August 16, 2014 at 1:00 am

Ford tones down tech in aluminum F-150

Control knobs and buttons will make their return on the 2015 Ford F-150. (Ford)

Dearborn— The interior of Ford Motor Co’s new aluminum-bodied F-150 will include a more user-friendly instrument cluster and center console that uses more hard buttons and knobs than many other new vehicles.

The pickup, which will hit dealer lots later this year, is bucking the trend of elaborate touchscreens for a very specific reason: Truck customers don’t want that technology. Most F-150 owners will use the truck for work, and often can’t swipe up or down on a screen with dirty hands or while wearing gloves.

“It’s not that they’re rejecting technology,” said Cary Diehl, Ford’s human factors engineer, who helped design the interior of the truck. “It’s about getting to something quickly. The truck really is a tool for multiple uses. For our truck customers, it’s all about efficiency.”

Ford used much market research and many focus groups to determine what to include on the cluster and console and where to put each button. Diehl said he conducted a number of focus groups in Houston. And he would randomly drive around to Ford dealerships in Dearborn and talk with truck customers as they waited for repairs.

“Truck customers are different,” he said. “They’re more traditional. Car customers are more accepting to things that mimic their iPads and iPhones.”

Information about fuel economy, towing capacity, trip logs and tire pressure were important, so all of that can be viewed on the instrument cluster. The “My View” feature allows truck owners to simply customize what information is displayed and where it is on the screen, all with a few clicks of a hard button on the left side of the steering wheel.

The center console includes an 8-inch touchscreen that can be used to access the radio, climate control and navigation system. But hard buttons underneath it allow drivers to access all of that information the old-fashioned way, too. Radio dials and hard preset station buttons sit immediately underneath, followed by dials and buttons for climate control and the heated and cooled seat feature. Past F-150 models didn’t have this many buttons, and didn’t group them all together, Diehl said.

“The customer kept telling us this is what they want,” he said.

Ford has struggled in Consumer Reports auto reliability studies, with the influential magazine citing problems with the automaker’s voice-activated and infotainment systems. J.D. Power & Associates’ annual Initial Quality Study has also hammered Ford for its software issues, but in its most recent study, Ford jumped above the industry average, thanks to improvements in its technology.

The automaker last month released pricing for the 2015 F-150, which will increase from $395 to $3,615 over the current 2014 pickup, depending on the model.

The aluminum body helps reduce weight in the truck by as much as 732 pounds compared to the 2014 F-150.

Ford has not yet released the new truck’s fuel economy numbers.

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