Commentary

Ford's New F-150 Built Aluminum-Alloy Tough

When the North American International Auto Show opens in Detroit today, all eyes will be on the unveiling of a perennial bestseller with an entirely new skin. The 2015 Ford F-150 pickup truck will be the first mass-market vehicle made of lightweight aluminum alloys, shedding about 700 pounds in the process. 

“The all-new F-150 redefines the future of trucks,” according to Ford COO Mark Fields, and analysts seem inclined to agree. 

“The new F-150 will be the most important reveal in Detroit this year, not only because of its volume and market impact, but because it will establish a new standard for advanced design in the full-size truck segment,” Kelley Blue Book’s Karl Brauer tells the Los Angeles Times’ Jerry Hirsch and David Undercoffler.

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The retooled F-150 is due to arrive in showrooms during the fourth quarter of this year, Edmunds.com’s Dan Edmunds writes in an FAQ that touches on everything from its unique features to the models it will compete against: the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, the GMC Sierra 1500, the Dodge Ram 1500 and the Toyota Tundra.

The F-150’s “significant drop in weight allows a generally downsized engine lineup to do the same job, and the combination of lighter weight and smaller engines results in substantially higher fuel economy,” Edmunds points out. 

Ford has not yet released mileage figures but two sources tell Bloomberg’s Craig Trudell that it will be “closer to a 30 miles per gallon (12.75 kilometers per liter) highway rating, while the top-rated pickup in the F-150 lineup for the 2014 model year has a 23 mpg highway rating.”

“The F-150’s style is a near carbon copy of the Ford Atlas concept revealed at last year’s Detroit Auto Show, in particular its large six-sided grille and split headlamp arrangement; their chiseled shapes echoed by the interior design,” according to FoxNews.com.

The Wall Street Journal’s Mike Ramsey says the F-150 represents more than “a critical new product” for Ford. “It will mark a new era for the auto industry in which successfully managing big technological risks will separate winners from losers…. The new F-150 shows how automakers will need to take dramatic steps to meet demands to more than double gas mileage in the world's major markets by the middle of the next decade.”

“I've looked back at other periods where we have come off periods of success and then we stagnate and stumble, and I think it's because we stopped making big bets," Ford chairman Bill Ford Jr. tells Ramsey. “If anything, I've learned you have to go faster and bet bigger when you are doing well.”

Talking about bigger, the F-150 is both wider and taller in the cab —“tall enough,” in fact, “for the average driver to wear a construction helmet — or a Stetson,” Ramsey writes. 

It will still be Built Ford Tough, the company maintains. 

“It'll be harder for a heavy load to dent the bed than in the steel predecessor and harder for a shopping cart to ding the door in a parking lot, Ford swears,” James R. Healey reports in USA Today.

“All-new from the ground up,” says Pete Reyes, the truck's chief engineer. “High-strength aluminum alloy for the front end, all the cab, the box, tailgate,” he says, with a frame that has more high-strength, lightweight steel “stronger, but lighter.”

That steel frame means that the magnets will still stick to it, which means that “towing and hauling capacities (not yet announced) can be expected to increase by roughly the body-mass savings,” writesMotor Trend’s Frank Markus — a key consideration for the pickup market. As for the aluminum-alloy body, “we’re assured that it will resist dents and dings better than steel, and that it will not be substantially more expensive to repair (and hence to insure),” he reports — a key consideration for any market.

Ford sold 763,402 F-150s in 2013. “That's fully 40% of the U.S. truck market,” points out CNET, and it marked the “32nd year it's been the best-selling car of any kind” in the country (37th as the best-selling pickup). 

“This truck now accounts for one of every four sales Ford makes in the U.S., writes the Detroit Free Press’ Alisa Priddle. “It is the franchise vehicle. A botched launch or consumer skepticism … could dampen earnings.” 

So why would Ford want to go messing with a track record like that?

“We’ve done a lot of research,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas tells Priddle. “It’s the right way to go.”

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