Trailer Safety Technology Sparks Ford, GM Truck Rivalry

March 16, 2016 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

Apple versus Samsung, Coke versus Pepsi – the way big rivalries play out is always fun to watch. Few are keener than the battle for pickup truck customers between Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co., which both announced competing options that help truck drivers back up trailers Wednesday.

Of the two systems, Ford’s is more sophisticated. When its redesigned line of Super Duty pickups – the F-250, F-350 and F-450 – go on sale later this year, they will have an optional reverse guidance system that provides drivers with robotic coaching as they back up a trailer to help prevent jackknife conditions.

GM said it worked with aftermarket parts supplier EchoMaster to develop a camera-based, blind-spot assist towing package feature for its Chevrolet Silverado. It is reverse-compatible with 2014-2016 model year Silverado heavy-duty pickups and some versions of the Silverado 1500 truck.

When the driver activates the turn signal, the GM system automatically displays the correlating side view in the center screen. A rear camera mounted on the trailer offers a view of what’s behind when backing up.

Both automakers are attempting to solve a problem that has plagued truck drivers since the first tow hitch was invented – how to turn or backup without hitting anything or jackknifing the vehicle and trailer.

Each company is looking for any marketing edge.

Ford sold more than 780,000 F-Series pickup trucks last year, making it the best selling vehicle of any type in the U.S. for 34 years.

But General Motors actually sells more pickup trucks.

The company logged U.S. sales of nearly 825,000 pickups between the Silverado and its GMC Sierra sibling. When mid-size pickups are added – Ford doesn’t sell them in the U.S. – GM’s truck sales reached 940,000 last year.

Ford was the first to dive into trailer backup technology.

Last year, Ford added an option to the F-150 that relies on software and a dashboard control knob so that drivers can take their hands off the steering wheel when in reverse. The driver turns the knob in the direction the trailer needs to go and the truck automatically guides it. The driver still works the gas and brake pedal, but the software limits speed as the vehicle backs up.

 Dashboard view of Ford’s Trailer Reverse Guidance system

Dashboard view of Ford’s Trailer Reverse Guidance system. (Photo: Ford)

This new feature, called Trailer Reverse Guidance, is designed for heavier trucks. It uses three high-resolution cameras that provide feedback to a sensor suite and allow drivers to monitor the area surrounding their vehicle.

A tailgate camera tracks the motion of a trailer to help coach drivers as they back up while two side-view cameras shift the view of the trailer as its angle changes.

Drivers will see a color-coded bird’s-eye representation of the truck and trailer on the console touch screen. Yellow or red means the trailer angle is too tight and warns there is a risk of jackknifing.

Ford said it has two patents pending on the Trailer Reverse Guidance system, including a dynamic steering wheel icon that indicates to drivers which direction to turn to back up a trailer in a straight line and a dual-purpose camera package.

About 90 percent of the buyers of these Ford heavy-duty pickup trucks tow a trailer at least once a month and often more frequently, the automaker said.

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