DALLAS – Ford Motor Co. President of the Americas Mark Fields joins country music superstar and Ford truck pitchman Toby Keith to unveil the auto maker’s ’08 F-Series Super Duty pickup here at the Texas State Fair.

Fields engages in a bit of showbiz, himself, as he is lowered by crane onto an outdoor stage while seated inside one of the new trucks. On stage, he spoke on some of the Super Duty’s innovative features.

Most notable among these are an industry-first integrated tailgate step; stowable bed extender; and PowerScope power-fold, power-telescoping trailer-tow side mirrors, which provide a range of vantage points that make it easier to maneuver while reversing large loads.

The mirrors can be extended and turned upwards or downwards, allowing for a greater field of vision while backing up.

The integrated tailgate step also is an idea that seems obvious, yet Ford says has not been done before. With an easy release of a latch, a single step pulls down from the tailgate and a grab handle extends from the bed – making it easier for a person to pull himself up into the bed.

“Super Duty is the exclamation point on our truck leadership,” Fields says. “The bottom line is this truck works. Period. It offers more capability, more models and some features that literally make our customers say ‘Wow’ when they get in the vehicle and experience it.

“One of them is the new tailgate step. It’s a simple solution to a major customer need – easier access to the pickup bed, and it will be available across the Super Duty lineup.”

New for ’08 is the F-450 pickup, which offers towing capacity in excess of 24,000 lbs. (10,000 kg) and a maximum payload of more than 6,000 lbs. (2,722 kg).

The model rides on a unique chassis and incorporates a new rear leaf spring and radius arm suspension from the F-450 chassis cab. “The F-450 pickup doesn’t just raise the bar for heavy duty pickups, it tosses it out. Game over,” Fields quips.

Ford expects the F-450 to be a hit among recreation-vehicle owners. Citing information provided by the Recreational Vehicle Industry Assn., the auto maker says towable RV shipments have grown over the last five years, with 323,000 units shipped in 2005, a 15.4% increase over 2004.

“Customers tell us they want to tow, and the F-450 delivers,” Super Duty Chief Engineer Peter Reyes says. “The trailer builders will be writing us thank-you letters because they can sell trailers with granite counter tops and fireplaces.”

The F-450 joins the F-250 and F-350 to round out the ’08 Super Duty pickup lineup.

New for ’08 is a 6.4L Power Stroke Diesel engine that produces 350 hp 650 lb.-ft. (881 Nm) of torque. The mill features Ford’s new clean diesel technology, such as piezo-electric fuel injectors and a diesel particulate filter system that reduces particulate output 90% more than its predecessor.

A new high-pressure, common-rail fuel system, also new for ’08, gets up to “five pulses for a more efficient burn,” says Reyes. “It’s also quiet but not too quiet, because people still want to know it’s a diesel,” he says.

The 6.4L diesel boasts two turbochargers, one small unit for initial launch and a larger turbo to boost power through the middle of the torque curve.

The new mill propels the Super Duty one second faster than the outgoing 6.0L, Ford says.

Traditionally, the take rate for diesel in the segment has been 75%, a spokesman says, adding Ford expects that to be the case with the ’08 model, as well.

The big trucks also are available with 6.8L V-10 and 5.4L V-8 gasoline engines mated to either a 6-speed manual with overdrive or a TorqShift 5-speed automatic transmission.

The Super Duty lineup will be offered with both 2- and 4-wheel drive.

Durability has been key to the Super Duty’s success, and Ford takes no chances with the ’08 version. “We pounded it for 12,000 miles (19,312 km), fully loaded.” Reyes says.”

The Super Duty exterior gets what Reyes refers to as a “big rig” look, which he says customers asked for. The large grille and lowered headlights made the engineers’ job easier, providing more grille surface to better cool the big engines.

As for launching the Super Duty at a time of record fuel prices, Fields says: “It’s never a bad time to deliver a best-in-class product. The whole intent is to maintain leadership in trucks. We think this will buttress F-150 sales. This is ground zero.”

bpope@wardsauto.com