By on July 27, 2012

The Wall Street Journal has a long article about Ford “working on one of the biggest gambles in its 108-year history: a pickup truck with a largely aluminum body.” Ford will make parts of its next generation F150 from aluminum to save some 700 lbs, which “would enable Ford’s trucks to go farther on a gallon of gasoline, and open the door to other changes, such as the use of smaller engines.” The fear is that some people will think Ford is building a truck for sissies.

In a world where weight is regarded as strength, aluminum is often associated with a beer soda can that any good old boy can crush with one hand and then toss it in an environmentally responsible manner out of the window and in the back of the truck.

Some automotive engineers will tell you that certain aluminum alloys can actually be stronger than high tensile steel. Most importantly, in addition to being lighter than steel, aluminum alloy allows you to build stiffer bodies, important for both driving dynamics and crash-worthiness.

Aluminum also has its drawbacks. It is a bitch to weld. Body repairs usually must be done by specialized shops that charge very special prices.

To get the full benefit of an all-aluminum body, it must be redesigned from the ground up, including completely redesigned production engineering. For instance, the article complains that ”a big headache is the lack of magnetism, requiring powerful and electricity-hungry vacuums to be used to pick up the aluminum sheets for transfer. Assembly plants now use giant magnets to move steel body panels around.”  This produces shudders at Volkswagen engineers. There, even steel sheets are moved via vacuum, simply to avoid the marring by the magnets.

The biggest problem is the PR problem. The public could be educated that aluminum can be better than steel – but then, comparisons would have to be made with steel. A company that still makes most of its cars from steel will avoid this comparison. And will have to deal with the misconceptions.

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134 Comments on “Is Ford Building Trucks As Solid As Coke Cans?...”


  • avatar

    Or just make a smaller truck, closer to the F150′s size in the 70s-90s.

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      “Or just make a smaller truck….”

      You know, like that awesome Ranger they don’t let us have here. To protect F-150 sales. Yeah, that one.

      • 0 avatar
        ott

        -Seconded. What a dumb move.

      • 0 avatar
        Volt 230

        Ask Honda if it worked for them?

      • 0 avatar
        play3rtwo

        So glad i bought my ranger when I did.

      • 0 avatar
        Bill Wade

        I have a 2010 XLT diesel Ranger crew cab. It’s a great truck and I’m really annoyed I can’t purchase one in the US. I’ll NEVER buy one of the bloated barges that Detroit is trying to foist on us now. It doesn’t make sense.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Ford is making a big mistake, IMO, but time will tell.

        I’d bet that more F series trucks see abuse and harsh conditions than all but a few other vehicles (e.g. Jeep Wranglers, Tow Trucks, etc.). In fact, I’d be willing to wager that at least a quarter and probably a higher percentage of F series trucks see regular duty in more harsh conditions, being subject to dents, dirt, debris and duty of the rough kind, on construction sites, road crews, and other various dedicated work tasks, than probably any other high volume vehicle sold in the U.S.

        Having aluminum body panels and exterior skin is going to not only result in higher cost of production and pricing, but higher insurance costs, as well, due to the inevitably expensive repairs that will be required when these trucks get bashed up on the job site and in everyday motoring.

        I realize that shaving weight off a vehicle isn’t easy to do, and is probably even harder to do with a 1/4 ton to 1/2 ton pickup, but Ford would certainly be better off to compromise its target goal, and find a less complicated and expensive way to maybe shed 450 pounds versus 700 pounds of vehicle curb weight without having to resort to extensive use of aluminum.

        Bad idea.

      • 0 avatar
        Toucan

        DeadWeight

        > Bad idea.

        +1

        1) 700 lbs savings is purified BS. Jaguar XJ shaves 260 lbs in comparison with the matching BMW 7-series. And it has both the body AND the platform made of aluminum.

        2) Why is aluminium used on most expensive luxury/sports cars? How much do their usage scenarios fit the one of a workhorse pickup?

        3) BMW 7 is 20% more fuel efficient than XJ, at least in its 90% volume trim. And faster. So no, it is not the weight that is the MPG key contributung factor. Did Ford already use all others efficiency measures?

        4) Large pickups are not meant for stop-and-go traffic, are they? On highways and country lanes, in turn, weight matters little. With F-150 brick-alike aerodynamics and taking this truck driving profile into account, I suspect 1 MPG real life improvement over a steel one.

        To sum up, ann idiotic idea brought by WSJ writers who just have no clue what they are reporting about. TTAC, please quote them with care.

      • 0 avatar
        jaje

        Why no light duty diesel engine in the F150? That would give you commensurate towing power with a 30% increase in mileage without having to significantly lighten it. How much better mileage would you have if they also did both?

        I do agree that today’s trucks are too big for most of their owners – most people need “man steps” to get into the bed of one b/c they need a foot of ground clearance to make sure they can drive over a 5″ curb to park in the grass at a soccer game or go over a speed bump at the parking garage while they almost scrape the roof. They also need 8,000 lbs of towing capability to tow a 3,000 lb boat/trailer combo.

        I finally got rid of my last pickup b/c it was just too big and I couldn’t park it in my garage or driveway. I instead bought a used Jeep Grand Cherokee with the 3.0 CRD (same as the Sprinter and e class diesel Benz). It gets mid 20′s mpg highway even though it is 4wd and quite heavy. But I can also park it in my garage as it takes up the space of a mid size car but just happens to be taller.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Which, as sales numbers have and are proving, won’t sell enough to be worth the cost.

      Trucks get “adequate” highway mileage. City mileage is atrocious, but truck buyers by and large don’t care. There’s no way to make a small truck cheap enough and sell in enough volume to cope, and even if you did the “sissy” factor would come into play.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      @Sajeev Mehta – Current F-150s have about a 14″ longer snout than ’70s to ’90s, but the proportionately roomier cab is exactly what was needed. I still drive my reg cab ’86 around the farm and it’s just too confining.

      New trucks have the same girth as the old ones, but who really cares about the 1 foot longer length, especially when buying anything other than a regular cab, short bed?

      I’m sure almost all owners of full-size trucks will agree that they’re exactly the right scale from the firewall back.

      If OEMs make them lighter, more fuel efficient and rust resistant, they’ve got my blessing.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Too high a bed height seems like an almost universal complaint to me. Everyone seems to want the low beds of the past.

        Part of the problem seems to be a one-size-fits all mentality amongst truck makers. All trucks have to be both load carriers, beergut haulers, and offroad machines. So, instead of low-to-the ground frames and compact wheelhouses like Euro Vans, one ends up with whatever one hauls a foot too high up in the air, dogs with shoulder damage from jumping off the liftgate, and all other manners of dysfunctions.

        Since many truck buyers do indeed need to sometime haul crews, sometime haul big stuff, and sometime drive off road, it may be the best possible compromise, but it is still one heck of a nasty compromise compared to having a more specialized vehicle for each task.

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    Take a page from Apple and come up with a cool tradename for the aluminum alloy. Name it after a ferocious animal of call it Superluminum or something.

    • 0 avatar
      Viquitor

      I’d go with Adamantium.

      I can almost smell GM adds saying things like “Silverado: Real Steel Tough Truck”.

      • 0 avatar
        Volts On Fire

        GM should be very careful with any such insinuation, given how its current truck line has a well-known reputation for laughably fragile body panels. They pretty much dent if you so much as sneeze on them.

        According to owners, they are extremely prone to rust, too.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        Hmmm… a truck made from Adamantium and named Wolverine. I’d drive it!

    • 0 avatar
      npbheights

      In Car: A Drama of The America Workplace, Ford employees admired the name “Northstar” that GM used for their new DOHC engine. They felt that is was much more intriguing than their own name “Duratec” for their new DOHC engine.
      On the aluminum topic, I believe that Panthers used aluminum for the hood and trunk for nearly 20 years and I have never seen them referred to as “weak” of “sissified” because of it. Audi A8′s are all aluminum, and they are pretty awesome vehicles as well.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Alu is good for stiffness/strength per weight, but not so good for stiffness/strength per volume. If you’re trying to squeeze as much usable space into a given volume car, steel is still the way to go.

        I don’t know which parts of their trucks Ford are considering making out of alu, but if it is the frame itself, another complication is that many aftermarket shops hang things of the frames, and the softer nature of alu, and it’s greater propensity to fatigue, makes redneck engineering more likely to fail catastrophically; which is likely a bigger issue in a truck than in an A8 :)

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Trunk lids of Panthers have never been made of aluminum but the hoods of the aero Panthers were aluminum until the 98 redesign/de-contenting and no they were not weak and the Panther has continuously had one of the lowest insurance costs relative to the cost of the vehicle. Yes some of that is due to the average owner’s relative risk but also due to the fact that they are cheap to repair. The 03 up Panthers used an aluminum front cross-member to mount the front suspension and engine and they stand up to HD police or taxi use. So yeah aluminum if done right is not weak or sissified.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    +1 Sajeev,
    one of the joys of owning an old-school truck is the ability to hang around with a cold one at the end of the day, elbows on the side of the bed, jawing with your buddies about whatever project is at hand.
    With these new trucks, you need a ladder.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I can rest my elbow quite comfortably on a modern pickup’s bed. Of course, I’m also six foot eight.

      So the problem, really, is that you’re all too short.

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        Absolutely. Back when beds were low enough for the vertically challenged, those afflicted would mostly raise the whole truck and add a tree house ladder anyway.

      • 0 avatar
        carbiz

        LMAO! …”too short..”
        During one of GM’s Product Knowledge junkets,they had a the D3 trucks side by side and we spent the day going over each vehicles highs/lows. This would have been ’06 or ’05, I believe. Anyway, the ‘all new’ Ram looked great, but I managed to break the stereo speaker hatch/gizmo behind the rear seat, so that pretty much set the tone for the Ram. The F-150 had the better interior, based on looks alone, but what struck me the most about the non-GM trucks is the fact that they were built to look big for bigness’ sake! At 6’2″, I could barely reach over the side wall of the Ford and Dodge to touch the bed. The Chevy was easy. Yet, the GM had a slightly higher road clearance.
        Allegations of premature rusting aside (my sister’s ’04 Silverado has survived 9 Ontario winters – and she never washes the beast!) I long felt GM spent too many development dollars (hydro forming the frame, using a single sheet of metal for the entire box (as opposed to Ford’s 18 piece – ok, I exaggerate a tad) and all the other stuff GM put in their trucks that nobody else (at the time) was. On price, we’d steer the customer over to Dodge. Otherwise, there are very good reasons that the F-150 and Silverado/Sierra have been at the top of the sales charts forever.
        And I’ll never forget the day the new Silverado 3500 arrived on the lot, with duallies and the Diesel: what a beast. It was for a long standing client of the dealership who had a tire business. The fleet manager came out and surveyed the truck, then asked me if I’d ever met the purchaser in person. When I said that I hadn’t, the fleet manager turned away and said,”Don’t worry, I’ll find a 2500HD for him – he’s 5’2″ tall!”

    • 0 avatar
      DubTee1480

      This is one reason I hang on to my 93 GMC Sonoma (the other is I don’t care to buy a new truck when this one serves me well). I can load a washer and a dryer by myself due to the lower deck height. I have loaded a fridge by myself with just a hand truck but it’s a major PITA. This (lower deck height) doesn’t seem possible on any trucks made after the mid to late 90′s without altering the stock suspension, even large quantities of the mini-trucks had a heavy rake or a prerunner look, presumably to appear more aggressively truck-ish. If they still offered lower height trucks they weren’t nearly as easy to come by.

  • avatar
    JMII

    The strength of a truck comes from its frame and its bed, thus I don’t see a problem with aluminum body panels (hood, roof & doors). Given the damage truck beds take a composite bed would be better then steal anyway. 700lbs is a signification weight savings, for example the small boat I tow each weekend is 900lbs in hull alone (not including trailer, motor and assorted gear).

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      Yes, skip the aluminum and go straight to composite. Any pilot knows if you want strength, aluminum isn’t the answer. When I traded my composite plane for an aluminum one it was only because I could get one with a steel frame.

  • avatar
    wumpus

    First, hire a Boeing CEO and next thing he wants to use aircraft materials…

    The big problem is that the truck market is more southern than northern, and most salt is sprayed in the north. I’m sure plenty salt-belt truck buyers are ready to plunk down money on a rust-free truck (although my first engineering boss insisted that aluminum could rust if you hit it with enough sea spray, need more data).

    • 0 avatar
      Off a Cliff

      There are also large truck markets in OH, PA, MI, CO, MN, and many other northern cold (a few months of the year) salts places.

    • 0 avatar
      DubTee1480

      Not so much rust, but it will corrode and oxidize pretty badly. Once the outer layer oxidizes though it will not “eat through” like iron rust it just stops unless you scrape it off and expose fresh aluminum. I sell industrial controls and oil rigs operators prefer their cast aluminum explosion proof enclosures coated in epoxy. Or they opt for stainless steel, but those are pretty pricey.

    • 0 avatar
      Sinistermisterman

      Take a look at any older Landrover, and there you will see the wonders of galvanic corrosion where aluminium bodywork meets steel frame. Sure your bodywork never rusts, but how about nearly every point on the frame where it touches the bodywork? It can get real ugly.

      • 0 avatar
        TCragg

        UPS trucks are like that as well. The dissimilar metal contact causes the aluminum bodies to oxidize into a white powder. Older UPS trucks are usually crushed not because of worn-out mechanicals, but because the frames and floors rot away beyond repair.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        TCraig UPS trucks are crushed because they don’t want anyone posing as a UPS driver, for what ever reason and they have been fully depreciated not that they are at the end of their service life. They have a proprietary nose made for them on most. A local wrecking yard gets the ones from my area and as part of the contract they can only remove and sell the batteries, tires and wheels and they must video the complete truck, with the unit number and contract number markings spray painted on the side going into the crusher intact less fluids and items above, the crusher cycling and the van being removed and send it to UPS to keep the contract. Totally strange but true.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    “The new body is made from aluminum, which is the same material used to build airplanes. The weight savings makes for a better-driving, more fuel-efficient truck that can haul more with the same engine. It will cost more to repair in a crash.”

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Aluminum won’t rust like steel although it can corrode in some environments. Al can fail suddenly unlike steel which will bend when exposed to stress. Welding is a concern but most body work is done with hammers and bondo, something aluminum can be worked with but with different results.

    How about a carbon fiber body on the F150? They could call it the LF-150

    • 0 avatar
      Jellodyne

      LF stands for Lexus Future, so Ford would have to come up with something else for the F to stand for.

    • 0 avatar
      Off a Cliff

      When does Al suddenly fail. You are correct that it doesn’t have the capacity for ‘infinite life’ like steel does, but the stress levels that the steel undergoes are often above the ‘infinite’ threshhold. When designed properly, Aluminum will last just as long.

    • 0 avatar
      Feds

      The cyclic failure implications are pretty limited in a body panel, as it’s generally not loaded anywhere near its limits, and it’s fastened redundantly, so something like a bolt hole cracking through wouldn’t cause a failure.

      I know it’s only been 16 years, but I don’t hear widespread reports of Elises cracking in half (nor NSX’s, nor Audi’s) and these are applications where the aluminium is structural.

  • avatar
    Hank

    Two comparisons will help with the F150 buyer (pay attention, Ford):

    1. The benefits of aluminum in trailers. This is well known among many of their buyers, from car-haulers to ranchers. Yes, that will bring up the welding issue, but fewer weld their pickups than weld their trailers.

    2. Aircraft aluminum. It always conveys lightness, strength, and durability to those in the know, and again, many of the F150 buyers will relate.

  • avatar
    Syke

    I’ve got no doubt that the proposed F-150 is going to be a better truck than the current one. The hard part is going to be the marketing. I can already see a Friday night gathering of the good ‘ol boys at the local roadhouse, and the snide comments of “beer can” being tossed to the Ford owners. Of course, Chevrolet and Ram advertising will be based on their making a “real” steel truck. The marketing of the finished product is going to be as much of a challenge as the design and production.

    • 0 avatar
      toxicroach

      Given the take rate on the Ecoboost, which shocked a lot of people who thought a V-6 wasn’t masculine enough, I suspect there’s a large contingent of truck buyers who lose interest in the dick measuring contest when they fill their gas tanks. As long as it looks boss they’ll get over it.

      Do some ads with a P-51 Mustang (made of aluminimun!) shooting some nazis or doing some aero tricks, connect that to the new F-150s, make it out to be a premium product that also saves you a crap load of money in gas, and boom. Done deal.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        Better yet a B-17 fire-bombing Dresden, or maybe the Enola Gay.

      • 0 avatar
        Chicago Dude

        Show a picture of the new F-150 bed filled with empty beer cans and the subtitle “This is how much money you save each month at the gas pump”.

        Easy. Good ‘ol Boys aren’t stupid.

      • 0 avatar
        Robert.Walter

        Show the publicity pics of Ford building B-24 Liberators in Willow Run. Mass-produced heavy-duty aircraft experience … Other auto OEMs built military aircraft (GM/Fisher, Mitsubishi, Nakajima/Fuji Heavy/Subaru, etc.) but none built such a large plane or one at such a fast hourly production rate.

  • avatar
    morbo

    The engineer in me says awesome. An F-150 that weights 3,000-ish pounds, runs a 30MPG motor, and can still haul with the best of them. sign me up.

    Then I remembered the Tundra commercials when they launched the ’07 upsize. “They’re Brakes are this big. Our Brakes ARE THIS BIG” Ignoring the fact that bigger yet cheaper materials are worse off then smaller yet intellegently designed brakes.

    The masses ain’t have no soda can car. The only way it’s going to work is a massive PR campaign. crashing them, bending them, torture testing them in commercials. And then you’re still going to have to redesign the rest of your fleet to Aluminum, cause you’re a hypocrite otherwise selling aluminum in your profittable trucks and cheap steel elsewhere. Maybe a military tie-in with Aluminum planes or something to convey Aluminum as tough and rugged.

    Still, hope they pull it off.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    As other people have said, simply point out that this is what airplanes have been made out of for decades. Get some file footage from Mullaly’s old employer of their B-17 Flying Fortress all shot to hell and still flying home. Mentioning the rust free nature of aluminum is a good idea too. Bear in mind that salt and rust isn’t just an issue on the salted roads of the north, but any of the coastal regions of the deep south.

  • avatar
    th009

    700 lbs from a 5000-lb truck is a lot of weight. Likely the aluminium won’t be used for frame rails, suspension, tires, seats, air conditioners etc so you are really left with body panels and maybe the frame of the cab. To take 700 lbs out of those probably means the use of nearly 100% aluminium for those.

    This would be by far the biggest-volume venture for aluminium-based automotive manufacturing. Audi’s A8 and R8 have far smaller volumes, and while they have pioneered aluminium construction, the manufacturing has still been too expensive for the mass market until now.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Actually aluminum is virtually the only metal in modern air conditioners.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Yup. And wheels are often magnesium alloy, not steel.

        Likewise there’s absolutely nothing about a seat frame system that precludes it being aluminum (well, you probably still want steel springs, but the frame can be aluminum easily enough).

        (I agree that Ford is unlikely to make an aluminum frame for the F-150, but there’s no reason they couldn’t – and an all aluminum machine gets rid of any possible dielectric corrosion.)

        I think people who believe magnesium alloy superior to steel for the four things that hold all the weight of the car might somehow accept aluminum parts elsewhere.

        Pure aluminum body panels and cab frame makes sense, and economies of scale make it cheaper per unit – Ford makes a lot of F-150s, after all. (And can use the same technology and probably the same tooling in the 250 and 350 if/when it’s successful in the 150.)

        (I don’t have the numbers offhand but I would not be surprised if Ford makes more F-150s a month than Audi has sold R8s total, and A8s in a year year.)

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The Prius uses magnesium for the seat frames to offset some of the weight of the 600lb gorilla known as the Hybrid Synergy Drive ECVT.

    • 0 avatar
      James2

      How has Jaguar’s all-aluminum XJ sold vs. the A8?

  • avatar
    noxioux

    Let’s have that tinfoil pickup with a Hello Kitty graphics package and truck nuts that haven’t dropped yet.

    Rub up against one little oak tree and it would look like you rolled it. Smack one little mule deer and your soda can, sissy pickup will be in a landfill. Try to throw a cinder block down from a roof into that composite bed and see how well you like the sound of $10,000 worth of carbon fiber crunching into useless splinters. Thanks, but you can go ahead and keep those 3-5mpg.

    When you think truck, think mid-70′s F-series. Make them out of cast iron and bailing wire. They might be rusted out, gas swilling pigs, but at least they’re still REAL TRUCKS.

    I’m almost surprised there’s not a postscript to this article talking about how a chopped Prius-V would make an ideal pickup, if the neanderthals would just get with the program.

    • 0 avatar
      toxicroach

      Really bud?

      It’s still, you know, metal. Metal that is tough enough for combat aircraft. It hasn’t been used in vehicles so far because its too expensive, not because it is inferior.

      At one point in history aluminum was more expensive than gold. The fancy guests got aluminum silverware, while the B listers got silver silverware.

      • 0 avatar
        Dubbed

        Aluminum was so “fancy” in the 1880′s it was used to cap the Washington Monument. Still up there to.

        Laus Deo

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        Pure aluminum is extremely rare, and that is what the fancy dinnerware and obelisk caps were made from up through the 1800s. About 100 years ago, people figured out how to extract the metal from the much more common bauxite (aluminum oxide) ore.

    • 0 avatar
      Chocolatedeath

      “I’m almost surprised there’s not a postscript to this article talking about how a chopped Prius-V would make an ideal pickup, if the neanderthals would just get with the program”
      Honestly I was thinking the same thing. I had a chance to preview one here in North FL. I just couldnt get over how slow it “felt” although I am sure I was going faster than I thought I was. That is until I tried to merge from MLK to 95 at 445 pm on a Monday. I didnt get the mileage that these guys get on this site either. Even though I am not a Prius fan per say I do get close and sometimes well over EPA with the sedan. Only bout 30 overall with the V. That was with stop and go traffic on Blanding Bld and hwy. I was under the impression from reviews that it drove just like the sedan but IMO it does not at all. It drives alot worse. Handling, ride etc..Like I said just my O.

    • 0 avatar
      sfay3

      I’ve seen a lot of steel pickups scrapped because they’ve hit a deer. What’s your point?

      • 0 avatar
        dejal1

        Obviously cars hit deer also. The world doesn’t come to an end because they do. Neither will it happen for a lighter truck.

        I kind of doubt the bed of a truck will be made out of carbon fiber. Composite means much more than that. Making it durable and UV resistant should work just fine

    • 0 avatar
      Georgewilliamherbert

      Engineer hat on:

      noxioux:
      Rub up against one little oak tree and it would look like you rolled it. Smack one little mule deer and your soda can, sissy pickup will be in a landfill.

      Nice try, you fail.

      Aluminum weighs about 3x less than steel for the same volume, or can be about 3x thicker for the same weight. Actual densities are about 7.8 – 7.84 for steel and 2.7 to 2.8 for aluminum, depending on alloy and a little on processing.

      Effective stiffness – resistance to bending – is a function of the second moment of inertia of the panel, which is proportional to the square of the thickness. Twice as thick = 4x as stiff, three times as thick = 9x as stiff. This is multiplied by the material’s Youngs’ modulus, essentially the ratio of stress (force) versus strain (stretch) for that particular material.

      Aircraft mostly use aluminum because its specific stiffness, stiffness per unit weight, is much better than steel. Composites can be better, though they are more expensive.

      Exercise for the reader: Find the Youngs’ modulus for say 6111 aluminum (not uncommon in body panels) and for standard steels. Find the actual math for sheet deflection. Work the numbers…

      Bonus points: read Timoshenko’s “Theory of Plates and Shells”

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Bravo, Sir.

      • 0 avatar
        gslippy

        Thank you, Georgewilliamherbert. You’ve replaced fiction with real facts.

        I think the WSJ is making a story where there is none. Vehicles have been consuming more aluminum for years – with great success – because they’re engineered products.

        The armchair engineers at the WSJ and around here know better, I guess.

        This is a non-issue. If Ford realizes the fuel economy savings and other benefits with this approach, their competitors will look foolish attacking it. And if Ford does it, GM, Chrysler, and Toyota will be doing it soon after.

  • avatar
    relton

    Aluminum doesn’t “rust”, but it corrodes like crazy. That’s why it has to be anodized or treated some other way, and separated from steel by insulators.

    In cars (& trucks), stiffness is usually more of an issue than strength. Aluminum is 1/3 the weight of steel, but also 1/3 the stiffness. To get the same stiffness, you will probably need 3 times the material. The weight will then be equal to the steel part. Next time you’re flying, watch the wings, and other parts, of the airplane flex. People would never stand for that in a car.

    Aluminum’s failure modes are none too great, either. Fatigue failure from cycclical loading is why airplnes have routine inspections for fatigue cracks.

    If aluminum bodies have the potential to save so much weight, how come aluminum cars weigh so much? An Audi A8 weighs as much as a BMW 7 series, for example.

    Steel has much better energy absorbing characterisitcs, as well. This is very important for crash, for protecting the manikins by controlled yielding.

    I worked on an aluminum space frame for the Fiero, years ago. At the end of that project, I had a renewed appreciation for steel.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      I worked on an aluminum space frame for the Fiero, years ago.

      35 years ago? Have you kept up to date on the latest advances in aluminum alloys and manufacturing techniques?

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      I’m not sure that comparing two specific models, made by two different manufacturers for completely different purposes, is a valid method for showing aluminum’s inferiority in an automobile application. Furthermore, as I understand it, the wings on a plane are designed to flex because it makes them more resistant to breakage than a more rigid structure. Ever been in Chicago’s Hancock Building on a windy day? Intentional sway, and that’s a building made from steel. Conversely, I’ve never noticed an excess of flex in an aircraft’s aluminum fuselage.

      I’m by no means an engineer, but do know that in the world of bicycles aluminum frames are both lighter and stiffer than their steel counterparts. In that specific case, larger diameter tubes can be used than with steel, and still have the finished product be lighter. In theory, fatigue strength in aluminum isn’t as great as steel, but I’ve got a 3.6 lb mountain bike frame that’s stood up to more than a decade of rocks, >5′ drops, speeds over gravel at up to 45 MPH and general abuse that such a light frame isn’t marketed to be able to withstand. I’ve had that bike since ’97 and the frame’s still going strong. Even the paint looks great.

      I believe that a tough truck can be made out of aluminum. The question is whether the various trade-offs will be worth it. I also suspect that it would be more of a nightmare in salty climes than steel, but as evidenced by the comments here, that’s not what the buyers will believe.

      • 0 avatar
        relton

        Actually, a comparison between an Audi A8 and a BMW 7 series is a very accurate comparison of 2 very similar cars, the main difference being the aluminum construction of the Audi. If you want a dissimilar comparison, think about my Chevy Caprice, which was bigger than the Audi, all steel and cast iron, and weighed 500 lb less.

        If you sit in the back of the plane, and encounter some rough weather, you can easily see the fuselage twist in torsion. I hate flying, so I try not to watch these things. But the engineer in me makes me watch. The wings flex because they are flexible, and not for any strength reasons. After all, wings don’t see impact, like bumpers. Or, at least I hope they don’t.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        Aluminium construction … and AWD, which adds probably a few hundred pounds of weight.

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        How much torsion over how long a distance? Aircraft are long and thin; of course there’ll be some twisting and flexing going on. But more than an equivalent structure made out of steel?

        Wings don’t need to be strong? Just because they don’t run into trees doesn’t mean they’re not supporting an entire aircraft in flight along with the buffetting that comes with flying through turbulence at 75% the speed of sound. And of course an airliner is the school bus of the sky; ultimate rigidity and response aren’t exactly the manufacturers’ top priority. For an example of that you’d have to look at something like an acrobatic plane or jet fighter which are usually made of… Oh wait…

      • 0 avatar
        sfay3

        I have a 1989 Klein mountain bike that is as solid as the day I bought it despite thousands of miles of abuse. And in its day it was both much lighter and much stronger than any steel bicycle.

      • 0 avatar
        Dubbed

        relton, a better comparison would be with the aluminum bodied Jaguar XJ to the steel bodied XF. Despite being smaller, the XF weighs more.

        Laus Deo

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    This article severely underestimates the wide acceptance of aluminum aluminum alloys by rednecks. Many aftermarket parts for lifted four wheel drives are now made out of aluminum or alloys.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    There certainly is an image barrier to contend with when it comes to most truck owners. That’s why many late model pickups are decked out in the gaudiest chrome add-ons known to mankind.

    An aluminum hood, fenders, quarter panels and a composite bed for example could save a lot of weight, but the average truck owner really wouldn’t care. Ford is only contemplating doing this due to stricter fuel economy standards, not to please the average truck buyer who would rather have a stamped steel dashboard, rather than this girly plastic crap they’re putting out now.

    Just leave room for chrome mudflaps and exhaust tips and everything is good in trucklandia. Fuel economy be darned.

  • avatar
    C170guy

    Can it be done right to begin with? Maybe, maybe not.
    Can Ford do it right? Maybe, maybe not.

    Will this be very expensive to do, and add a lot to the cost of the truck? I would bet on it.

    As far as automobiles go- this is still a relatively exotic material and the infrastructure and knowledge is just not there outside of a few exotic cars. Combine that with so many people who wrench at dealerships or elsewhere having no buisness even thinking about repairing your car, let alone doing it- and you have a recipe for trouble adding in all the complications of this new material.

    Can the average person go to the kitchen drawer and pull out his very own sheet of aluminum and examine it’s properties and decide weather it belongs in a $50K truck? Yes.

    It may or may not work, it may or may not cost way too much, and the results may or may not be as intended. Sounds like too big a risk to be realistic for their cash cow.

    This has fail written all over it and no one at Ford is that stupid (lately I wonder) and it will never happen. Mark my words.

    My sentiment is that this is a PR exercise to bury recent negative headlines and perhaps do something with the stock price. Some moonshot to distract people, that will disappear as soon as the news cycle moves or the customers inevitably shoot the idea down (what else would they do?)

    I would also like to add that trucks are big heavy steel things for a reason, and there is to much risk involved to have fantasies to the contrary.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      Heavy duty trucks (Peterbilt, Kenworth, Freightliner, etc) have used aluminum in their cabs and body panels for decades. The body panels hold up under much greater demands than virtually any pickup truck (especially in applications like dump truck or concrete mixers)and have proven to work just fine.

      The heavy duty truck business went almost completely to aluminum and fiberglass bodies years ago without any problems. In fact, a steel cab has been considered a negative by buyers for a long time due to the extra weight.

      If buyers as conservative as heavy duty buyers can embrace aluminum, the light duty market will too. As a general rule, people smart enough to afford a $30k plus truck are smart enough to understand the advantages of aluminum. The 3/4 ton trucks will be there for those who insist on a steel body…for now.

      • 0 avatar
        Gannet

        There’s a big difference. Every pound lopped off a heavy-duty truck is replaced by payload, and the owner gets paid for it, over and over and over again.

        It will cost just a much to take a pound off an F150 as that Peterbilt, but all the Ford driver will get is a tiny improvement in fuel economy. It will probably take most of 100k miles just to break even. Not a good investment, but then few marginal improvements in fuel economy are.

    • 0 avatar
      sfay3

      Most truck owners don’t use their trucks for much more than people carriers anyway, so as long as the price isn’t drastically higher I doubt anyone will care or notice.

    • 0 avatar
      C170guy

      Hey, uh Ford is denying the aluminum route described in the WSJ story. The WSJ appears to conjuring fecal matter from thin air.

  • avatar
    AJ

    I’m all for aluminum myself. My Jeep has a Savvy Off-Road aluminum front bumper made from 6061-T6 heat treated aluminum alloy. Not only is it as strong as comparable steel, and quite possibly stronger, it’s also incredibly light weight and won’t rust. When I first received my bumper in the mail, I was blown away how tough and light it was and being only 13 lbs. In fact I mounted a WARN winch to it that is a lot heavier!

    Savvy itself has bashed their bumpers and an assortment of aluminum skid plates in an effort to test them in Johnson Valley. (www.savvyoffroad.com/about/about.htm) Personally I’ve rubbed my bumper on rocks in climbs and it’s taken minimal scratching. I did paint the bumper, which I had to make sure I prepped the aluminum properly.

    With Jeeps, we do what we can to reduce weight due to larger tires, winch, skids, recovery gear, etc., and as well maintain and increase strength. I can see pickup truck owners also benefiting from lighter weight.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    Doesn’t Ford employ the same bunch of incompetents that build Mustang hoods that dissolve due to dissimilar metal electrolysis? Whether this is a good idea or not, Ford isn’t the company to execute it.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Not sure about the Mustang but the original aero Panthers used aluminum hoods and they don’t corrode even after 20 years.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Ford must have industrial amnesia then, because Mustang owners have been complaining about galvanic corrosion on 2005 to 2011 model cars. What they did 20 years ago doesn’t seem to be related to what they can do today. Google is your friend if you don’t know about the Mustangs.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        My point was that I don’t know about the Mustangs personally since I haven’t owned one. On the other hand I’ve had a now 20yo Panther with an aluminum hood since it was only 3 years old. There is zero corrosion despite the fact that the clear coat is long gone and the color is wearing so thin that the red primer is starting to show through, so it can work just fine over the long haul.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Ford, please be careful and engineer the truck properly. After all, I’d hate to see a replay of the 1980′s Flxible bus fiasco where the buses started to sag in the middle!

    That would be a terrible thing to see; mama coming home from the super market on a Saturday morning and the truck sagging under the weight of a week’s groceries!

    Remember, aluminum corrodes, too…especially thin aluminum.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    I need to pay more attention to JC on Top Gear, he’s always going on about the AL-U-men-ne-Um in cars.

  • avatar
    punkybrewstershubby aka Troy D.

    To have such a mainstream vehicle like the F150 with the production volumes it has will bring this technology to all production vehicles within a short period of time.

    They will get it right.

    They can’t afford not to.

  • avatar
    bauerjw

    Observation: My aluminum-containing pots, pans, and utensils look like crap due to corrosion.

    Recommendation: Don’t put your new F-150 in the dishwasher.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      True!

      I suspect Ford will use this amazing technology called “paint” on any aluminum vehicle they make.

      They already use it on their steel vehicles for the same reason!

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Might excessive service life be an unintended side effect of aluminum bodies?
    Look at how long aluminum stepvans and postal LLVs last in service — sometimes longer than you want to even want them around. I read recently that almost 10% of DC3/C47 aircraft produced 1935-1945 are still in service. Long-lived vehicles are great in theory but when the very service life disrupts the infrastructure necessary to support them, or if it results in an inability to turn over the installed base necessary to introduce new technology, longer life isn’t necessarily better.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Good point about Step Vans, the fleet I used to service had a large number of 85 and 86 models, most of which were still in good shape body wise, however a number had large cracks and tears in the firewall area too. Of course it didn’t help that many of them always went out over their rated capacity and they are one huge box bolted directly to the frame w/o any isolating rubber mounts.

    • 0 avatar
      sfay3

      Considering the energy required to manufacture a vehicle, longer service lives is actually the most environmentally-responsible thing to do.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    What’s the big deal? Ford pickup truck sheet metal has been as thin as a Coke can since the 1980 redesign! Same deal for the 1988+ Chevy/GMC trucks.

    You have to go back to the pickup trucks designed back in the 1970s to get actual thick metal panels.

    The sheet metal in my 1990 F350 is noticeably thinner than in the 1979 Chevy K20 that I just sold.

    I say bring on the aluminum – 99% of today’s buyers won’t know the difference anyways.

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    Economic. Aluminium. Strength: choose 2 out of 3

  • avatar
    BigFire

    Like I said in the original article, the only concern I have is the maintenance and body work after collusion. If they can get the manufacturing part down, they’ll need to retrain a whole tons of collusion shop on how to do work on this metal.

  • avatar
    icemilkcoffee

    I don’t have a high opinion on the typical pick up truck buyer- but let’s give them a little more credit than that. I think they are smart enough to know that aluminum is lightweight and rustproof, and a superior material to steel aside from the higher cost of manufacture.

    Most of the box vans and moving vans on the streets are made of aluminum. People are already very familiar with aluminum bodied commercial vehicles. It’s not anything particularly new or shocking.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Maybe this is an out-of-date thought, but would a 700lb weight loss have any materially adverse effect on towing ability and capacity? The current F150 can be rated as high as 11300lbs.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      If they don’t change the spring rates and power ratings then the capacities will go up. Look at the spec sheets for any truck and you’ll find that as you add things capacities go down as they rate them for the same max GVWR and GCWR. So a 4×4 has less capacity than a 2×4 with the same power train.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        I know that part of the equation, but if your tow vehicle is too light for the situation won’t your trailer start pushing you around the road?

        I guess my question is can a 700lb lighter F150 still adequately control a 11000 lb trailer? Or, is the truck still heavy enough that it won’t matter (or will the weight loss actually help)?

        And wouldn’t Ford pretty much have to change the spring rates?

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        “but if your tow vehicle is too light for the situation won’t your trailer start pushing you around the road?”

        They could add water ballast tanks for the extra weight. Even better, add some refrigeration coils with a couple of taps and the ballast tanks could carry something other than water for tailgating!

  • avatar
    azmtbkr81

    Aluminum body panels are a workable idea, my main concern would be cost of insurance and repair.

    If what would normally be a $600 dent becomes a $1200 dent due to the complexity of repair you can bet that insurance premiums will increase and resale values decrease.

    Hopefully Ford will take this into account and make the body panels modular and easy to replace if repairs are prohibitively expensive.

    On a side note if Ford decides to bring the Bronco back as part of this redesign they can make the body panels out of dried dog crap for all I care; I’d still buy one.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      It is my understanding from reading the article in the WSJ that Ford plans to make the entire body and cab from aluminum, like in the A8 or Jaguars. Then place that cab body on top of the existing frame.

      If that is what they’re planning to do, I think it would be reasonable that they would also use a composite bed. They’ve done that before, with some success.

      Were that to happen I still would not be inclined to buy one. I prefer old school steel with all its faults and shortcomings like rust. And I’m not at all concerned about mpg and the price of gasoline, like most Americans. Using aluminum is just going to jack up the price of the truck.

      If I were concerned with the above I should not buy a truck. I should buy a high mpg car and tow a bed-trailer behind it as needed.

      I think this is all hogwash and when push comes to shove Ford may find it not economically feasible to go with it.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    If I were Ford, I would hedge my bets. I would continue the current line of F-150s with whatever off-the-shelf improvements I could make. I simultaneously market a second line of lightweight pickups with a full-size bed, lower sides and an over-all less bulky look. Kind of a New Coke/Old Coke strategy.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Since the “97″ F150 they have pretty much done that. Partially because they did fear consumer reaction and partially since they are made in multiple plants it was less interruption to production to change one over to the new design get it up and running (and any production problems sorted out) before switching other plants. GM did something similar in the past too but they did it by keeping the SUV version on the old platform for another year before changing it to the new design.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    A bit off topic, but . . .
    Since it sounds like Ford is going whole hog for fuel efficiency, it will be fun to see how they deal with aerodynamics in a market segment that seems to prize vehicles shaped like stout buildings, particularly the genre’s vertical flat front end styling, rather than a moving vehicle that has to exist in, and overpower extended periods of gale force wind loads.
    Rounding those edges, tapering, lowering that hood, rounding off the whole front profile and the “sissy” factor goes up exponentially.

  • avatar
    halkyardo

    Sounds like a thoroughly reasonable idea to me. The classic Land Rover had a magnesium-aluminium alloy body on a steel frame, and they got that right enough to produce it virtually unchanged for 40 years. If Rover could do it in post-war Britain, there’s no reason that a giant such as Ford can’t do it now.

    • 0 avatar
      azmtbkr81

      Very good point, I think that even the most recent iteration of the Defender has an aluminum body. I don’t think you’d find many who’d consider the Defender anything less than manly.

  • avatar
    nickoo

    I’m all for it, but I would rather see a move to plastic/composite for non load bearing pieces. Just make them easy to replace if they get cracked and call it good. Heck, even just cover the underside with plastic shields would be a huge improvement. It would be nice to see a truck that didn’t rust out the rocker panels/cab corners after 10 years here in the north-east.

  • avatar
    cleek

    There has to be a country song title in this somewhere.

    “My truck looked alot better as a beer cans.”

  • avatar
    vcficus

    Please don’t take this as a political viewpoint but as a statement of fact: Fuel economy standards (CAFE) for light trucks (F150 class et al) are going up Significantly by 2025.

    I can’t see Ford spending the immense amount of money this change will take unless that mandate is in place.

    I work for a supplier of lots of automotive products; nearly EVERYTHING will need to be redesigned or developed for this change. Paints, sealers, fasteners, other components (you can’t take your current door hinge and just hang an Al door on it, it needs fastener and corrosion changes,etc). We supply some aluminum specific products now, but not in the volume required for this. Ford is also ‘surprise’ not the only OEM looking at this… everybody has the same gravity and air to deal with.

    If you’re getting 700 lbs out of an F150 you’re talking frame too… the easy part is hydroforming the frame rails or extruding them, the hard part is putting them together and hanging the suspension without it bending funny.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Using Al for body and frame pieces is nothing new for Ford. Aero Panthers until the 98 de-contenting/redesign used aluminum hoods w/o issues. They have used an Al for the front suspension crossmember for the 03-up Panthers, and Al for control arms for many of their vehicles. So it is not something new to them that they will have to learn. It would be an all new truck so it is going to be a ground up re-design anyway.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    After seeing hundreds of carrier aircraft landings, I’m not too worried about aluminum’s strength. A composite bed and lower one at that makes sense. I’m tired of my armpits resting on the bed rail. What will matter is the durability of the aluminum panels/cab; they need to have an acceptable “looking good” to “beater truck” time frame.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    We need a better description of what “largely aluminum body” means.

    I suspect it means more than non structural panels like a land rover series.

  • avatar
    Mike

    The aluminum hood on my 1986 Town Car has fared surprisingly well in Minnesota. the car has plenty of rust elsewhere, but the hood is clean even though it lost the clear-coat and much of the paint years ago. I’ve carried it by myself, too. just don’t let the wind catch it.

    The down-side? Those little magnetic flags they stick on all the car’s hoods in funeral processions. they have to go on the roof.

    I’d buy a truck made of that.

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    One memory I have is of driving thru a relatively minor hailstorm in San Antonio in a friend’s new 1983 T-bird which had an aluminum hood . The rest of the car was unfazed as I recall but the aluminum hood had to be replaced . I don’t know if years of aluminum use in vehicles has led to any advances but it does seem like an aluminum luxo Audi or Jag is a lot more likely to be garaged 24/7 than a full sized truck . And having been the thoughtless driver throwing heavy junk in somebody’s company truck I can imagine a lot more dented beds in commercially used vehicles .

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Unlike cars, pickup truck design hasn’t changed much at all in the last 50 years. Torsion bars or coil springs in front, a fishbelly ladder frame, then leaf or coil springs in the rear for a live axle. A longbed regular cab with a V8 weighed something like 4,500 pounds back in the 1960s, and a base work truck in that configuration weighs under 5,000 pounds today.

    What really added the weight was pickup trucks becoming passenger vehicles beginning with redesigns in the ’90s. Fancier seats, crew cabs, carpeting, sound deadening, air conditioning. The typical “truck” these days is a BOF Ridgeline with a detachable bed. Aluminum bodies might shave a few hundred pounds off, but won’t address the sources of the current bloat.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    Ford already has a Texas Edition, a Harley Davidson Edition….. How about a Bud Lite Edition?

  • avatar
    JaySeis

    A second rate article. The writer could’ve written about material evolution in vehicles in general including boats, planes, bikes, or guns and toasters for that matter. Instead, a nothing article. Do some research. Aluminum is a damn good material and I’d relish a truck that got better mileage and still hauled more than ass. Ever look closely at freight trucks? Bikes run the gamut from titanium, aluminum, chrome moly steel to carbon fiber. Boats include plastics, fiberglass, aluminum, steel, epoxy saturated wood, wood, and ferrocement. Planes started as wood and fabric, evolved to aluminum and then aluminum and carbon fiber. Why should trucks not take the same advantage? And then there’s the most prissy of weapons, a partial plastic Glock.

    TTAC “writers”, what a joke.

  • avatar
    Good ole dayz

    I think that we’re going to be seeing a lot of such shenanigans in coming years … for the children, er, I mean the environment.

    This is all about “green” and CAFE standards uber alles. So we the consumer will pay higher prices for more complex aluminum bodies, start-stop systems that create premature engine and transmission wear (due to repeated start-stop with loss of oil / trans fluid pressure) … which will become diagnostic and repair nightmares when the connections and sensors and God knows what all of this complexity starts to age.

    But by then, it’ll be out of warranty. Even with “higher” fuel economy, consumers will never realize net savings due to the higher up-front manufacturing and post-warranty repair costs. But the diktats from Washington will make the environmental whackos feel good, and the post-bailout manufacturers will just keep their collective mouthes shut rather than offend their new Washington masters.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    All F-150s since 2004 MY (except heritage) have aluminum hoods without a problem. I’ve owned a couple of them and didn’t even know that.

    Ford may add more body panels or suspension pieces here or there, but the possibility of a fully aluminum body is ridiculous when you think about it.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    The current style of jacked up with too big tires is working against MPG. The 94 Ranger beater I have, weighs 4200 lbs empty. Holding to 2k RPM -65 MPH, yielded a touch better than 21 MPG. That is 125 ” wheelbase, 4 wheel drive /5 speed/ 4.0 V6. Stock, it came with a factory 2″ lift and 235/75/ R 15 s. A stripper model gets mid 20s MPG. 4 WD allows me to use it in my sloped yard. But I dont commute in it.

  • avatar
    eldo500

    What the heck, they’re already making the frames out of aluminum.

    http://www. youtube. com/watch?v=6eK-1Ld7sJY

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    How is this hard to sell to the average person. Aren’t most aircraft made out of aluminum because it is stronger and lighter for all the right reasons?

    I thought your average rube on the street understood that cars were made from steel because it was cheaper, not necessarily better.


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