2015 Ford F-150 – The Aluminum Gamble

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At the 2014 North American International Auto Show, Ford will unveil the 2015 Ford F-150 (Tim will be there btw). It is becoming one of the most anticipated product reveals in years and it is also a big gamble. Ford plans on using aluminum on a scale that has so far been unprecedented. Will it pay off?

2015 Ford F-150 - The Aluminum Gamble

Ford is planning a big gamble on their 2015 pickup. Will it pay off?

Ford, more than any other automaker relies on one product. According to a Barclays estimate in 2011, Ford gets a third of its $8.8 billion global operating profit from this one vehicle.

The 2015 launch comes at a critical time for Ford. They just posted a $1.75 Billion loss in Europe and Asia sales are paltry at best. In the U.S., Ford’s cars, the Focus and Fiesta, may sell lots of volume, they don’t have the profit margin the trucks do. Last year, Ford sold 645,361 F-series trucks which is 30 percent of all its vehicles sold.

Also, new competition has emerged which is challenging Ford’s standing as the top selling pickup. Ram, long the also-ran Big 3 truck maker, has finally improved its quality (we hear), has adopted many new features and has won the last 2 Truck of Texas awards. GM just released their brand new Sierra and Silverado with new engines and all new interiors. Toyota recently launched its new Tundra and has its sights set on gaining market share. Nissan is planning a brand new, diesel powered model that could steal even more sales.

The Aluminum Gamble

Ford plans on pushing back at the new competition by using aluminum – a lot of it. Current estimates are that Ford will cut 700 lbs of steel from the truck which should result in a 7 percent increase in MPG.

The much cutting comes at a price. Aluminum trucks could add upwards of $1,500 in costs according to a study done by Ducker Worldwide. Basically, their study found that auto makers will spend $1.50-2 to cut one pound of steel out of a vehicle.

Also, aluminum is more difficult to work with since it will tear if pressed to hard, is more springy and likely to resist stamping and scratches easier. Also giant magnets currently move steel around a factory, aluminum requires “powerful and electricity-hungry vacuums to be used to pick up the aluminum sheets for transfer” due to its lack of magnetism, according to a Wall Street Journal story.

Other truck makers have looked at aluminum, instead of steel, as the answer to cutting weight and thus improving MPG to meet consumer and CAFE requirements (most likely including Toyota). The use of aluminum has been done before with Audi, Jaguar and Land Rover using it. Yet, it hasn’t been done to the scale that Ford plans to do it.

The big drawback to using aluminum besides price and difficulty to work with is perception. It is perceived to not be as strong as steel. This is a big challenge for Ford since it has built its brand around “Ford Tough.” Losing this branding message could drastically cut sales translating into a big drop in Ford’s profitability.

Ford has said its next-gen Ford F-150 will look a lot like its Atlas concept that was unveiled at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show. That truck included an 8-speed transmission, active grille shutters and wheel shutters. While the wheel shutters is probably a stretch to implement, the 8-speed transmission and active grille shutters are probably a done deal.

The best result for Ford is an Ecoboost powered, 8-speed transmission with an aluminum body having the better MPG and the same towing and durability of its current truck.

The worst result? The aluminum body turns out to bend easily and not withstand a beating. Ford trucks become known as the weakest and cheapest trucks on the market, gutting Ford’s reputation and sales. Toyota, GM and RAM quickly capitalize and Ford loses an incredible amount of market share.

The 2015 Ford F-150 certainly is a big gamble with a big payoff. What do you think? Is it too big of gamble or is Ford on the right tract?

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  1. mendonsy says:

    I wonder how long it will be before the first “made from recycled beer cans” ad shows up.

  2. Brian J says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: F-150 is Ford’s cash cow. They are NOT going to release anything that would screw up their leadership in trucks. It would be like Toyota changing the Camry drastically in size or composition. Unless it will help boost sales, it won’t happen. As CAFE standards continue to tighten down on trucks, you will start seeing more of this. Materials will change and prices will go up all so the government can collect more taxes from the consumer at the point of sale. After all, they are losing money on gas with more efficient cars (i.e. selling less gas and therefore less taxes). That money has to come from somewhere. Problem solved.

  3. DJ says:

    One thing you can bet on is the F-150 towing and payload capacity will magically rise by 500-700 lbs with no explanation and no adherance to new towing standards.

  4. Brian says:

    I heard Ford was going to a tundra style frame. Is there any truth to that? I think that would be a good move. Tundra I think has the best mix of frame, power and durability.

    • Tim Esterdahl says:

      Brian,

      I heard the same thing on forums. However, when I did research into it, I couldn’t find a Ford source that was saying it. The only news I found was that the press release for the Atlas states it is a steel frame NOT aluminum. Apparently, there was lots of concern that Ford would make it an aluminum frame. I can certainly see that concern.

      -Tim

  5. Breathing borla says:

    Interesting article Tim!

    Can’t wait to see how this turns out! The atlas does look pretty sweet. Any word of a newer larger V8? Or are they carrying over the dinosaur 6.2

    • Tim Esterdahl says:

      Breathing Borla,

      Thanks! I took your feedback and turned it into this article.

      No word on engine updates. I can’t see them doing much though with the larger displacement. I think they have put all the eggs into the turbocharged basket.

      -Tim

      • breathing borla says:

        ya, your probably right. I just don’t like fords engine line up. The ecoboost just isn’t for me. I like large V8 sound etc when I fired it up or push the fun pedal. The 5.0 is down on HP/LBS. The 6.2 is a dinosaur and gets 13 combined mileage, which is really crap compared to everyone else.

        I think toyota (5.7) Ram (5.7) and GM (new 6.2) all have it right having high power large V8s and at least 15-17 MPG combined. Ram and Gm are also getting good highway MPG (20+) with these, and I am sure toyota will be improving that in the coming year or two.

        now, the MPG I listed is based off the sticker, not individual driving, just to be clear.

        for the record, my Ram through 10K miles(ish) has gotten pretty much what’s on the sticker at 15/21, non-winter blend fuel, sounds awesome and has tons of power.

        again, the Atlas looks promising, but I just think Ford needs something in the large V8 that competes with GM and Ram and soon to be toyota with 20+ highway and at least 17 combined.

        • Shawn says:

          I find nothing wrong with Fords 6.2.
          GM 6.2
          Toyotas 5.7
          I don’t know where you all get these mpg’s
          Stop reading the dang sticker.
          I know of owners of all three…
          They religiously Get high teens and low twenty.

          Ford does their homework and this truck will be just fine.
          Only closed minded people will have issues with it even when its in the showroom floor

          • breathing borla says:

            no offense bud,

            so your telling me don’t go by the sticker when the EPA test is the same for everyone, instead go by 3 of your buddies who happen to get better mileage?

            really?

            no thanks, the sticker is the best apples to apples comparison, and the Ford 6.2 gets by far the worst mileage, not even close really.

            If it was a 1-2 MPG it wouldn’t matter, but the others are 3,4,5+ better.

            and that close minded thing doesn’t apply to me, I have owned a ton of toyotas and now own a Ram, almost bought a Sierra years ago when shopping for another tundra. I buy what I like, and that’s not Ford for now. This new one may change my mind, but like I said above, I don’t like the engine options. To each his own

  6. Mickey says:

    Interesting I can say the least. Just wait and see what happens.

  7. GoBig says:

    I wonder when the use of composites will become more common in the truck industry? I know they are expensive, but they are used extensively in aviation, motorcycles, and snowmobiles these days.

    I’m sure Ford will do fine with the 150. They have a huge base that buys them no matter how ugly the vehicle is. (not to mention gigantic government fleet sales)

    • Larry says:

      Composites have a place but they are expensive. I am a boat builder and have been using many composite for a long time. Some like carbon are very strong but will take no abuse as they are brittle. Kevlar is difficult to work with. In time many internal components will see carbon fiber due to it’s weight but carbon will not work in any place where impact is possible. There are also complex weave which incorporate many types of fiber to get the best of all properties.

      As for the cost ,10 ounce fabric prices for plain weave cloth

      glass 6 dollars a yard
      kevlar 24 dollars a yard
      carbon 50 dollar a yard
      epoxy 30 a gallon at 100 gallon pricing
      polyester resin is cheaper but not as good as epoxy

      it goes up from there as the weave and resins get more complex.

      If we can save weigh on an aircraft with composites we can do the same with autos/trucks but, the aircraft are many times the price of a truck.

      Stamping a metal part is much faster then vacuum bagging a part with composite fabric and resin. Autoclave curing adds even more.

      All most none of this wold be happening if not for CAFE. Some is good but they may be pushing it too fast.

      We are going to see the US consumer being used as the test department for all of this. Any good parts will be taken over to the 3/4 ton heavy duty line. When it get to that side of the fence we will know it’s worth buying.

      With median income in the US being 50000 a year, I really wonder who is going to be able to pay for all these things.

  8. Randy says:

    I would buy one for sure!

    As long as it had the Tundra 5.7 V8 and was backed up by Toyota and not Ford. (and the tranny, power steering, HVAC, auto glass, etc. you get the idea)

  9. Larry says:

    This is a huge gamble for Ford and it will payoff for sure IF, they get it right.

    Bolt aluminum to a piece of steel an put the part in a bucket of salt water.

    The electrical reaction between dissimilar metals can melt attachment points. If Ford gets this right, they will be way ahead. Will they get it right, I sure wouldn’t want to find out with my 50,000 dollars. If they couldn’t managed a spark plug which has been around for 100 years, how will they get this right. Just think about a dead ecoboost motor with 2 dead turbos and an aluminum body which is falling off the truck in just 5 years.

    This is a bold move and I want to see Ford make it work. If they get it right every other truck builder will need top what Ford does. A top notch high quality aluminum body F150 will mean Tundra will also get much better.

    For now, stick with Tundra and play it safe with what we know works until it’s proven.

    • Tim Esterdahl says:

      Larry,

      This time I think your advice is really wise. This time! LOL!

      I really don’t think Ford will screw it up, BUT it is a gamble since as you point out, mixing metals hasn’t traditionally been wise.

      We shall see.

      -Tim

      • Randy says:

        Keep in mind Ford has mixed things up before, like adding water to an internal combustion engine. If they were trying (and still trying) to make it run on water they have not figured it out yet!

  10. ricqik says:

    If you live in the salt belt like me up here in MN. You will know first hand what salt corrosion does to aluminum. Plus I can’t imagine taking the truck through some car wash and having the panels dent by the dryers blowing at it.

  11. Mike T says:

    Many companies have looked at aluminum, instead of steel, as the answer to cutting weight.
    Same is the case for Ford is.it has said its next-gen Ford F-150 will look a lot like its Atlas concept that was unveiled at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show.
    This truck will cut off about 700lbs of weight and increase of about 7% in fuel economy.
    its amazing !!!

  12. Mickey says:

    Mike they can try all kinds of ways to cover that aluminum. It will still have corrosion. Corrosion weakens the metal. All I can say is “Houston we have an issue”.

  13. Randy says:

    There is no question the Ford F150 Ecoboost is the premier leader for engineering excellence and builds the best half-ton pickup. Or is it?

    PBS Nova Asteroid: Doomsday or Payday?

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/e.....msday.html

    Whether you are using exotic metals or creating rocket fuel as you drive with the F150 Ecoboost you will soon have both! Scroll forward to the following minute markers in the PBS Special to learn more.

    40: Metals
    42: Water
    43: Rocket Fuel
    43: H20
    44: Fuel
    45: Automotive Applications

    As others have said: Are you willing to gamble your $50,000?

    We already know the water part of Ford’s application has not worked at all.

    And as others have said: In Houston there is a BIG problem!

    • Larry says:

      Randy, strange you mention rockets.

      Each year I go out to the Salt Flats where friends launch rockets for 3 days in Aug. When I get home my truck might have 100 pounds of salt stuck to the under side. It’s a major pain to remove it. It gets into all kinds of hidden places. I get some off with a garden hose then go through about 5 bucks at a high pressure car wash to get the rest. Weeks later I still find salt falling off from places I didn’t get clean.

      With an aluminum/steel makeup, 1 day on the salt flats cold be like an entire winters worth of highway salt.

      I have a feeling that aluminum is going to be a major part of the modern 1/2 ton truck. I can’t think of any other way to remove weight and Ford will have an advantage by being first if they get it right. While I don’t like the EcoBoost engine I can see why many do like it and Ford is on the way to resolving the technical issue. Ford is in a position to move years ahead with the risks they are taking on. Then again they shoot them self in the foot when they can’t keep a spark plug in a cylinder head because there don’t have enough threads or they can’t get them out. There is potential for a home run of the biggest set of problems they have ever seen.

      As for rockets, if there is a rocket club in your area find out when they have a launch day and go watch. I get to see kids launching their first 25 dollar kits all the way up to 15 foot 2 stage suckers which sometimes make it to 20000 feet. Major fun and it usually cost nothing.

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