, our 3.0-liter PowerStroke diesel in the truck, and we’ve got our 3.5-liter PowerBoost hybrid.
Jack Nerad: [44:48] So really something for everybody.
Brian Bell: [44:52] Yeah, I would say when you have, when you have this many sales and this many series and this broad of a customer base, the number of powertrains really makes sense and works for them. We have to find something everybody to work to use, but again it all stems back to the truck first and all those powertrains really lean into those truck capabilities and qualities.
Jack Nerad: [45:09] It strikes me that the previous edition of this truck you took a lot of chances on it, right? You went to aluminum body and that was maybe taking a chance. You went to a lot of turbocharged engines and maybe that was taking a chance. It strikes me now those are all — they have been good bets; they have worked out for you. Correct me if I’m wrong — it seems like more of a assembling what was already there, kind of refining what was previously there in a lot of ways, adding tech but how would you characterize this generation versus the previous generation?
Brian Bell: [45:45] This generation, it actually has probably more new features and content than the previous one when you really think about it. We added we added 10 new driver-assist technologies, nine of them are class-exclusive. We’ve got active drive assist coming, which will be true hands-free driving. So today you can purchase our prep kit — the software’s not quite ready — so you can purchase the prep kit with the hardware you need today. Next summer when the software is ready, you’ll be able to purchase that and download the software using our over-the-air update system. The truck will have an embedded modem in every vehicle. With that we’ll be able to actually update the entire vehicle for customers, making it better over the lifespan of the vehicle that they own it. Not just the infotainment system but things like powertrain calibrations and transmission settings and brake settings I mean really, really helping our customers have a better vehicle through the lifecycle. So I there’s a lot of great, great innovations in this vehicle that really — I was around, I launched the 2015 as well, and it was fantastic, but this has so many more things to it that are really going to help customers have a better vehicle for their daily use.
Jack Nerad: [46:47] Interesting, you’ve intrigued me about the self-driving. Describe what kind of level will that be, all of that stuff?
Brian Bell: [46:56] I probably can’t tell you the level because I don’t know. I don’t have an exact figure for that but the way it will work is it’s true hands-free driving. There is a camera and sensors that watch your eyes basically to make sure that you’re paying attention to the road. As long as you’re paying attention there are sections of highway where you’ll be able to take your hands off the steering wheel using our intelligent adaptive cruise control system and our active drive assist system, the vehicle will head down the highway for you.
Jack Nerad: [47:21] Will it be able to change lanes by itself or something like that, or is that beyond its capability?
Brian Bell: [47:26] No, it will just start, you’ll stay in your lane as you’re going down the road. It’s a true hands-free system.
Jack Nerad: [47:36] Very cool. Well, I believe these vehicles are imminent in showrooms. Talk a bit about that.
Brian Bell: [47:40] So we’re we are building now we should be they should start showing up in dealerships before the end of the year so we’re really excited to get this truck on the road and get customers in it. And you can tell our enthusiasm here today with showing off our trucks. When you work on something so long, you’re just anxious to get everybody in it and a chance to look at it, so we’re really anxious for customers to take a drive in it.
Jack Nerad: [48:01] Very good. Well ,I can tell how enthusiastic — we can tell by the background noise for our interview. Brian Bell, thanks so much for being with us; we do appreciate it. We wish you a great deal of good luck with the 2021 F-150 pickup truck and I’m sure you’ll have it.
Brian Bell: [48:16] Well, thank you for spending a little time with me today and letting me talk about the new truck. I really appreciate it.
Jack Nerad: [48:21] Thanks for being with us everybody and stay with us right here on America on the Road.
Jack Nerad: [00:00] That was our interview with Brian Bell. He’s the marketing manager for the Ford F-150 pickup truck, and what a pleasure it was to talk with Brian about that great new vehicle a contender for North American Truck of the Year. We’ll see how it fares in the next couple of weeks. I want to thank, of course, our indubitable, inimitable, just wonderful co-host, Chris Teague. Chris, thanks so much for being with us.
Chris Teague: [00:00] Thank you so much for having me yet again and thanks everyone for listening. If you like what you heard and you want to hear more of it go ahead and hit the subscribe button wherever you get your podcast and leave us a review, would you?
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