Pete Reyes, Chief Engineer, 2015 Ford F-150 Interview
Lighter, Stronger, Smarter
Born the oldest of five children in Saginaw, Michigan, Pete Reyes grew up in the aptly named industrial city of Flint until his GM-executive father was transferred to Caracas, Venezuela. And it was during his three high school years there that he fell in love with rugged 4x4s.
"Caracas is a big, beautiful city set in a valley," he says. "But very quickly, you're out climbing muddy hills, so they were a key mode of transportation there. Our high school was at the top of a hill, and one of my buddies had a Toyota FJ Land Cruiser. After school, we would take it around the back of the school where there were big sand and dirt dunes and scurry up those dunes. That was when I first understood that 4x4s can climb mountains and do a lot of foolish stuff going across those mountains."
Reyes returned to attend the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and after graduating in 1986 with a Mechanical Engineering degree, went to work for Ford. "I had five or six job offers, but the one that stood out was Ford Truck Operations. The name alone sold me and so did the characters when I went for the interview. I said, 'Boy, that sounds right up my alley.'"
Truck Trend: You wanted to engineer trucks?
Pete Reyes: Funny how naïve I was. I went into the heavy truck division, classes six, seven, and eight, so I thought I would get to engineer not only trucks but also the trash hauling and dumping systems and all these other things that Ford actually did not engineer. Then I found out that we do cabs, engines, powertrains, and chassis, not second-unit bodies.
TT: You've been a chief engineer before?
PR: This is the third time. First was the '08 F-Series Super Duty. Prior to that, I had spent a decade on Super Duty trucks working as a steering, chassis, suspension, tire, and wheel guy on the '99, then a program manager, then vehicle engineering manager for the '05. Then I did the '10 Taurus and the freshening that became the '13 Taurus. I moved to this job in February 2010.
TT: What were the '15 F-150's top priorities?
PR: We had a tagline on the walls very early: "Lighter, Stronger, Smarter." The idea of being lighter and all the benefits that would bring had been established even before we kicked off the program. And it would certainly be stronger. Every time you do an all-new architecture, you're going to move capability. Smarter was the next generation of technologies to help drivers use their trucks for better productivity. Those were in categories: core, visibility, lighting, trailering, safety, and convenience. We were looking at technologies such as 360-degree cameras, blind-spot monitoring with cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control—all things you typically find on high-end vehicles.
TT: Had the decision to go full aluminum body and bed already been made?
PR: No, it evolved out of our process. Different alternatives were laid out and studied—aluminum doors, aluminum cabs and doors with steel front ends and boxes, or entirely aluminum—with different weight reductions for each. With the program start in October 2010, we had solidified that decision up to Alan Mullally and beyond by August.
TT: Was it a tough sell at the leadership level?
PR: I don't recall a meeting where Ford was ever split with the product guys on maximum aluminum and the bean counters on minimum. It was a progression of continuing to lay out the data of what the powertrains might be and what future actions might be under each alternative.
TT: What about manufacturing, serviceability, and repairability?
PR: When I walked into this role, there were already five work streams in place around going much more aluminum: product development, manufacturing, serviceability, the marketplace (what it meant to customers), and would all our CAE tools be ready? For manufacturing, the director of manufacturing progressed a work stream that said we know how to receive the material, how to stamp it, how to transfer it, and how to assemble it, and this is what a body shop would look like. For me, it was, "We're progressing from some aluminum to potentially all aluminum on the body. Here are the weight reductions and potential reductions in other areas. You have to work with your team, get your vehicle design and engineering people on board, and understand what the rest of the vehicle needs to be." We had to understand our new raw materials, both with respect to engineering the new F-150 and how to manufacture it—material specifications, pretreatments and tempering, forming and joining technology.
Along the way, you're making decisions: What checkpoints or success milestones do we need to see before we agree that we're ready? Are we going to lie out an entirely new body shop or reuse the old one? How will we join this type of joint? What will we do for these types of attachments? If we had tripped over any of these work streams and someone had said, "We're just not ready," it would not have moved forward in this timeframe. It would have been considered for the next timeframe out.
TT: Was there heartburn about collision repair in dealer body shops?
PR: Serviceability of aluminum and having dealers ready to repair it was a goal and a work stream from the start. The resolution was that we were going to subsidize some of that, help our dealers transition to a full aluminum body shop with discounts on tools, free training, and some other things. One beautiful thing we learned about aluminum was that you could actually cut and weld it. You can't cut and weld the boron and other ultra high-strength steels in some areas in previous models, so you have to replace the whole section.
And the truck is designed so that sections are easier to repair or replace. We went from a two-piece to a three-piece frame so we could section it easier. Same with the way we attach the control arms. Another example: The current truck has two tubes coming out of the dash down to the radiator support and frame. With this design, we turned those two tubes per side into a single tube, and instead of being welded to the dash structure, it's now attached mechanically. The aluminum front end is now simpler to assemble because there is one less piece, it's a stiffer, stronger attachment and much easier to replace if it's damaged in an accident.
TT: Sum up your product philosophy.
PR: Our product philosophy on F-Series has been the same since long before I got here, and it will be the same long after I'm gone. We build Ford trucks tough, and we've been the sales leader for 37 years in a row. This time around, we're taking weight out because that benefits a lot of the attributes the customer cares about: It handles better, it's easier to steer, it's quicker no matter what the powertrain, it can carry more payload, and it will get better fuel economy. Quite simply, it's a stronger, tougher truck. That's the corporate philosophy, it's my personal philosophy, and it will be the same for whoever has this job for the next major redo.