2015 Ford F-150 – The Aluminum Gamble
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?
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?
Filed Under: Auto News