Ford's new F-150 could have a huge payoff
The company is on track to become the world's No. 1 user of aluminum outside of the military.
The star of the 2014 Detroit Auto Show wasn't the latest sports coupe or futuristic concept car. It was the latest incarnation of the most mass-market vehicle in North America: the Ford F-150.
The buzz surrounding the truck had nothing to do with its styling or design (which met expectations for a "Ford Tough" look, with some big tech upgrades).
In doing so, Ford managed to cut the truck's weight by a massive 700 pounds, making it instantly more fuel efficient as well as enhancing its performance and making it rust-resistant. The aluminum alloys used by Ford are the same that have been used for years in aerospace and energy industries.
"This is a landmark step in truck design," says Don Sherman, technical director at Car and Driver. "Now, [Ford] can rightfully claim leadership in a key part of technology in the truck market. No one else is doing this to the extent that Ford is."
Ford isn't the first automaker to use aluminum in its vehicles. Luxury car brands like Audi and Jaguar have used it for years, and most new cars these days have an aluminum hood. But its adoption has remained limited because it costs more than steel and its use requires a wholesale makeover of manufacturing plants.
Ford is able to keep the additional costs in check by buying the aluminum in great volume (the F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle in America for more than 30 years), and leveraging economies of scale when it comes to production. If F-150 sales continue on pace, analysts say this change could make Ford the single largest user of aluminum other than the military.
Since trucks typically have far higher profit margins than cars, Ford also has a little bit more wiggle room to increase its costs while continuing to price the F-150 competitively.
"Pickups are a price-sensitive market, and Ford is not going to give up the crown of being number one in sales," says Daniel Hall, a vice president with research and consulting firm AutoPacific. "They'll price it aggressively to make sure that it still sells well, and they'll let the story be about the fuel economy."
Ford has not publicly released its fuel economy target for the aluminum F-150, but analysts expect it to fall in the 30 miles-per-gallon range. Increasing a truck’s efficiency from 25 mpg to 30 mpg could save a driver more than $2,300 after 100,000 miles.
"There may be some flexibility and adaptability for increasing prices, because consumers have come to understand that better fuel efficiency is going to cost a little bit more," says Stephanie Brinley, a senior analyst with IHS Automotive. In addition to the increased efficiency, the new truck boasts some high-tech features worth paying for, including a 360-degree camera, an 8-inch LCD screen in the instrument panel and a lane-keeping system designed to avert unintentional drifting.
Some critics contend that truck-driving consumers will scoff at the idea of driving an aluminum vehicle and wonder if it can really be as "Ford Tough" as a steel truck. Even with its lighter frame, however, the new truck can haul just as much as its predecessor did. The automaker logged more than 10 million miles testing the new truck, which included pulling trailers and heavy loads across both deserts and mountain passes.
F-150 buyers proved surprisingly adaptable a few years ago when Ford introduced the V-6 eco-boost turbo engine in trucks. "The V-6 has become even more successful than the V-8," says Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst at Edmunds.com. "I think the truck market is more progressive than people think. And when you're faced with the prospect of saving money on gas, it's hard to say no to that."
This holds particularly true for fleet operators, who make up a good chunk of F-150 buyers, and for whom incremental cost savings can add up. Buyers may also be concerned that repairs to aluminum trucks may be more costly than those on steel vehicles (which could result in higher insurance costs), and auto-body shops may not be equipped to handle such repairs. Ford has said that it’s already tackling those issues.
If the aluminum truck sells as well as Ford hopes, expect to see aluminum making its way into other trucks and cars. "There's no doubt that GM and others will follow this path to aluminum body construction, in part because once Ford clears the way and solves the manufacturing issues, and any issues with repairs and insurance, it becomes a lot easier for other manufacturers," Sherman says.
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I have owned approx. 20 new fords in the last 40 years-which includes the cars we bought the kids. We have never had to use warranty,my brothers bought chevy pickups for the farm and were in the shop constantly with four wheel drive and transmission issues. My father and I made my younger brothers buy Fords on the farm back in the early 1980's they were mad as hell at the time,but now they and their wives and kids all have fords. If you don't like working on cars buy a ford,if you're a good mechanic buy a chevy.
I have had numerous Ford cars/trucks.
I'm not planning on buying another new one. The reason is that ALL new trucks (Ford, GM, Dodge) have set pricing WAY too high. Only a fool would buy a vehicle based on monthly payments. You notice how the manufacturers/dealers extended financing to 84 months on some vehicles. Why charge so much?
For you youngsters here is an example of over pricing.
My 2001 F350 Lariat crew cab dually 4x4 w/7.3 TD had an MSRP of $34,675. The same one today is listed at over $80,000. Thats only 12 years and a markup of over 120%. Have most of you recieved a 120% pay increase the last 12 years? probably not.
Luxury automobiles (Audi, Mercedes, Lexus, etc.) were once priced much higher than trucks. Now they are much less expensive and still lead the way with new technology (Adaptive steering, sensors, cameras, GPS, internet connectivity, voice activation, etc.). Truck manufacturers are just getting up to speed by putting these in thier vehicles.
Don't get me started on the price of diesel rising 300% from .75/gallon in 2001.
I love my 2010 F-150 Platinum. No problems and no complaints
My comment is to question the article that says with this aluminum the truck will go from 25 mpg to 30 mpg.
I get 16-18 mpg on mine
Anybody out there getting 25 mpg in their F-150?
so they're using aluminum... the new F150 is rather MEH... imo ford could have done WAY better with the redesign...
for starters it's physically the same size as the old one. F150 is a bloated sow cow... it could stand to shave off quite a lot of weight downsizing alone, couple that with Aluminum and then you have some truely impressive weight loss and millage increase!
secondly it's ugly D: and what's not ugly looks EXACTLY LIKE THE CURRENT MODEL.
a so many gimics... self opening tailgate??? is it that hard to open a tailgate??? i mean usually you open the thing and then get whatever your gonna load then close it. not open it on the way to the truck and that still warrents you take your hand of what your holding and press a button :| also wouldn't the keys and said button be IN THE TRUCK!!!
could have done a lot better ford...
I bought a 2014 the turbo blew up w6000 miles wont never buy a ford again
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