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.

By The Fiscal Times Jan 16, 2014 2:06PM
Beth Braverman, The Fiscal Times

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).

Instead, the buzz focused almost entirely on the materials used in constructing the truck. Ford (F) eliminated most of the steel comprising the body of the vehicle, replacing it with lighter weight and more expensive aluminum.

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."
The move reflects a continued effort to meet impending federal rules that require automobile fleets to average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 (and 54.5 mpg by 2025), although there are specific fuel-economy requirements pegged to different sized cars. Ford has said that the aluminum F-150 will beat its fuel economy requirements. The F-150 comprises a quarter of Ford’s annual sales, so that would put the automaker leagues ahead of its competitors in terms of meeting the new federal standards.

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.Credit: © Gene J. Puska/AP
Caption: Ford logo on the grill of a Ford F-150 truck

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 "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.

Top Reads from The Fiscal Times

Jan 16, 2014 4:15PM
2-Expedations , one has 197k on it
1-Platinum F-150

Jan 16, 2014 5:00PM
If aluminum were weak, you wouldn't see 60-year-old airplanes still flying, nor would airliners or cargo planes be made out of it.  Steel sheetmetal isn't even strong.  It gets most of its dimensional strength by being stamped into shapes that give it rigidity.  The fact is, steel is used because it's cheap and easy to work with.  And in the bad old days of no foreign competition, I'm sure it was used because of its propensity to rust, enforcing the automakers' notions in the 50s-70s of planned obsolescence.
Jan 16, 2014 3:27PM

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.

Jan 16, 2014 5:03PM
My family has had 7 Ford Trucks and have had little trouble with them. Two went over 250,000 miles. I really don't think the aluminum will be a problem, the steel used in cars and trucks now is very think and dents easily. Just have to be careful just like the steel ones.            

Jan 16, 2014 6:10PM
I'm surprised the manufacturers haven't jettisoned steel before this.  I'm also mildly surprised they didn't go to composites instead of aluminum for fenders, door skins, and bed exterior panels.  The only things that need to be rigid are the structural elements of the cab and the bed box. Personally, I'd be totally cool with my pickup bed exterior being flexible plastic.  It would bounce back from the minor insults that have it looking like a demolition derby candidate.
Jan 21, 2014 5:20PM

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.

Jan 24, 2014 4:14PM

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?



Feb 4, 2014 3:21AM
I had a 95 Taurus with over 300k miles on it. Nothing ever went wrong with that beast, it took me across the country and back at 300k miles too. My Chevy Aveo, on the other hand... Regret ever buying that POS. I'd gladly trade it for a model ford ten years older and with 100k more miles on it. Straight up. 
Jan 28, 2014 11:50AM
My 1983 F150 with a inline 6 has been the best work truck I ever had paid 10K for it new, what do they want now 35K ? boy is that expensive plastic and you can't do your own maintains   
Feb 4, 2014 4:36PM
I am on my third F150 and love it. When my wife uses it guys just drool on it style and color. The F150 is the bet truck over all and will always be @1.
Jan 16, 2014 6:07PM
The problem here is the paint. Ford has an established record of serious paint problems on cars they have used aluminum body panels. I have a 2008 Expedition and the paint is peeling off the aluminum body parts. The author is correct in saying alot is riding on this. The F-150 is the no. 1 selling vehicle in America. If Ford has not corrected their manufacturing process with these aluminum body panels, they are doomed.
Feb 3, 2014 3:26PM
This is great news.  Aluminum is a super material and the only issue I've had with Ford is the rust.  I was looking for a used F150 recently and must have looked at 20 of them, all with major rust issues.Granted I was looking at less expensive vehicles, but still, they weren't that old. This will be great for Ford, great for new F150 owners and great for our country.  Well done, Ford.
Jan 27, 2014 7:29PM
Great idea but. I live in the northeast and they use salt on the roads in winter. Steel rusts but aluminum corrodes just as bad. I only hope that they did their homework on that one.
Feb 14, 2014 4:57PM
I cannot even imagine driving a truck that was not a Ford.  In reality, the Ford is the only truck to buy if you want, or need, a truck. Period.
Feb 4, 2014 11:54AM
Nothing really that new about this...My '74 Toyota Land Cruiser was an aluminum bodied vehicle...Just the first American vehicle made of aluminum, I guess
Feb 13, 2014 12:55AM
Jan 29, 2014 11:35AM

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...

Jan 16, 2014 3:07PM
This here article will draw the hardly dry behind the ears crowd that never knew what real cars and trucks were.  This will attract the crowd with the little bitty pickups with the great big tailpipes that make more racket than a loaded diesel.  You can spot them immediately after you hear them.  They will be the ones who lag behind when the traffic light turns green so they can "goose it" and they think eveyone around them wants to hear that noise.  There was a time when police would ticket somone for a loud muffller.
Jan 16, 2014 2:27PM
Yup,a lot of PLASTIC is riding on all cars now.  There was a time when real cars had real bumpers.  When one didn't crank, someone would simply push them off to crank the uncranked car.  Now, towtrucks are busier than ever.  Marketing strategy.  All use plastic.  Say it is for economy.  Say it is safer.  Okay, look at the facts.  They now disintergrate when bumped.  Bodyshops can't fix your car for weeks.  They have them lined up outside with "fist dents' in the bumpers.  Someone touched a post or maybe a runaway toy hit the bumper.  But, you still pay more for the plastic cars.  They don't rust as much but they do break more.  And, we call it "progress!!!"
Jan 16, 2014 3:36PM

 I bought a 2014 the turbo  blew up w6000  miles  wont never buy a ford again

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