Cars Ford Save America Billions

Published on August 28th, 2013 | by Jo Borrás


Ford Could Save America Billions (if it got rid of side mirrors)

August 28th, 2013 by  

What if a company had the ability — with a few minor changes to one product — to save its customers over a billion dollars on gasoline, and reduce America’s fuel use by an almost unbelievable 22.6 million gallons of gasoline per year, every year? Would that make you want to buy that product? The article, below, first published on Gas 2, suggests a few changes that Ford might make to its F-series trucks.

What do you think? Would these changes be enough to get you into a Ford dealer? Read the post, check the math, and let us know what you think in the comments, below. Enjoy!

Learning From Elon: What if Ford Went Mirrorless to Save the World?

A few days ago, Gas 2 editor Chris DeMorro shared Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s plans to take his cars “mirrorless” in the near future, cutting back on the car’s aerodynamic drag by a significant percentage and dramatically improving range – especially at highway speeds. Elon Musk isn’t always right (example: he missed the chance to call his Hyperloop concept “the Musk Tube”), but I think he’s dead-nuts-on here, and it got me thinking: what if Ford went mirrorless?

I chose Ford for a few reason reasons. First, their F-150 pickup is the best-selling vehicle in the US, so any changes that improve MPG for that vehicle would have the largest overall repercussions in regards to America’s fossil fuels usage. Second, the Ford F-150 Tremor article we ran a while back was hugely popular, so I’m guessing you guys like Ford trucks. Third, I may have overly harassed Ford’s main PR/social media dude at June’s Further With Ford trends conference, so saying some nice stuff about their latest and greatest truck product is probably the least I could do to make it up to the guy, you know?

Let’s get started, then!

My first move was to make a rendering of what a Ford F-150 Tremor, with just a few minor, MPG-enhancing changes might look like. I’ve included that, below …

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

… along with a few notes on my thinking behind the changes.

  • Lower the truck. I know that, for work trucks, hauling, etc. a higher truck allows for a softer suspension and a nicer ride, but it also cuts back on fuel economy by increasing frontal area on the tires and by pushing more air over the trucks’ un-aerodynamic underbellies. Something reasonable, like “crossover height” should be a good compromise, with airbags on higher-end models making up the difference in ride quality.

  • Replace the side mirrors with webcams, using shrouded covers that can shade the small “webcams” and keep them functional in direct light/glare.

  • Cover the cheap, tubular running boards with a composite cover to clean up the airflow there. I’d say something about using plant-based plastics here, but Ford’s already doing that!

  • There’s a large air intake at the front bumper of the F-150s that doesn’t need to be there for most (read: empty-bed) driving. I’ve drawn in a plastic flap to cover this and cleanup the airflow at the front of the truck. Ford has a few options on how to implement this, and could go the Chevy Cruze Eco route of making this flap mechanical, or it could just make it an ultra-cheap manual flap. Bonus: getting engine oil up to temp. in winter would be a lot easier with this simple feature in place!

  • There are two large tow-hooks on the front bumper of the F-150 which could easily be covered by inexpensive plastic covers that could be “popped off” on those rare occasions when the tow hooks are needed.

  • Finally, I removed the round foglight cut-outs because it’s not 1987 anymore and they look ridiculous.

What kind of a difference will changes like this really make? With a reduction in frontal area and drag of around 10%, I think a 1 MPG difference on the combined rating is a fairly conservative estimate. Given that the average 2013 F-150 gets 18 MPG. Given, also, that Ford sold 645,316 F-series trucks last year, and that each one of those is driven about 12,000 miles/year, we can get a pretty good idea of how many gallons of gas that might save American drivers.

By my numbers, the figure is a staggering 22.6 million gallons of gas. More than 400,000 55-gallon “barrels”, in other words, just from getting 1 more MPG out of the F-150. Don’t take my word for it, though: check the math.


Keep in mind, that’s 22.6 million gallons saved, PER MODEL YEAR. If Ford did something like this for 5 years in a row, they’d save their customers more than 330 million gallons of fuel. At $4/gallon, that’s well over a billion dollars. They’d improve air quality. They’d improve their customers’ health. They’d play a big part in helping America achieve energy independence. All from a few simple changes.

How likely are minor changes like these to get that 1 MPG out of the F-150? Gas 2 commenter and all-around smart dude Neil Blanchard did the math for us in that Tesla article’s comments thread. Here it is, for your enjoyment.

Replacing the optical mirrors with video mirrors reduces the aerodynamic drag two ways: it reduces the frontal area (about 1 square foot?) and also by reducing the coefficient of drag (Cd) because the shape is sleeker and generates less turbulence. The Model S has a Cd of 0.24 – and I’ll make a WAG on the frontal area; say 27 sq ft.

If that is the case, the CdA is 27 x 0.24 = 6.48 sq ft.

Early on, they (Tesla) mentioned a Cd of 0.22 for the Model S, and this may also be from smoother wheels, let’s say for the sake of argument that using video mirrors would yield a Cd of 0.23.

The revised frontal area is 26 sq ft and the revised CdA is 5.98 sq ft. which is a bit over 7.5% reduction.

I’ve been using video mirrors for more than four years, and I have been averaging more than 46MPG all year – it’s a Scion xA and the EPA Combined is 30MPG, so that is a 50%+ improvement.

Original Content and Images: Gas 2.

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About the Author

I've been involved in motorsports and tuning since 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the Important Media network. You can find me on Twitter, Skype (jo.borras) or Google+.

  • Veritas

    No! Quit lowering trucks, dammit.

  • rkt9

    I wonder how millions of gallons of fuel could be saved by removing the mirrors from the millions of big diesel powered tractors clogging our interstates, that average 100,000 miles traveled each year?

    • Bob_Wallace

      I wonder how many millions of gallons of fuel could be saved if we moved freight to electrified rail and used trucks for only the “last mile”?

      And since 100 mile ranges with battery powered trucks is doable (along with battery swapping to allow them toe keep on rolling) I wonder how much fuel we could save by making those last mile trucks electric as well?

      I wonder how many billions of dollars we’d save on highway repair if we took most of the heavy traffic off?

      I wonder how many billions of dollars we’d save on highway expansion if we left the existing highways to light vehicles?

      So many questions….

      • rkt9

        Definitely a better idea than removing their mirrors!

        • Bob_Wallace

          Sort of a radical mirror-ectomy….

  • Steve Baker

    what would the saving be if you eliminated the front lic plate?

  • cmeyer

    I’d like to see what removing the mirrors from the c-max hybrid/energi might do for mpg. This is already a high tech vehicle designed to maximize fuel economy. Replacing side mirrors with cameras seems to me like low hanging fruit from an engineering standpoint. Maybe in the 2015 models???

  • Marion Meads

    Problem with the mirrors is that in many US States, it is required by law. Remember Aptera? They were forced to have mirrors because of the ancient antiquated rules! Perhaps, a group of real world automakers can have lobbyists initiate a rewrite of the antiquated rules on mirrors. Aptera was only a dream company that became a nightmare because of Fambro.

    • Kiwiiano

      The elephant in the room is the millions of HUGE vehicles stuck in gridlock with 1 maybe 2 occupants. Aptera were on the target, but their dream cars would have been unsettling when surrounded by Detroit Dinosaurs (even tho they were reputedly compliant on crash resistance.) Was their demise really because of stupidity of bureaucrats insisting on wing-mirrors? Or an accumulation of financing difficulties? Hopefully the Aptera dream can be resurrected when your politicians remove their heads from where the sun don’t shine.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Or was it because their design was too radical for significant market penetration?

        New car purchase is a major decision for most people. I would guess only a very small number would be willing to buy something this very different.

        • Notehead

          I was a massive fan of Aptera, partly because their design was so cool, but for that same reason I always suspected they wouldn’t make it. So many others, too, had beautiful, radical designs (and insurmountable engineering and financial obstacles) and didn’t pan out. Remember the Sparrow?

  • Marion Meads

    The shoe-box square shape basic body form of Ford trucks (and most vehicles for that matter) CAUSES THE BIGGEST aerodynamic DRAG! How can everyone overlook this giant problem and yet focus their eyes on the tiny mirrors?

  • anderlan

    Straightaway, lowering the ride is a no-go without some serious changes: the extra height and suspension is for loading the truck down with cargo. It must ride high when empty to accommodate a full cargo load without being flattened, and there must be a good distance between the 2 extremes to give a reasonable ride over terrain.

    An adjustable air suspension that allows driving low with nothing in the bed, but also allows expanding to accommodate a 1 ton load, might be a way to break this knot. This just happens to be what Tesla has already explored with their sedans and will no doubt put in their truck when they make one.

    Everything else looks do-able. Except the running board thing. How do you have running boards you can step on if they are flushed with the hull? You’d need some sort of kludgy push-in flap to put your feet in.

    • Bob_Wallace

      “Height adjustable suspension is a feature of certain automobile suspension systems that allow the motorist to vary the ride height
      or ground clearance. This can be done for various reasons including
      giving better ground clearance over rough terrain, a lower ground
      clearance to improve performance and fuel economy at high speed,[1] or for stylistic reasons. Such a feature requires fairly sophisticated engineering.

      Height adjustment is most often achieved by air or oil compression used for the “springs” of the vehicle – when the pressure is varied – the vehicle body rises or lowers.

      The first instance of a production vehicle with adjustable suspension was on the 1954 Citroën 15CVH. This vehicled featured a self-leveling, height adjustable hydropneumatic suspension. Since this time, these systems have appeared continuously on Citroën models, including the DS and CX.

      Height adjustable suspension was banned in the United States from 1974 to 1981, due to the stringent interpretation of passenger vehicle bumper height regulations by the U.S. government agency NHTSA. Subaru was one of a few manufacturers who offered the feature after the ban was lifted on the Subaru XT, the Subaru Leone wagon and the Subaru Legacy for a short time.

      Many modern SUVs use height adjustability as part of active suspension systems to improve the vehicle’s versatility on and off road. The Range Rover offered this feature from 1993. New models of the Ford Expedition
      have a computer-controlled system designed for convenience, which
      lowers automatically when the doors are unlocked by remote, returns to
      normal height when the vehicle is started, and (on 4-wheel-drive
      models), raises when the 4×4 system is engaged.”

      A pickup with adjustable height suspension needs no running boards. The truck can “kneel down” for entry and exit. As some buses now do.

      • Bob_Wallace

        “Continental has developed its first
        air suspension system for an all-electric vehicle. Following a shortened
        development phase, the first series delivery of the air suspension
        system started in spring 2012 to a manufacturer of electric vehicles.
        Continental’s experience of air suspension systems goes back more than
        30 years; its chassis technology has been installed in luxury and other
        high-end vehicles as well as in minivans, pick-ups and vans.

        The vehicle is the first purely electric vehicle to be equipped with a Continental air suspension.

        air suspension system automatically adapts damping and spring
        characteristics, along with the vehicle’s body level, to changing
        driving conditions and load changes. This reduces rolling and pitching
        movements and wheel load fluctuations.

        The efficiency of an air
        suspension system is based on the interaction between sensors,
        electronics, and mechanics. Continental supplies electronic air
        suspension systems including scalable compressors, valve block, control
        unit, sensors and software.”

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