Last week I had the opportunity to not only take the all new 2009 F-150 for several grueling test drives, I also got to see its creation from the frame up. Grinding Gears editor David Goodspeed and I met with other journalists at the Ford Rouge Plant in Dearborn, Michigan. Our day started at the Henry Ford Rouge Factory Tour…
Inside, we were treated to a representation of some of the more iconic Fords from days past, including this Model A. Also present were a classic Thunderbird, Mustang, and Coupe.
Of course, this trip was all about the Rouge’s current star, the all new 2009 Ford F-150.
After a short presentation by Jim Farley (Ford VP of Marketing and Sales) about the current light-duty truck market, we got a glimpse at what the new models would cost…
Be sure to check out the galley at the end of this article for more slides from the presentation, but in the meantime – let’s jump right into the tour.
Do you enjoy those programs on the Discovery Channel where they show you how things are made? I do, and so this part of the trip was right up my alley. We donned safety goggles and vests, and then we entered the Rouge Factory Tour. We didn’t stay on the regular public course for long, though.
We stayed on the mezzanine long enough to get a bird’s eye view of parts of the process, and then we went downstairs to the actual factory floor.
As we walked through, one of the things that caught my eye were the piles of brand new parts in their bins, waiting to be put into their correct slots.
Truck bodies fresh from the paint shop ride on bouncy wooden platforms called “skillets”. The platforms are much easier to stand on than a concrete floor, especially if you are standing for most of the day as the auto workers do.
The bellows between the truck cab and the skillet raises or lowers to allow better ergonomic access by the workers along the line.
The doors are off the truck cabs at this point, but they (as well as other key components) are matched by the VIN of the truck they will fit.
Here’s a truck cab being attached to its bed…
One smooth motion, and you now have a truck body…but it is still not on the frame.
Speaking of frames, here they are. The frames start flipped upside down so that all of the underparts can be easily and ergonomically placed by the workers.
Although so much of the truck making process is automated and machine regulated, human workers are still needed for much of the trucks’ creation.
More parts just stacked and waiting for installation. We were told that the Rouge plant keeps just two hours worth of parts on hand, versus months’ of parts like other auto factories might store. The reason for this is that it requires less storage space, but it also allows much tighter quality control if and when a problem is discovered with a particular part.
This machine flips the frame right side up in just a few seconds…
…as the engines are traveling overhead to be joined with their designated frames.
These guys work together to install the engine and get it properly seated.
I can’t help but think how much easier installing major engine components must be when there isn’t an engine compartment in the way. Everything is so clean and almost sterile here – it’s more like an operating room than a mechanic’s bay.
These frames are almost ready to be joined with their truck bodies; you can see the engine, transmission, axles, gas tank, exhaust and other components are all in place.
Once the body has been placed on the truck and the interior has been finished, the vehicle goes through a long, brightly lit fluorescent tunnel to check for imperfections.
These steps all add up to create the 2009 Ford F-150. Be sure to click on all of the gallery photos so that you can see even more photos from the tour.
David and I paired up to take a 2008 model for a test drive; the experience was so nice that we weren’t sure how the 2009 could honestly be better…until we dropped off the 2008 and got into our 2009. For comparison sake, both models were the sumptuously appointed King Ranch Editions. Perhaps the most amazing thing to me was that the 6″ added to the 2009 F-150′s SuperCrew made it seem like it was the exact same size as my F-250′s Crew Cab; if you could see the size difference between my F-250 and the F-150, you would understand why this was so impressive.
Our next day was spent at the Ford Proving Grounds in Romeo, a nearly 4000 acre complex loaded with multiple tracks and simulations of every driving condition imaginable.
We were there to not only put the 2009 F-150 through its paces, but to directly compare it to similarly appointed (or as closely as they could be) Chevy Silverados, Toyota Tundras and Dodge Rams.
We would test all four vehicles in towing, payload capacity and durability. We would also get a chance to take an F-150 FX4 through a mud course…fun!
First up for the Blue group (which both David and I were on) was the towing demonstration. Of the four vehicles I drove, I least liked the Toyota and the Dodge; with a load, cornering felt insecure and I had the sensation that the trucks’ backends were sliding, even more so on the Toyota. The Chevrolet felt pretty capable, but the Ford actually felt the best – it drove like it wasn’t hauling a trailer. We were coached by a Ford representative riding along to keep our speeds steady and our downshifts similar in each of the four vehicles, so that our experiences in each would be as close to the same as possible.
For the off-road course, David and I piled into an F-150 together, along with a an F-150 team member. I drove first, while the team member coached me through a rigorous off-road course; it was a blast! We were instructed to not drive the truck gently, to not treat it as if it were our own, to really give it a workout. I took them at their word and drove the heck out of the truck – and not only did I not get stuck, I was able to maneuver through mud the likes of which we rarely see in West Texas. They even had to hose us off twice because we were so covered in mud! Did I mention that I had a blast? David filmed me the entire time, and I think I surprised him with my off-roading abilities: not once did we get stuck in the sometimes feet-deep mud. Yeah!
Our next track was a handling track where we would test the Toyota, Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford trucks’ payload capacity – how much they could safely carry in their beds while we drove like idiots. Once again, I was impressed with the F-150′s handling, even when I was slamming from lane to lane at 40ish miles an hour.Once again, the Toyota and Dodge felt mushy to me, and the Chevrolet was only a bit better.
Unfortunately my shuttle was leaving, so I didn’t get to do the Durability course with the same four trucks…bummer.
I hadn’t really formed opinions about the four brands’ light duty trucks before that day, since the truck I usually drive is a heavy duty F-250 (I am partial to Ford’s PowerStroke engine…go figure). If I had to sum up my opinion prior to the event of the four light duty truck lines, I would have simply said that I had never bothered with the F-150 (I thought it was too small and incapable), the Tundra and Dodge were nice enough-looking trucks, and that my mom has always been partial to those from the GMC / Chevy line. After driving the four brands, I can honestly say that I think that the Ford F-150 is the most capable, and they really put their money where their mouth was by having the competition there for us to try at the same time.
If I walked away with anything from this event, it was a massive respect for the the new F-150, as well as the desire to own one; there, I said it. My F-250 needs to be afraid…very afraid.