DETROIT (AP) — The top-selling vehicle in America will get a bit of a facelift next year, one of just a few new or updated vehicles that will be shown off this week at Detroit's big auto show.
Ford unveiled the latest version of the F-150 pickup Tuesday night at an event next to Huntington Place, the convention center that will host the North American International Auto Show starting with media day on Wednesday.
It's one of only four new or revamped vehicles to be unveiled at the show, including models from Stellantis' Jeep off-road brand, and from General Motors' GMC and Cadillac brands.
That's far short of the 40 or 50 new models that were often unveiled during the show's heyday. During the past four or five years, automakers have been shunning auto shows as the preferred places to reveal new models. Instead, they're opting to show them online for less money and at times when they don't have to share the limelight with others.
Detroit automakers are also in a standoff with the United Auto Workers union, with the two sides seemingly far from reaching a new contract agreement before a Thursday night deadline.
The Detroit show will instead focus more on experiences for consumers, including an indoor electric vehicle track and on-street ride-and-drives. Tesla, absent from the show for years, will return for those events with a display on the floor.
The F-150 will get a new front grille, dark-colored headlamps and some new vents, as well as added features. Ford will drop a 3.3-liter V6 engine as the base powerplant. Even the lowest trim line of XL now will get the company's more powerful 325-horsepower 2.7-liter twin-turbocharger V6 as standard equipment. All other engines remain.
Inside, the interior gets an update, plus all models get a 12-inch touchscreen as standard equipment.
Gas-electric hybrids, which Ford says are now 10% of all F-150 sales, will see the same cosmetic changes as well as a smoother transition between gasoline and electric power.
Perhaps the coolest feature is what Ford calls the "Pro Access Tailgate," part of which can swing open like a door for loading and unloading even while towing a trailer. The door can swing open 100 degrees for loading larger objects, and it stops at 37 degrees so it doesn't hit parts of a trailer. Of course, the hitch will fold flat as well. The feature is standard on top trim lines, optional on others, and not available on lower-cost models.
There's also a small storage box in the rear that's standard on 5 1/2 and 6 1/2-foot beds.
Chief Engineer Milton Wong says testing is still being done, but while emissions are lower in the 2024 model, he doesn't expect the F-150's fuel economy to improve over the 2023 models. To meet future government gas mileage and pollution requirements, engineers will recalibrate the engines, transmissions and exhaust systems, he said. Currently a two-wheel-drive F-150 with a 2.7-liter engine gets 26 miles per gallon on the highway.
This is the second update on the F-150 without changing the truck's underpinnings, a trend in the industry to get several product cycles without major changes. In the past, vehicles would get new underpinnings every four or five years, but automakers have been conserving capital so they have money to develop and build electric vehicles.
Wong said the current F-150 platform is very capable, and using it multiple times allows engineers to concentrate on technology to make towing easier or provide electric power at job sites.
"The reality is that most of these platforms are so good that completely engineering it from scratch every four years doesn't make any sense," said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst with Guidehouse Insights. With automakers spending billions to develop and manufacture electric vehicles, it makes sense to keep existing internal combustion vehicles on the road longer, he said.
And most analysts forecast that electric vehicle sales will grow at the expense of gas-powered models. "Putting huge amounts of money into internal combustion engine platforms, you're not necessarily going to get much return on that," Abuelsamid said.
The updated F-150 goes on sale in the U.S. sometime next year at a starting price of $35,570 excluding shipping. That's about $1,700 more than the current base model.