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.
PickupTruck.com: 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.
John Coletti: 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 2000 model.
PUTC: 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?
JC: 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.
PUTC: 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?
JC: 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?"
PUTC: Touching back on the typical SVT owner, are you talking the enthusiast type?
JC: Like 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, whatever.
PUTC: How close are you working with the F-Series brand team on the Lightning? Are they your 'clients'? What's the relationship there?
JC: We 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!?"
PUTC: Do you have any plans to counter the 8.1 liter engine that Chevrolet is showing in its Coolside II concept here at SEMA?
JC: 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.
PUTC: Is it interesting to see (GM's) approach to the latest SS concept?
JC: Is 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 the Lightning.
Editor's 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.
PUTC: Do you think you would go to a big-block engine in the Lighting at some point instead of the supercharged SOHC?
JC: Why 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?
JC: 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 that.
Alan Hall (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.
JC: The 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?
JC: In 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 term.
AH: We have been moving forward with LEV status this year, along with the rest of the F150 line.
JC: But he's talking about an electric type vehicle with a small engine
PUTC: That, or a gasoline electric hybrid, or even a fuel cell high performance vehicle at some point, if that becomes a capability.
JC: The 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.
PUTC: What about all-wheel drive on the Lightning?
JC: Wouldn't that be fabulous? That's the first time anybody has ever asked us that question!
AH: Yeah, I think it might be!
JC: I gotta give you credit, that's the first time. That would be an awesome piece.
PUTC: If you look back to the days of the GMC Syclone it would seem to be...
JC: Now, we got the Lightning! Why would we harken back to the Syclone? (chuckle)
PUTC: In terms of the all-wheel drive and the performance aspects.
JC: Absolutely! 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.