Ford F-Series launch is critical

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Ford could have played it safe and refreshed the pickup with steel panels and it would likely have seen solid sales for the next few years.

“That is the big gamble with changing something as radical as they are changing it. Not only could it affect sales in the short-term, but sales down the road,” said Nerad.

Mud runs and durability

We drove the new F-Series in and around San Antonio, Texas for several hours Monday afternoon. The drive included towing a trailer and taking the F-Series through an off-road course that was challenging and revealing.

After putting the F-Series through mud-bugs, extreme terrain where it showed the value of greater clearance and steep downhill drop where the new F-Series regulated the brakes itself while I handled the steering, I have to admit I was impressed with how it handled in a variety of conditions.

The most impressive part of the drive was the responsiveness of the truck through the equivalent of a shallow stream. Despite pushing the speed and swerving back and forth aggressively, I never found myself feeling as though I would lose control.

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“We are extremely confident in this truck,” said Joe Hinrichs, President of Ford of the Americas. “We believe this truck sets all the standards for durability and capability.”

To back up that claim, Ford says it’s put the F-Series through ten million miles of testing.

Despite that claim and what journalists like me say after a brief few hours in the truck, the real challenge is whether the new F-Series will deliver over time.

That’s something we won’t know for a couple of years.

Not your granddaddy’s pickup

Ford is banking on the F-Series taking the pickup to whole new level, primarily because of the technology it built into the truck.

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From 360 degree cameras giving drivers a view completely around the truck while. Parked or driving at very slow speeds to trailer hitch assist to help owners line up their truck and trailer without leaving the pickup, this F-Series is packed with technology.

That content is one reason why Ford executives are confident F-Series sales will surge when the new truck hits showrooms. The key is whether or not the launch of this truck is smooth.

Ford cannot afford any hiccups. That means few delays and no major recalls in the first year the truck is on sale.

“I think it is crucial that they have a clean launch of the F-150 and I also think it is crucial that the first year or so go very clean,” said Nerad. “I think there are probably going to be some people and some fleet buyers who say well let someone else buy it in the first year, we will see how it goes and if it is going well we will jump in the second year.”

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com.

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