Ford dropped a
heavy light weight military-grade aluminum gauntlet with a metallic thud when they announced that the aluminum-intensive F-150. With up to 97% of the body being made of aluminum, and with Ford’s claims that it has dropped 700 pounds off the truck’s curb weight, the industry took notice. So much so, that GM announced their plans for an aluminum Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra shortly after the North American International Autoshow, where the F150 was debuted.
According to WardsAuto reported that some analysts are not quite as impressed, and are unsure whether or not it will make as large of an impact as expected.
Part of the concern comes from recent advances in steel, with high strength steel seeing widespread use in the industry, and more importantly, Ford’s competitors. Craig Parsons, automotive-president of Nanosteel, told Wards,
“If you look at steels out there years ago, you couldn’t lightweight; they weren’t strong enough and you couldn’t (form) the shapes needed. Aluminum has come a long way, as well, but I think technologies like nanosteel are going to give automakers alternatives to aluminum so they can do lightweighting with better geometries and thinner materials.”
Parsons points at the current 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra as an example of high strength steel’s effectiveness. He claims the ’14 GM trucks are 350 lbs lighter than the current generation F150. With Ford claiming a 700 pound weight savings from their current truck, the difference between the ’15 F150 and ’14 GM trucks would only be around 350 pounds, according to Parsons; a fairly negligible number when the difference in options on a truck can swing the curb weight by over 500 pounds, according to GM’s specs on the ’14 Silverado 1500.
“Each generation of truck is lighter. It’s always the most recent introduction that is the lightest in its class.”
Another issue is cost. David Cole, chairman of AutoHarvest and chairman emeritus for the Center for Automotive Research, touches on the issue
“It’s a big roll of the dice. Whether it’s an advantage or not is yet to be determined. The trade off from the consumer perspective is, ‘What is it going to save me vs. what’s it going to cost me? That’s an important part of the discussion.”
Along with the higher material costs and production costs with sheets of heat-treated aluminum, Ford is also pushing for more advanced engines. The direct-injected and turbocharged Ecoboost engines have been pushed hard by Ford in the current generation F150. At the time of this writing, the EcoBoost V6 is $1,000 more than the 5.0L V8; and $2,000 more than the base V6. Only the rowdy 6.2L V8 costs more.
Richard Schultz, a project consultant at Ducker Worldwide, mentions that
“It’s more expensive, but you have to add in the value of scrap, which is very valuable. And when you save so much weight you can make suspensions and other parts smaller and thinner.”
Cole touches on anther key point, the 2017 review for the 2025 CAFE regulations. Specifically chosen to take place after the next election, the next president could cancel that F150‘s chance if he or she chose to relax the standards. Ford would have spent millions to push out the technologically advanced F150 only to have the goalposts moved. Ford may enjoy having the most fuel-efficient pickup in the market, but the extra costs of the new aluminum body and engines could alienate buyers, sending them to cheaper, more traditional pickups.