How the Ford Maverick Was Developed

An up-close look at bringing the clever small truck to the market

By Gary S. Vasilash

The Ford Maverick is what is being called a “white space” vehicle, a small—199.7-inch long—pickup truck with four doors and seating for five. As a point of reference, a Ford Ranger is 210.8 inches long and an F-150 is 231.7 inches long.

It will come standard with a hybrid powertrain that will provide an estimated combined fuel efficiency rating of 37 mpg. And the standard model has a payload capacity of 1,500 pounds and is capable of towing 2,000 pounds.

(Image: Ford)

The starting MSRP for the Maverick is $19,995.

And when asked whether this is some sort of artificially low price, both Chris Mazur, Maverick chief program engineer, and Trevor Scott, marketing manager for the Maverick (and Ranger), unambiguously maintain that this truck is the real deal.

It is, they say “Built Ford Tough.”

That claim is fairly bedrock for the Ford truck lineup so you can be confident that they’re not going to be using it unless there is confidence that they’re going to deliver with this pickup the same way that’s done for the other Ford trucks.

The interesting thing about the Maverick is how it was developed—done in a way unlike has been the case at Ford (as well as other companies that develop, well, anything). And this approach has not only led to the various innovations that are part of the Maverick, but also contributes to the cost-efficiency that the MSRP underscores.

One of the things about the truck is that the team, observing the way that real people use their trucks (not that the people on the team aren’t real people, too) is that many of them hack solutions, whether it is drilling holes in the sidewalls of the box to access electricity or jury-rigging the means to secure a mountain bike in the back. So Mazur says that they thought about that and have made power access simply available will provide CAD files that will allow owners to 3D print tooling for things like attachments.

It is almost that DIY ethos that is characteristic of the product development.

When the development started—pre-COVID—it was decided that there would be a cross-functional team consisting of representatives and participants from all functions that would be necessary to get the job done.

All of the participants wouldn’t just be in the same email group—they would be in the same room. Finance. Manufacturing engineering. Everyone was there. If there was a question to be answered, there was the person—right over there—who probably had the answer.

And they worked to be fast. Their “audacious goal” was to cut 25 months out of the development program.

They made quick models. They plastered the wall with documents and Post-It notes.

When it was time for the upper management reviews, it was there in the room, with the working documents and models and whatnot. Binders and PowerPoints were not on the schedule.

And when COVID hit and the people left the room for their own houses, they were still a team that knew one another, knew who to talk to to get answers, knew who was involved in what aspect of the development.

They were able to get things done.

They didn’t hit the 25-month goal, Mazur admits.

But they took 20 months out of the process.

Remarkable by any measure. And they had a pandemic to contend with.

Realize that as Ford has decided that things like trucks are important to its offering in a way that cars no longer are, the Maverick is a key vehicle in its product lineup.

Mazur and Scott are our special guests on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.”

John McElroy and I are joined by Mike Martinez of Automotive News, who covers Ford.

It is a full hour devoted to the Maverick.

If you have any interest in the truck or in an innovative approach to development, you’ve got to watch this show because you’re not likely to ever get a better sense of how the Maverick has been created.

You can see it all here.

Ford Transit: They Made a Million of ‘Em

Productive people at Ford Kansas City

By Gary S. Vasilash

Vehicle plants that make a million vehicles of one type are comparatively rare, so a nod to the folks at the Ford Kansas City Assembly Plant, who made the millionth Transit commercial van there this week.

Consider this: the Transit comes in various lengths, from 217.8 inches to 263.9 inches. So let’s take something about in the middle, 235.5 inches. A million Transits parked nose to tail would be about 3,800 miles long. That’s a lot of trucks. (Image: Ford)

The plant began production of the vehicle in 2014.

Undoubtedly as a result of their expertise (and the tooling on had probably plays a role, too), they’ll start building the E-Transit, an all-electric cargo hauler, later this year.

Ford F-150: Fast for 5-0

Turns out that police pursuit pickups are really quite quick

By Gary S. Vasilash

According to test data from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the 2021 Ford F-150 Police Responder has the best acceleration of any pursuit-rated police vehicle tested.

You don’t want to see this in your rearview mirror, do you? (Image: Ford)

The tests show that the vehicle does a quarter mile in 14.4 seconds. That 0.4 is important because that is how much faster it is than its closest competitor.

The Michigan State Police are also running tests on the pickup. So far it has measured a 0 to 60 mph time of 5.4 seconds. Again, number-two is 0.4 seconds slower.

However, they’ve found the F-150 going from 0 to 100 mph in 13.1 seconds, which is 0.8 seconds faster than the runner up.

The top speed? The Michigan State Police say 120 mph, which is 15 mph faster than the 2020 model of the truck.

A big contributor to the performance?

A new torque-on-demand 4×4 transfer case.

This is the case because it gets the torque to the wheels faster.

It is also beneficial when cornering.

Both police departments run 32-lap vehicle dynamics test.

The improvements in cornering capability resulted in a 5.8-second reduction in the average lap time in Michigan and a 3.6-second reduction in LA.

No, it’s not that the LA cops are slower drivers than those in Michigan: They put 400 additional pounds of payload into the trucks during testing to simulate cargo.

A Thought About the Design of the Ford Maverick

Does an urban dweller want something that is Built Ford Tough or which smacks of fashion?

By Gary S. Vasilash

“One thing that’s non-negotiable is that Maverick is Built Ford Tough,” said Chris Mazur, chief engineer for the small pickup.

What seems a bit odd is that Ford says of the truck “The interior design is stylish and spacious, with thoughtful features and the versatility for city driving or escaping the urban life,” which seems to indicate that this is a vehicle for city dwellers.

Looks like a truck. Is a truck. (Image: Ford)

So this “Built Ford Tough” characteristic doesn’t seem to align with what would assume would be style-conscious urbanites—except for those who wear Carhartt.

As it starts under $20K and comes standard as a hybrid, there is a draw there.

But as Hyundai is coming with the Santa Cruz, a vehicle that is certainly more chic, it will be interesting to see which has greater appeal for those who want a “truck” but really don’t want a “truck.”

What’s In a Name?

Ford is transforming what it going on in what was once a traditional transmission plant

By Gary S. Vasilash

While what has long been known as the “Ford Van Dyke Transmission Plant,” a 2-million square-foot factory in suburban Detroit, didn’t make a transmission until 1993, even though it had been established in 1968 (when it was a suspension components plant), the sign visible on Van Dyke Avenue, after a generation is undergoing a change.

Now it is the “Van Dyke Electric Powertrain Center.”

Sign of change. (Image: Ford)

Inside they are going from just making the classic step-gear (a.k.a., “automatic”) transmission to electric motors and electric transaxles for full electric and hybrid vehicles.

Production of the Ford eMotor will begin at the plant this summer. Early next year the electric transmission (“eTrans”) manufacture will commence.

Ford spent $150-million in the plant to prepare it for its new role.

Things are clearly changing.

Not As Big 3 for SUVs

Toyota leads in SUV sales in the U.S.–by a non-trivial amount

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although it might seem that when it comes to trucks and SUVs, “trucky” things, that Ford, General Motors and the company formerly known as FCA which was formerly known as Chrysler, would be dominant.

When it comes to pickups, yes. The numbers of F-150s, Silverados and Rams is truly extraordinary. Who knew that so many people were in need of boxes on the back of their vehicles? (Yes, people who actually do work with their trucks, do, but somehow that guy down the street who uses the bed to carry mulch once a year. . . .)

According to analysis firm Inovev, SUVs represented 53.5% of the U.S. market during the first quarter.

Toyota RAV4: best selling SUV in the U.S. (Image: Toyota)

And of them, most carried the Toyota “T.”

Inovev notes that Toyota has outsold both Chevy and Ford by about 50,000 units, with Toyota sales being just shy of 250,000 units and the other two slightly below 200,000 for Q1.

Inovev points out that Toyota also leads the Big Three in the sedan category (Camry, Corolla).

So if there are three big categories–trucks, SUVs and cars–the Big Three is now only dominant in one.

Something Surprising About SUVs

Yes, they are selling in the U.S. and Canada in great numbers, but the Mexican market still likes cars, LMC finds

By Gary S. Vasilash

Although SUVs (yes, including crossovers under that omnibus name) continue to proliferate in the U.S. and Canadian markets, turns out that things aren’t quite the same in the other USMCA country, Mexico.

According to LMC Automotive, while SUV sales surpassed those of cars in Canada in 2015 and in the U.S. in 2016, in 2020 cars outsold SUVs in Mexico. And not just by a little.

Nissan still sells cars in Mexico. (Image: Nissan)

The LMC data show that cars outsold SUVs by more than 2:1.

That said, there is growth in SUV sales in Mexico notes LMC Americas Vehicle Sales Forecasts analyst David Oakley, but there is an issue: “The overarching obstacle is cost, with SUVs still carrying a larger price tag than many high volume cars.”

Complicating matters for Mexican consumers is the fact that Ford and Chevrolet have pretty much given up on cars, about which Oakley says, “these brands seem to have jumped the gun with regard to Mexico’s readiness for such a shift.”

Although it is estimated that cars and SUVs will reach parity in sales by 2030 in Mexico, there are still several years of sales between now and then, sales that will probably go to brands like Hyundai and Nissan.

Ford Making a Big Bet on a Sure Thing

Let’s face it: the future of personal transportation isn’t gasoline or diesel fuel

By Gary S. Vasilash

Hau Thai-Tang, Ford chief product platform and operations officer (think of him as the guy who is in charge of product development) points out that the company has announced that it is in the process of investing $22-billion in electrified vehicles through 2025.

And because making a transformation from a dependence on engines that run on liquids to motors that run on electricity is no mean feat, Thai-Tang says that the company is kicking in an additional $185-million, this for developing and equipping a 200,00-square-foot facility that will be known as “Ford Ion Park.”

That’s ion as in a net electrical charge.

The learning lab, which is going to be located somewhere in southeastern Michigan (let’s see: Ford HQ is in Dearborn; it has a Battery Benchmarking and Test Laboratory in Allen Park; it is restoring the Michigan Central train station in Detroit where it will be creating an innovation hub), will be a place where they will be able to not only determine the best ways and means to develop batteries—lithium-ion and solid-state types—but also how to pilot the production of them.

Don’t try this at home! Mary Fredrick, Ford battery validation engineer, and Dane Hardware, Ford design and release engineer, measuring the voltage of a battery at the Ford Battery Benchmarking and Test Lab. (Image: Ford)

There will be some 150 employees (manufacturing, engineering, product development, purchasing, quality, planning) at the site.

Given the success of things like the Mustang Mach-E, which Thai-Tang says is on dealer lots for about a week before it is snapped up by a customer, an inventory turn time that is nothing short of astonishing in an industry that typically has vehicles on dealer lots for a few months, not a few days (although this has been changed by the global microchip shortage that came right on the proverbial heels of the factory shutdowns last year caused by COVID-19), Ford sees that there is a need to get the wherewithal to produce more EVs (an electric Transit is coming later this year; the electric F-150 by mid-22), and so it is creating the capacity that will allow it to ramp batteries faster.

Thai-Tang notes, of the overall drive toward electrification: “We will no longer take an approach of hedging our bets.”

With the billions it is spending, seems like it is pretty much pushing in a lot of chips.

Henry Ford’s Soybean Suit and Other Material Marvels

You’d be surprised at what can be done with what might otherwise seem to be organic waste. Like using it to create car parts

By Gary S. Vasilash

Dr. Deborah Mielewski is a Technical Fellow at the Ford Motor Company.

Two things to know about that: (1) Ford employs about 87,000 people in the United States (more if the people from elsewhere are added, but she works in Dearborn, so we’ll use that number). (2) There are 16 Technical Fellows at Ford.

Yes, she is a rare individual.

She obtained her PhD in Chemical Engineering.

You might be thinking: “Technical Fellow. . .one of 16. . .chemical engineering. . .snooze.”

And were you to be, you’d be wrong.

Mielewski, whose focus is on sustainability, is one of the most enthusiastic and engaging individuals who talks about the environment and recycling and closed-loop processes who isn’t on the Discovery Channel or some outlet like that.

In fact, she probably ought to be.

But for the Earth Day episode of “Autoline After Hours” we have Debbie Mielewski talking about what she and her colleagues are doing in the lab to help make the crossovers, trucks and cars that Ford produces more environmentally sound—and doing so in ways that are not, well, what you might imagine.

One of her earlier undertakings was to develop seat foam using soybean oil. Unbeknownst to her at the time, Henry Ford had been a big proponent in using soybean oil for a number of applications, such as in paint and for body panels.

Ford was once so big on soybean that it built a processing plant on the grounds of the Rouge Complex in Dearborn. (Image: Ford)

The foam that they were creating in the lab took a while to come to a usable form (to say nothing of finding a way to attenuate the rather unpleasant fragrance emitted), but they worked at it and the material debuted on the 2008 Mustang.

Then they’ve had a variety of other atypical materials that they’re using.

She says—at least partially in jest—that while driving home from work one Friday night she thought about having a margarita when she got home. And that she would get in touch with Jose Cuervo on Monday to find out whether there might be some materials they could source (other than tequila, that is).

To obtain the juice that turns into the beverage the heart of the agave plant is roasted, ground and compressed. And then there is a whole lot of plant matter, fibrous, left over. While the Jose Cuervo company uses some of it, as do local artisans, there is still a large quantity left over.

The Ford scientists determined that the fibers are good for plastic reinforcement.

She says she likes coffee. Thinking about that led to the discovery that when coffee beans are roasted, their skin, chaff, comes off. Millions of pounds of the stuff. Ford and McDonald’s are working together to use the chaff as a composite reinforcement material instead of the traditional talc. It is lighter. Better. And is otherwise waste.

Wheat straw. Dandelions. Shredded paper currency. These and a whole lot more are being used and investigated by Mielewski and her team.

She tells a story about telling one of her colleagues to go collect some of the post-processed hemp at a Detroit medical marijuana distributor. (He was a bit reticent. . . .) Another fiber that may have application in automotive component production.

This is a fascinating look at a subject that will become only more important explained by someone who has spent more than 30 years of her career working on it.

Mielewski recalls that early on, when some of her other colleagues from the more traditional product engineering teams looked askance at her presentations, Bill Ford, known for his environmental leadership, had her back. Now the whole approach is becoming more pervasive. And not just on April 22.

“Autoline’s” John McElroy, Christie Truett from Wards Intelligence, Lindsay Brooke of Automotive Engineering and I talk with her.

And you can see it here.

Remember When Nissan Was Noticeable?

Not all that long ago the Japanese Big Three were Toyota, Honda and Nissan. Nowadays the last-named seems to have lost its momentum in the market while the other two keep driving forward. Why?

By Gary S. Vasilash

“Remember when driving was fun?” actress Brie Larson opens a new Nissan commercial rhetorically asking before she blitzes her way through the array of new vehicles that Nissan has launched, or is about to.

At one point she’s being the wheel of the Z Proto and acknowledges that there are three pedals down there. Enthusiasts will get it. Others may be confused.

Will Brie boost Nissan? (Image: Nissan)

Nissan is rolling out 10 new or improved products over 20 months, so its showrooms will be fresh with sheet metal.

For those who are interested in one-pedal driving, Larson drives in a Nissan Ariya, the new EV that is anticipated to launch this year. (EV drivers will get it. Others may be confused.)

Although Nissan showed improvement in the first quarter, with its sales up 14.8% from Q1 2020, it really isn’t a good reflection of what it has on offer right now.

Consider: the Nissan Division had sales of 266,482 units. That’s Versa, Sentra, Altima, Maxima, LEAF, 370Z, GT-R, Kicks, Frontier, Titan, Pathfinder, Armada, Rogue, Murano, NV, and NV200.

Ford sold 277,233 trucks. F-Series, Ranger, E-Series, Transit, Transit Connect, and Heavy Trucks. 203,797 of those were F-Series.

What accounts for Nissan’s lack of traction in the market is certainly mystifying.

The question is whether Captain Marvel will save the day.