As you read this, you surely are thinking, "Must we suffer yet another 'vehicle of the year?'"
The answer is yes. Why? This one matters.
Think of The Globe and Mail's vehicle of the year as the Canadian "news maker" of the year. Our panel of 15 experts and insiders have chosen Ford's 2015 F-150 full-size pickup as the one vehicle launched in 2014 that Canadians and the world will still be talking about as a game changer five years from now and beyond.
Special to The Globe and Mail
We asked our panel to rank in order three vehicles deemed the most “impactful” during 2014. We did not limit selections to a particular model year, only to the on-sale date – some time in 2014.
As far as possible winners were concerned, the options ran from BMW’s i8 electric sports car to the 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, Nissan’s tiny Micra (the less-than-$10,000 base model) to Ford’s global Mustang, the Tesla Model S, the F-150 and Kia’s Soul EV.
Globe Drive contributors overwhelmingly picked the Ford pickup, with the Model S a distant second and the i8 a distant third. Noteworthy: The panel’s industry experts were unanimous in naming the F-150 the most significant vehicle. Ford’s move to aluminum – stripping out almost 220 kilograms – is an astonishing achievement, they all agreed.
“Non-technical people may not realize the magnitude of the challenges in doing this,” said Peter Frise, an engineering professor at the University of Windsor and scientific director and chief executive of the industry think tank, AUTO21. “But making a vehicle like an F-150 out of aluminum rather than steel is a major step.
“It requires new design and analysis methods as well as entirely new manufacturing processes – not to mention a revolution in the supplier and logistics communities to secure huge new supplies of high-strength aluminum sheet.”
Frise, Dennis DesRosiers, president of DesRosiers Automotive Consultants, and Josh Bailey, who heads research and editorial at Canadian Black Book, all noted that Ford chose to go all-in on aluminum with its most important high-volume model – the one model on which Ford’s “corporate reputation hangs,” said Frise, and which will have the most impact on the Canadian marketplace, added DesRosiers.
DesRosiers didn’t even bother to name another vehicle. Nothing comes close to having the impact of the F-150, he said. The F-Series has been Canada’s bestselling vehicle for more than 40 years, so this is a risky move, he said, with Bailey describing it as a “calculated risk.”
“Ford is taking a huge step in introducing a record amount of aluminum into the vehicle to reduce weight and address government-mandated fuel economy regulations that come into effect in 2016,” said DesRosiers. “No one else in the world has taken such a dramatic shift in technology to meet these new regulations … Ford deserves credit for taking these regulations so seriously.”
Globe Drive’s contributors as a group acknowledged the importance of the F-150, though I took the role of contrarian in my submission. “The early fuel economy numbers for the aluminum F-Series suggest Ford has made a massive blunder on risky and expensive technology whose long-term durability remains in question,” I said.
While Ford can rightly claim the F-150 is the most fuel-efficient pickup with a gasoline engine, the light-duty fuel economy leader is the 2015 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel. Real-world fuel economy numbers catalogued at fueleconomy.gov point to Ram EcoDiesel drivers who often report much better fuel economy than the window sticker.
“All the other car companies are watching and, for the first time in a long time, Ford has given long-time F-Series owners – loyal ones – a reason to consider something else from another car company,” I said.
Columnist Peter Cheney was more impressed with the Model S. “This is the car that shows what the future of driving can be. The business model is also a game changer – vertically integrated manufacturer/distributor/fuel supplier,” he said.
The Model S did not top the rankings, but was frequently named among the top three. Jeff Pappone said the Model S is “another step toward the end of gasoline and diesel,” and Joanne Elves said the car pulls “electric cars out of the shadows and into the spotlight … I’d say the ghost of Mr. Tesla is dancing on Mr. Edison’s grave.”
Globe Drive product manager Sean Stanleigh said that the technology in the Model S is such that other car makers “will wind up copying it, whether Tesla succeeds long term or not.”
BMW’s i8 also had its fans. Contributor Richard Russell cited the car’s carbon-fibre body as the “next step beyond aluminum” while Dan Proudfoot described it as “breathtaking beyond its speed.” Matt Bubbers said the i8 is “a landmark vehicle for the auto industry.”
Among the other eligible vehicles, the Corvette, Mustang and Micra all received modest attention, as did the Alfa Romeo 4C. Bailey said the Micra is “proof that small, inexpensive cars do not need to feel flimsy,” with contributor Mark Hacking adding that, at $10,000, this car is “the most relevant for this market – and, likely, for many markets around the world.”
Globe Drive deputy editor Darren (Woody) McGee cited Ford’s important move to a global Mustang platform, while Stanleigh described the Mustang as “a case study on how to relaunch a flagship brand.”
Neil Vorano called the Corvette “one of the best sports cars on the road, without the ‘American’ caveat.” And Doug Firby celebrated the 4C, a new model that “puts driving pleasure ahead of practicality, and you’re glad it does.”
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