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Toby Keith has been promoting Ford F-series pickups officially since 2000, though he says his association goes much further back. In fact, three generations of the country music performer's family have been driving Fords in Texas.
The carmaker, which sponsors Keith, brought him to Ford World Headquarters, where a select group of employees had a five-song preview of his current Live in Overdrive concert tour.
Just before the music started, however, I had the chance to ask Keith a few questions. For example, how many trucks has he had? He jokes he's lost count.
"They're kinda lying around all over the ranch," he says. But despite this, he still gets a new one every year and his current ride is a Ford F-150 Raptor.
Asked about his first truck, his face brightens and he says, "It was a 1973 F-100 with the straight-six and a three-on-the-three shifter. Yeah, an old hot-water six."
I tell him I had a '72 and Keith replies, "I'd been trying to find that one, but I don't have the VIN." At first, I think he means just any '73, but I realize Keith is on the hunt for his original truck. So, despite all the new iron he has on his ranch, he'd like to have his old hot-water six back.
The truck on stage behind Keith during his short performance is a 2013 Ford, displayed for the first time last month in Texas, its largest market (by state) in the U.S.
That's where president of Ford of the Americas, Mark Fields, showed the 2013 F-150 to the Future Farmers of America. This truck is getting a mild design change with a lightly massaged front fascia, high-intensity-discharge (HID) headlamps and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
Inside is all-new driver control technology, specifically the MyFord Touch voice-activated driver controls. A few other tweaks and that's about it.
Ford understands marketing and while the F-series was born in Detroit, its heart lies in Texas and performers such as Keith resonate with Ford buyers.
While changes to the 2013 are minor, some trends are getting stronger, namely the move toward the EcoBoost V6 engine. This engine has caused a major buying shift. In the past, when gas prices rose, buyers bought V6s. When gas prices dropped, they bought V8s. I predict, even if gas slips back below a dollar a litre, buyers will not abandon the EcoBoost engine. That's because this power choice hits both sweet spots: horsepower and fuel economy. Ford says the 3.5-litre V6 makes 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque while still managing a 13-litres-per-100-kilometres average fuel consumption (14.7 L /100 km in the city and 10.7 L/100 km on the highway). Today, it's being ordered in almost 50 per cent of all new F-150s sold in Canada. (That trend is slightly lower in the United States at 43 per cent.)
In fact, in the next F-series incarnation (2014, I expect), I think we will see more EcoBoost options.
While Ford seems to have scratched that fuel/power itch, there is one area that doesn't appear exhausted yet: luxury.
That's the opinion of Mike Levine, F-series marketing manager, here in Dearborn.
"There doesn't seem to be a ceiling for the luxury truck buyer," Levine says. "That's why for 2013 we've expanded our offerings again with the new Limited." That's now eight distinct trim packages, up from seven in 2009 and just five in 2004.
The Limited will have details such as exterior box-side lettering, unique 22-inch polished aluminum wheels, red and black full-grain leather seats and genuine aluminum and piano black interior finishes.
Levine also points out the F-series does not wait for generational updates for Ford to introduce needed changes.
"For 2013, we are also adding new trailer tow mirrors -- something customers asked for," he says. These will be an option, but they will also be a segment exclusive, he says. These are power folding and telescopic, sized for towing and something the F-150 definitely needed.
The 2013 F-150 SVT Raptor also gets the upgrades all F-150s will get, along with a few that are exclusive to this factory-built off-roader. These include new beadlock-capable wheels (these tires can be partially deflated for better traction without the risk of coming off the rim), new brakes tuned for extreme demands, a front-facing camera for steep terrain, a new Torsen front differential and the most powerful engine in the class -- a 6.2L V8.
-- Postmedia News