Ford to expand F-150 touch screen by 50% to counter Ram

Keith Naughton and Gabrielle Coppola

In the pitched battle for dashboard dominance, Ford Motor Co. plans to increase the size of the touch screen in its best-selling F-150 pickup by at least 50% when it rolls out a redesigned model next year, according to people familiar with its plans.

The automaker will offer at least a 12-inch screen that can simultaneously display multiple functions, such as maps and audio controls, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing future product plans. The expansion from the 8-inch screen now available in the F-150 will match or surpass the display in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s Ram pickup that has helped vault the model line into second place on U.S. truck sales charts.

Ford's expansion from the 8-inch screen now available in the F-150, the 2019 F-150 Limited is shown, will match or surpass the display in FCA’s Ram pickup.

Touch screens have emerged as key difference-makers in the high-stakes struggle for pickup supremacy. The Ram’s iPad-style 12-inch display helped it disrupt the long-held order in the segment by surpassing General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Silverado in sales this year. Ford’s F-Series has been the top-selling vehicle of any kind in America since Ronald Reagan’s first administration, and the automaker is eager to defend the turf of its most-profitable product.

“Look for all automakers to continue a touch-screen arms race to keep up with what the Ram did,” said Kyle Davis, an analyst at IHS Markit. “When you get in the Ram and look to your right you see a big, 12-inch display and it’s very eye-popping. There’s a decent amount of content on it, but it doesn’t overload the user.”

Mike Levine, a Ford spokesman, said the company doesn’t comment on speculation about future products.

The display in FCA’s Ram pickups have a massive 12-inch touchscreen that features split-screen capability, 360-degree camera views and exclusive content from SiriusXM.

In an age of digital tablets and smartphone screens that grow ever larger, car buyers are demanding more elaborate dashboard displays to manage vehicle functions, entertain themselves and navigate routes. Ford outfitted the top-level version of its new Explorer sport utility vehicle with a vertical 10.1-inch diagonal-length screen that “looks as through Ford stuck an iPad into the dashboard,” Car and Driver magazine said in January.

The F-150’s new screen will be configured horizontally, with a “landscape” design similar to the display in Ford’s new Escape SUV, according to the people familiar with the company’s plans. It likely will be offered in higher-end models, which are slated to go into production next summer at Ford’s assembly plant in Dearborn, Michigan, the people said.

Ford sells a rich mix of F-Series trucks, with the company reporting an average transaction price of $47,500 in the second quarter, up $1,200 from the year-earlier period. Fully loaded F-Series pickups can top $100,000, and Wall Street analysts say the truck line accounts for most of Ford’s automotive profit.