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Ford Considering Aluminum For Its Pickup Trucks

By Blake Z. Rong | July 27, 2012
If the rumors are to be believed, the next Ford F-150 could be recyclable with a 5-cent deposit: Ford is experimenting with an aluminum-bodied pickup truck, which could be "the biggest gamble in its 108-year history." There's reasons for concern among pickup truck buyers, a subset of automotive owners who are most shameless about beating up their vehicles. Not just because they have to (for construction, towing, and off-roading), but because they can: pickup trucks and their heavy steel frames are "like a rock," to cite a Chevrolet ad you'll have to tell your grandkids about these days. Yet, Ford has a few reasons to switch over to aluminum for its truck bodies. For one, an alunimum F-150 would shave 700 pounds over the weight of a steel one. This 15 percent increase would help Ford meet stricter efficiency requirements—and for a company whose best-selling vehicle in its lineup is the thirsty F-150, this increase in efficiency could mean the world for Ford. It will have to meet CARB's 2020 fuel efficiency requirements, which means that Ford will have to somehow, magically pull 20 percent better mileage numbers out of a hat. Other companies are also working on aluminum pickup trucks, claim analysts, so Ford—which has been using aluminum hoods on F-150s since 2004—is no different in this game. Aluminum has come a long way, but for mass acceptance auto manufacturers have been stepping towards it lightly: it was only a few decades ago that Audi started extensively using it for its automotive frames, and it was only 16 years ago that the first all-aluminum car drove away, underneath Acura NSX badges. (Ford will retain a steel frame for its pickup trucks, for now.) Audi, Jaguar, Ferrari, and Chevrolet (with the Corvette) all build cars with aluminum. What do those companies have in common? They all build lithe, limited-production enthusiast machines, justifying a high price for their multi-faceted construction. Building a Ford F-150 out of "Coke cans" would, on paper, make as much sense as sprinkling Black Sea caviar on a Big Mac. Many speculate that aluminum will be the material of the future—which is funny for a technology that's been around since 1954—a message that's championed more earnestly today, what with squeezing any source of weight savings out of our complex, safety-laden machines in order to maximize fuel efficiency. Already, Ford has plenty of challenges to replace one of the best-selling vehicles in America with a new aluminum body. The material is far more expensive than steel, and some estimate that the price of an F-150 will rise by $1,500. Aluminum is harder to bash into the shape of fenders and tailgates, and the production costs would contribute to this cost. If hit, aluminum is harder to straighten out, and the costs of an accident would go straight to the consumer. And most importantly, Ford will have to convince pickup owners that aluminum is just as tough as steel. If you look at car demographics, you'll remember that pickup owners are notorious for resisting to change—but then again, Ford managed to convince F-150 buyers that a turbocharged V-6 is better than a V-8. It may take some time, but that fuel efficiency mantra works magic. Source: Washington Post
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