Aaron Bresky, now 50, still remembers that seventh grade classroom moment on Career Day so long ago.
“A lot of people were presenting, saying they were going to be doctors and lawyers, and I stood up and said, ‘I want to be an engineer at Ford working on trucks,’ ” Bresky said. “When I did that, my class and teacher started laughing. I asked them, ‘What are you laughing at?’ “
His teacher at Jefferson Middle School in St. Clair Shores didn’t skip a beat, he recalled. “She said, ‘That’s great, Aaron. But it’s pretty specific. I know you’d like to work on Ford trucks, but you can’t just say that and it’ll happen.’ “
Yet, that’s exactly what happened.
This is the story of a little boy who fell in love with the Ford pickup while helping his grandpa plow snow during cold Michigan winters and who, this week, traveled to Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, to watch the unveiling of the 2023 Ford F-Series Super Duty trucks he helped bring to life. The truck series, which will go on sale early next year, is built by UAW members at the Kentucky Truck Plant nearby, as well as the Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake.
“I worked and worked,” said Bresky, a vehicle engineering manager at Ford for the past 27 years who has played a key role in every Ford F-Series Super Duty pickup built since the model debuted in 1998.
“It wasn’t just my work. It was also fate … that allowed me to have this opportunity,” Bresky told the Free Press just days before the big reveal Tuesday.
Always low-key, few people know that it was Bresky who drove both Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Ford CEO Jim Farley to the stage at Churchill Downs during the reveal in his 1999 Super Duty.
While the Ford F-150 full-size pickup often dominates the headlines, a bestselling truck that sits in millions of driveways, the heavy-duty Super Duty pickups are what really print cash for Ford. The Super Duty is used in various commercial industries, including utility companies, emergency response, mining and quarry, forestry and construction.
These rugged Super Duty trucks are built for really heavy towing, hauling, plowing, and off-road driving for work.
“Super Duty is a money machine for Ford, an absolute money machine,” said industry analyst John McElroy, host of “Autoline After Hours” webcast and podcast.
While the F-Series trucks generated more than $40 billion in revenue in 2021, more than Nike, Coke and Starbucks, it was Super Duty on its own that generated more than Southwest, Marriott or Nordstrom, according to the Fortune 500, Ford said in a news release Tuesday.
Super Duty heavy duty trucks alone would be a Fortune 500 company because it dominates with more than 50% of the market share in utility, mining, construction and emergency response, according to S&P Global Mobility, Ford said in its news release Tuesday.
Ford has disclosed in the past that F-Series is close to $50 billion in revenue and Super Duty is estimated to be a third of total F-Series production — and transaction prices are higher than the F-150.
Changing up style, design and capability sweetens the deal for companies looking to upgrade, McElroy said. “This is the top of the line truck segment, without getting into semi-trucks. I’m not going to say it’s recession proof but it’s overwhelmingly bought by companies because they need it. The Super Duty doesn’t climb as high in sales and it doesn’t fall as low. You can rely on it.”
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Features of the 2023 Super Duty include a powerful new engine, a hands-free trailer hookup, electricity for work tools and camping, easier bed access, a power opening and closing tailgate, cameras and reverse parking sensors for rear-object detection, even when the tailgate is open, and a security system that sends alerts to the driver’s smartphone if the trailer is disconnected.
‘Build our country’
Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds.com car review site, said, “What impresses me is how important the Super Duty is to Ford’s bottom line. It is an important vehicle because Ford is looking toward this electrified and autonomous future, which is going to be expensive to develop. Having a cornerstone profitable vehicle like the Super Duty is really going to help that along.”
Pricing for the 2023 Super Duty isn’t available yet. The 2022 Super Duty starts at roughly $40,000.
“Super Duty is the truck for people who build our country,” Farley said during the reveal Tuesday.
Freedom to push harder
Bresky grew up the son of a hairdresser and automotive designer at Budd Co., which supplied metal body parts to companies, including Ford. He has been central to the whole Super Duty truck line since the start.
“Aaron is 25 years with Super Duty and he knows the customer and product inside out,” said Andrew Kernahan, Super Duty chief program engineer. “Aaron is the anchor of the team who really understands the customer. Having that depth of perspective on Super Duty has been critical for putting together the 2023 model year. It really complements my experience, which is more diverse. I’ve worked on all kinds of vehicles, from (Ford) Fiesta to (Lincoln) Navigator.”
Experience gives Bresky the freedom to push harder, said Kernahan, 50, who has been at Ford 28 years.
“It happens very regularly where Aaron is very passionate about the product. He slows us down sometimes by saying, ‘This is team Super Duty. We need to do something different. We can’t accept no for an answer. We need to find a solution,’ ” Kernahan said. “As we’re running the project to deliver the program on time, it’s his can-do, we-will-find-a-way attitude that makes a difference.”
He added, “This truck’s got Aaron’s stamp throughout the vehicle, from the graphics to the heads-up display to the sideboard step on the cargo box. Aaron knows the customer because he is one. He knows it better than anyone on the team.”
That key player who spent four years on the high-dollar 2023 Super Duty still drives the original 1999 truck.
Yep, the one with an old six-speed stick shift. Not the new 10-speed automatic.
Because for Bresky, to remember the past helps shape the future. It started way back when he was 6.
Maybe next time
“My grandparents were managers and caretakers of a 330-unit apartment complex in Clinton Township. One of the duties they had to go do was maintain the grounds of the complex throughout each season,” he said.
“Grandpa would spend many hours snowplowing in the winter, a very condensed area with a lot of cars. His challenge was to move snow and have a clear path for everybody to access their vehicle and do what they needed to do. It was a huge challenge,” Bresky said. “I really loved spending time with grandpa plowing snow. I saw firsthand what his Ford F-250 made possible for him. That was the starting point for me. I’m 5 or 6 or 7 years old. I am sitting literally right next to him. As I got older, I could sort of kneel and see over the dashboard and he would actually let me help him plow with the controls.”
He loved his grandpa’s white work truck so much he asked to dress up as the Ford F-250 for Halloween. His family suggested he dress as grandpa instead, which sort of missed the whole point.
Back in the day, Ford built the F-250, F-350 and F-450, bigger trucks that weren’t called Super Duty yet. Still today, the numbers indicate payload capacity or how much cargo weight can be safely added. For example, an F-250 can handle three-quarter ton, an F-350 can handle 1 ton.
While tow and haul may sound the same to some people, towing refers to what is pulled behind the pickup truck on a trailer while hauling refers to how much can be loaded onto the back of a pickup or how heavy a body can be that is put onto the vehicle — for something like an ambulance, utility bucket truck, trash truck.
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Bresky told his mom he would one day drive a bigger truck than grandpa.
At the grocery store, the child played with matchbox cars and pleaded for toy cars with trailers.
“Maybe not this time but next time, could we get that one right there?” Aaron asked his mother, he said.
And Eleanor Bresky would smile and nod.
Bresky played with his battery-operated toy semi-truck and trailer in the kitchen at home. And he would ask his mother to sing the theme song from the popular film with Burt Reynolds, Sally Field and Jackie Gleason, “Smokey and the Bandit.” It was a high-speed adventure about a truck driver illegally running Coors beer across state lines and fleeing police in a 1977 Pontiac Trans Am.
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“I wanted her to sit there and sing it for hours,” Bresky said, as he started singing words to the song during his interview. “Then, back in the 2018 time frame, there was a Super Duty commercial and I ’bout fell out of my chair when I heard it. You know what they played? Smokey and the Bandit.”
Meanwhile, Bresky watched his grandparents and learned. Grandpa Anthony Bresky loved his Ford truck, his wife, Vivian, didn’t love it at all. She preferred driving her Oldsmobile. She struggled to get into the work truck because it didn’t have running boards that allowed her to step up with ease, and she often complained that she didn’t know why they had to drive a truck after work hours.
“I asked Grandpa why he’d drive a truck and he said, ‘Son, one day you’ll learn you can’t do much with a car,’ ” Bresky said.
His grandfather carried his tools in the truck, often helping drivers change flat tires, or pull people out of ditches.
Years later, Ford would study customers like Bresky’s family to design and create new Super Duty trucks.
“It helped impress upon me that a truck can really help him accomplish almost anything,” Aaron Bresky said. “I learned in that moment a truck helps define a person.”
Perhaps a moment of glory in the newest Super Duty is the fact that the range of fuel will take into account the weight being hauled and forecast mileage more effectively, Bresky said.
This comes from his talking to truck customers at fuel stations, parking lots or the nearest Home Depot, where he often offers to help customers load up supplies while listening to their ownership experience and “pain points.” A trailer that weighs 25,000 pounds or 30,000 will use more fuel, and this latest Super Duty doesn’t require any guessing because it will now provide the information on the dashboard.
“The range of the Super Duty will now be reflective of that towing of the heavy trailer,” he said. “Customers won’t have to wonder. In the past, the system monitoring was never tied to trailers. It doesn’t seem like much, from this distance to empty, but it’s so big. It used to take an average, where it adjusted throughout the whole towing journey, the distance to empty.”
From the nuts and the bolts to the noise from the engine and transmission, Bresky has done it all.
“It’s almost like a symphony,” he said. “It comes back to music theory, like B flat and B minor, is a spooky sound? That’s not a sound you’d want to convey. Is it a pleasant sound? You focus on major sounds like a common C chord, where it really sounds great and powerful. Where the customer is stepping into the throttle and demanding power. I want to hear that power. If you get it wrong, it’s not optimized.”
Years earlier, Bresky and his sister played the piano and his father played the accordion and one of many harmonicas. They would sing together, and the children created puppets with paper-mache and would do shows behind a refrigerator box. That music background since age 5, paired with his years of playing double bass in the high school orchestra, put Bresky on a creative path that went on to include rhythm in engineering.
“There’s a time when it’s your moment and a time when you’re supporting others,” Bresky said. “Everybody brings something unique to the table, whether it’s a quartet or a full orchestra. That, to me, is the parallel to engineering work.”
This latest project took four years, with Bresky managing a team of an estimated 500 people on a day-to-day basis.
ICE pays for tech
Super Duty trucks that run on gasoline and diesel will remain a core part of business for now because they are key to revenue needed to pay for new technology. Electric vehicle technology isn’t developed well enough yet to pull these heavy loads at a competitive price.
Bresky, who earned his bachelor of science degree and master’s in automotive engineering from Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, has been married to his wife, Susan, for 26 years. She’s an occupational therapist who specializes in patients with traumatic brain injury. They have two daughters, in high school and college, and pets, including an orange tabby cat named Henry Ford.
Susan Bresky, now 50, was there in that middle school room when their classmates laughed, her husband pointed out.
“At home, we lovingly refer to Aaron as ‘Mr. Ford’ because he is definitely a 24/7 brand ambassador,” Susan Bresky told the Free Press. “Our daughters have learned a great deal from Aaron about work ethic, commitment and loyalty. We are all super proud of him. Although, we often learn about his accomplishments by accident because he is very humble.”
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Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-618-1034 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid