INTERVIEW WITH JOHN COLETTI
By: Michael Levine
We took advantage
of the opportunity to interview John Coletti, Chief Engineer for Ford's
high performance SVT products group, during this year's 35th Annual SEMA
show to get his views of today's high performance truck market. Here are
the highlights from that interview.
Congratulations on the unveiling of the 2001
Ford F-150 Lightning. We are looking forward to getting behind the
wheel and seeing the difference between this and last year's truck.
The first thing you'll notice is the plushness, of this new truck, it
really does have a nice ride. The biggest thing that hits you right away.
All the power is still there, all the handing is there, but what you notice
right away is the plushness. Its very nice, a big improvement over the
Great. Do you think the Lightning will continue to only exist in today's
standard cab configuration, or do you think (Ford) will offer future Lightning's
in extended cab and SuperCab configurations?
I'm going to be bold, and say if I could have it my way, it would only
ever be a regular cab. It's a pure truck that way. It's the smallest model
and the lightest weight. We could start addressing more utility with a
SuperCab model, but then when you start adding everything it brings on
more weight, more wheelbase and starts taking aware from the nature of
the truck. Really it's a purist thing. You know, its like, 'Would I do
a station wagon Mustang?' It's the same kind of thing, it's a big deal.
Do you think you will ever see the Lightning's supercharged engine offered
in the Harley Davidson edition trucks or do you think it will stay with
the regular 260 horsepower engine?
Well. I am sure that the Harley guys probably want more (engine power)
but will they get this engine or not, I don't know. I think (Ford) did
a survey, that something like 40% of all Lightning owners also own a Harley?
But do you have to jump all the way up to a Lightning? I don't know. Besides
there's more to the Harley (motorcycle) than performance, it's the psyche,
it's more of a touring thing. You're not going to go jump on a Harley
and say you're going to go race somebody. The Harley motorcycle, part
of it is the gingerbread, you know it's the nice appointments, the nice
attention to detail, but at its core it's a touring vehicle. You know,
"We're going to go to Sturgis this weekend. What better to go with
than a Harley truck?"
Touching back on the typical SVT owner, are you talking the enthusiast
I said when I was introducing the truck, we call them the discriminating
driving enthusiast. It's a person who likes to drive. That's part of his
passion, his fun. He's the kind of guy that says, let's get in the vehicle
and find some challenging roads and go out for a spin. He may be gone
two or three hours. And you know what? It could be his evening, his afternoon,
How close are you working with the F-Series brand team on the Lightning?
Are they your 'clients'? What's the relationship there?
have a relationship where we retain all the autonomy and decisions on
this truck. We keep them informed. So its like we're on their radar screen,
they know where we're at. And we have a good working relationship, in
a sense they realize we are creating the halo vehicle. They're happy.
You know, before we launched the first model, everyone was saying, "Oh,
they don't know what's going on," but now with the success of the
truck, they are saying "You guys are on track, we want more of it."
It's a great handling vehicle, for the F series. You know, the tag line
is, "Not only is it the world's fastest truck, but it's built Ford
Tough. What else do you need to know!?"
Do you have any plans to counter the 8.1 liter engine that Chevrolet is
showing in its Coolside II concept
here at SEMA?
There isn't a Chevy truck here that could tangle with our engines. And
you can tell (Jon) Moss that I
said that! Oh,
and its got to be a production vehicle. Because if he wants to do prototype
to prototype we can play that game too.
Is it interesting to see (GM's) approach to the latest SS
it here? Or haven't they shown it yet?
I'll be honest
with you. We have been waiting for somebody to come in and compete with
note: This interview took place before GM brought the SS concept onto
the show floor at SEMA. A press statement and photos of the SS had been
released the week prior to SEMA.
Do you think you would go to a big-block engine in the Lighting at some
point instead of the supercharged SOHC?
would I? We are going to stay modular, and you know what? We can do everything
we need with that vehicle right there.
If gas prices continue to climb, do you see that affecting any of the
SVT product lines that Ford is doing?
Well, one thing is, on performance products, efficiency is important.
And on all our vehicles, what we are doing is we are imposing a requirement
not only to go for peak horsepower numbers, - because I kinda like the
high horsepower per liter because that is an efficiency number, and I
like big torque numbers obviously - but the other thing is we are trying
to impose a requirement that we want to have 80% of max torque at 2000
RPM. What that does, it's like the three points on a power-torque curve.
If you got those three covered you should have a really nice driving vehicle,
and oh, by the way, do you have good torque on the launch? That equals
fuel economy because you don't have to be in the throttle so much. Most
of our vehicles are either very close or right on. I think on the 2001
Lightning truck, for example, we were thinking we were going to lose 2
MPG with the lower torque, and instead we came in much less. I think .8
MPG lower is where we came out. So you've got a 265 horsepower 5.4 and
in the Lightning its 360-380 horses and the fuel economy difference is
almost negligible. On the Contour we actually had better fuel economy
with the SVT version than we had with the base V6 and on a few other products
that we are working it's the same kind of thing.
So, on the
paradigm of performance vs. fuel economy, I think we are going to break
through that and the way to do that is to keep finding the low-end torque
and make sure you have the technology on the engines that can give you
(Ford Public Relations): Two other points. Our rating on the Lightning
EPA estimate is hooked in with the whole F-150 line and our mileage is
actually better than what its officially rated at. In other words, if
you look at the window sticker, the window sticker actually undercalls
the Lightning fuel economy.
problem we have with performance vehicles is, if you drive them like normal
cars you should be able to get good fuel economy. The problem is, the
flesh is weak and do you tend to be in the throttle a lot? That's the
exhilaration factor. So if you're going to call 360 horses, you have them
at your beck and call, guess what happens. Those babies are thirsty!
are discretionary income cars. They're not cars that people are driving
everyday. And people understand that when they're buying the car, they
are buying it for the performance aspect. But if you drive it reasonably,
like you would drive an average vehicle, there is no reason to expect
any big hit on fuel economy. That is not an issue.
Do you think that you would do anything with a high-performance hybrid
powertrain in an SVT type vehicle?
hybrid powertrains, typically, you design the engine to operate at some
optimized steady speed, like some small diesel or some small gas engine.
And that's where you get your efficiency. I don't see where you are going
to do performance vehicles and a hybrid because its got a different mission
in life. You're carrying a big battery pack around
you know what
I'm saying? There is just a lot of weight involved with the vehicle to
make the hybrid package work. I don't see that, at least not in the near
We have been moving forward with LEV status this year, along with the
rest of the F150 line.
he's talking about an electric type vehicle with a small engine
That, or a gasoline electric hybrid, or even a fuel cell high performance
vehicle at some point, if that becomes a capability.
trouble with fuel cells is they are like batteries. Every cell has a certain
amount of voltage output, so to get more voltage, to get more kilowatts,
you have to stack them up. Just like batteries. Eventually you end up
with a problem. I think Chrysler either showed a vehicle, a pretty heavy
vehicle, either this week or last week, but I think its like 6000 pounds,
like an SUV with this fuel cell. Well, the reason is the fuel cell will
amaze you. They weigh a lot. Eventually, maybe 50 years down the road,
20 years down the road they'll figure out a better way of doing it, but
right now its pretty heavy.
What about all-wheel drive on the Lightning?
that be fabulous? That's the first time anybody has ever asked us that
I think it might be!
gotta give you credit, that's the first time. That would be an awesome
If you look back to the days of the GMC Syclone it would seem to be...
Now, we got the Lightning! Why would we harken back to the Syclone? (chuckle)
In terms of the all-wheel drive and the performance aspects.
But, right now, this truck, if you have driven it at all, this truck is
very competent just with the rear drive alone. Just the way the vehicle
works - it works well. But if you try to punch much more horsepower into
it you'd probably want to do something like that. It's (AWD) nothing we
are looking at right now.
Thanks very much for taking the time to speak with us.