Ford’s F-Series pickups are not just America’s best-selling trucks—they are America’s best-selling vehicle, and have been for decades. Every year, in the US alone, the automaker sells more than 800,000 F-150s (the smallest of the family), and they’re a major profit driver. When Ford’s new CEO announced major budget cuts last year, he also added extra investment into electric vehicles and pickups.
All of which is to say, the F-Series is vital to Ford, and it’s not the kind of thing you mess with lightly. But the company knows things are changing. Batteries and motors instead of large V-8s could give designers new freedoms like multiple axles and minimal hoods. Self-driving tech could free people from car ownership, letting them summon their required vehicle when necessary. Humanity’s relationship with the automobile is evolving, and so the automobile must evolve as well.
So in September, Ford turned to a group of students at Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, setting the aspiring automotive designers a challenge to design a “Future Truck,” asking them to brainstorm new directions for America’s favorite vehicle. Now Ford has selected three winners who get a $3,000 scholarship to help with their studies and, perhaps more valuably, get their work in front of a team of other industry execs.
Josh Blundo designed a single-seater pickup truck, which caused a bit of consternation among the judges. But they admired the way it could fit into a future city where large vehicles are unwelcome.
“When I was in school, years ago, everyone wanted to do sports cars, and it amazed me how excited these students were to do a pickup and look at it in an entirely different way,” says Craig Metros, Ford’s head of exterior design for North America. It was exactly that imagination, unencumbered by decades of industry convention (and the risk of losing one’s job) that he was looking for.
The most radical reimagination came from Josh Blundo, who ditched the traditional five-seat layout and went for a single-seater, in a design that looks like a flying-car prototype. “We raised eyebrows at that,” Metros says. But he and his fellow judges were impressed by Blundo’s designed-in functionality. The sides of the truck provide recesses for extending arms to grab packages and embrace cargo. The small footprint could have promise in a utopian future city, where roads are made for cyclists and pedestrians, and larger vehicles are banned. Blundo imagines his vehicle with outstretched side-arms being as much use to an urban vertical farmer as a traditional pickup is to a regular agronomist today.
“It was very compelling in terms of the environment, and thinking of the footprint, and the aerodynamics of a vehicle,” Metros says.
Seung Woo “Chris” Song’s modular pickup captured the judges’ attention for its versatility. His design resembles a smaller pickup, or ute, like you’d see in Australia, albeit with some radical raking of the windscreen for that futuristic vibe. But it was Song’s rethinking of the purchase process that won him a spot in the top three. Rather than buy a whole vehicle, ready assembled, from one supplier, Song imagined a modular truck. The passenger pod is separate from the two end units, which provide power and propulsion. A customer can mix and match to suit their needs—heavy-duty hauler or city speeder. “We liked the whole idea of breaking down how you purchase a vehicle,” Metros says. (Ironically, this vision of the future resembles the early days of the auto industry, when customers bought the chassis and the rest of the car separately.)
The third design is the most familiar to today’s truck buyers. Song “Daniel” Yixuan won the judges over by creating detailed renderings of the interior as well as the exterior. “Aesthetically, he really pulled quite a few cues from today’s Raptor,” says Metros, referring to Ford’s high-end monster off-road version of the F-150. The flared wheel arches and giant wheels and tires suggest Yixuan’s design would smash a Baja desert race. He also designed autonomy into the usability of the vehicle, with the idea that an owner could load their skis or hang gliders into the bed, drive to the top of a mountain, and jump off. The truck would drive itself down to meet them at the base. “The whole idea is designed around a customer who’s into extreme sports and has a very active lifestyle,” Metros says.
Seung Woo “Chris” Song’s truck is modular: A future buyer could swap out the cabin and the drive units to put together their perfectly customized vehicle.
The winning concepts were chosen for the imagination of their designers; don’t expect to see any of these features in a showroom near you anytime soon. For Ford and the other US automakers, such a cash cow is too important to mess with too much. Just building an F-150 from aluminum and swapping a V-8 for a V-6 constitute agonizing decisions, and then require lots of advertising and just the right messaging to convince customers it’s OK.
“These were pretty far-reaching concepts. These guys were probably thinking 30, 40, 50 years out,” Metros says. But an eye on the future is always a good thing. “There are quite a few ideas that we’ve had already in the design studio, but also lot of ideas we haven’t even thought of.” He’d like time to think about how to tease them out and bring them to market in a commercially viable way. So even if you can’t buy a truck that looks exactly like one of these, you may see features like extending robot arms on the option list at some point.
© 2018 Condé Nast. All rights reserved.
Frank’s source: https://www.wired.com/story/ford-f150-pickup-student-redesign/
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