2015 F-150: The Story Behind The Bed

Updated Jun 8, 2014
Protoype F-150s working in one of the Barrick Gold USA open pit mines near Elko, Nevada in 2014.

Ford Goes The Extra Mile To Test 2015 Pickup Beds

“Drive it like you stole it and work it hard.”

Those were the marching orders Denis Kansier, lead prototype engineer on Ford’s 2015 F-150, gave the drivers of six pickups distributed evenly among three different companies when they were handed the keys back in the latter half of 2011.

What Kansier kept secret from the companies and their drivers was the steel beds of these 2011 4×4 pickups weren’t steel at all:

Ford swapped steel out for aluminum beds as part of a real-world test to work out any design flaws before the aluminum bodied 2015 F-150 started production.

The six trucks were part of 11 F-150 “X-1 Prototype” vehicles Kansier had at his disposal for this secret field testing. 

“We put an enormous amount of R&D time doing our own lab and field testing,” says Kansier as we look down at monster-sized shovels and dump trucks from a viewing point a thousand feet above the Barrick Cortez open pit gold mine 70 miles south of Elko, Nevada. 

Barrick Gold’s surveyors Derek Brown (left) and Mike Sena have put more than 160,000 miles on their X1 F-150s in the last two years.Barrick Gold’s surveyors Derek Brown (left) and Mike Sena have put more than 160,000 miles on their X1 F-150s in the last two years.

“We will have more than 10 million miles of combined testing before the first production [2015] F-150 rolls off the assembly line later this year. About 200,000 of those miles will have accumulated right here in Nevada at the Barrick gold mines.”

“We always learn a lot placing our trucks in extreme work conditions like this where they face conditions we don’t anticipate or can’t replicate in our own testing,” says Kansier who was tasked with making sure the aluminum bed was up to the durability of the steel model that had been around forever. 

RELATED: Ford has a history of being sneaky as it experiments with engineering concepts for the 2015 F-150. See how Ford snuck a 2015 F-150 into the Baja 1000

Barrick is one of Ford’s largest fleet customers in the mining industry with some 700 F-Series pickups and E-Series vans in its Nevada fleet. That’s why they were selected as one of the three companies to get a pair of X1 F-150s. 

Mine site surveyors Derek Brown and Mike Sena were two of Barrick’s surveyors assigned to drive the trucks and were the perfect guys to put the ordinary looking, white F-150s to the real-world endurance test Kansier needed.

[youtube EBuYbGXVHdE&feature=youtu.be%5D nolink]

An open-pit mine surveyor’s job at Barrick encompasses daily mapping of every active area of the operation from setting up blast fields to measuring ever-changing mountains of material being removed and relocated in the company’s quest for gold.

2011 F-150 X-1 Prototype with 2015 F-150 aluminum bed.2011 F-150 X-1 Prototype with 2015 F-150 aluminum bed.

They can easily put 100 to 300 miles a day just driving the mine site’s dirt and rock roads, which can be dust-dry one day and knee-deep with mud the next. The trucks see a lot of hard use in a 12-hour shift.

“I put about 200 miles a day on my pickup and a hundred of that is on dirt road just getting to and from work,” says Brown who is a surveyor at Barrick’s Bald Mountain Mine some 150 miles from where we watched dump trucks the size of small apartment buildings move “overburden” from the ever-widening and deepening open pit to a dump site a mile away on another level of the Cortez site. 

“Right now the odometer on the pickup Ford gave us is close to 75,000 miles. And the truck hasn’t had any mechanical issues,” Brown says. “The bed is a little beat up because it gets stuff tossed in there everyday and I’m sure the shocks are shot. But it’s held up well.”

RELATED: 2015 F-150: From prototype to 10 million miles

Both of the X1 F-150 prototypes are on site and we jumped in Sena’s for a trip down to where the non-stop gold mining operation is in full swing.

The odometer on his X1 is approaching 90,000 miles and the crew cab 4×4 looks like a work truck. 

Little stalagmites of dry mud hang from the rockers where steps once had a purpose, the interior has a smooth layer of fine grey dust from floor to headliner, and the cloth seats show typical jobsite stains and wear.

Tires rarely last more than 8,000 miles when subjected to the working conditions at the Barrick Cortez gold mine.Tires rarely last more than 8,000 miles when subjected to the working conditions at the Barrick Cortez gold mine.

The mud tires, which Sena say rarely last 8,000 miles on his F-150 in the rugged conditions, are already chunking and look like they are close to their last days on the Cortez roads. 

Things look little better between the cab and tailgate. The bed has taken a beating. There are big chips of paint missing where heavy tools were unceremoniously tossed over the tailgate an untold number of times and gouges where drill bits and other heavy, sharp items have been drug out and rolled about.

The dull sheen of aluminum shows everywhere in the bed where the paint was knocked off. But there’s not a spot of rust anywhere; not in the paintless recesses of the dents and dings, and not on the heads of the exposed steel rivets.

Kansier loves it.

“This kind of ordinary mining work truck abuse is what we were looking for when we gave these guys the X1 F-150s with the aluminum bed. And we learned a few things in the process and made design changes to the 2015 so it’d be better than the steel bed,” he says.

Kansier points out three specific changes from the steel bed design as a result of the X1 testing: 1) increasing the aluminum bed floor thickness; 2) using an additional under-bed floor crossmember between tailgate and wheel-well; 3) and further recessing the tailgate access panel.

The Ford engineers also added a new lab test as a result of the X-1 field test program: The Pintle Drop.

At one point in the field test a driver was removing the pintle hitch and dropping it over the tailgate into the bed to save time. The continuos pounding of the 40-pound pintle deformed the bed floor and the sharp edge of the pintle attaching plate had punctured the 1.2mil aluminum used on the first X-1 floors.

Hence the 1.4-mil-thick bed floor in the 2015 model, the added bed support in the new truck – and a new durability test for future Ford trucks in the lab. 

F-150 X1 prototype is dwarfed by the massive 400-ton capacity Liebherr T282T off-road dump trucks used at the Barrick Cortez gold mine in Nevada.F-150 X1 prototype is dwarfed by the massive 400-ton capacity Liebherr T282T off-road dump trucks used at the Barrick Cortez gold mine in Nevada.

Another driver was dragging big chains out of the bed an the hook ends snagged on the aluminum tailgate’s access panel, bending it upward. 

Kansier took that tailgate to the design team, who subsequently changed the design so the lip of the panel is now several millimeters deeper than it is on the current steel bed’s tailgate. Problem solved.

So when you get to see a 2015 F-150, now you’ll know the story behind the bed. By the way, all of the X1s ares still being used everyday by the now famous test teams.