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Ford Rolls the Dice With Breakthrough F-150 Aluminum Pickup Truck 521

Posted by samzenpus
from the shiny-new-truck dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "USA Today reports that Ford's next F-150 pickup truck will be made mostly of aluminum, instead of steel, in a bid to save weight. It will likely either be hailed as a breakthrough product to buyers who've made F-150 the bedrock of its business or one that draws comparisons to a 'rolling beer can.' The automaker has asked Alcoa, which makes aluminum blast shields for battlefield-bound vehicles, to lend some of its military-grade metal for the automaker's display, according to people familiar with Ford's plans. Ford's sales job will be considerable: The company is eager to demonstrate the toughness of aluminum, which is lighter than steel, to pickup buyers at next month's Detroit auto show. 'This is already the most significant debut at the auto show,' says Joe Langley. 'Everybody's going to be dissecting that thing for a long time, especially since Ford will be taking such a big gamble.' As a transformative product with a potentially troublesome introduction, the new F-150 has drawn comparisons with Boeing Co.'s 787 Dreamliner — an aircraft developed under the company's commercial airplane chief at the time, Alan Mulally, who in 2006 became Ford's chief executive officer. Because of the complicated switch to aluminum from steel in the F-150's body, IHS Automotive estimates Ford will need to take about six weeks of downtime at each of its two U.S. truck plants to retool and swap out robots and machinery. Ford is apparently trying to squeeze more than 700 pounds out of its next generation of pickup trucks. Using aluminum to cut weight would help meet rising fuel economy standards in the United States, which is requiring a fleetwide average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025."
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Ford Rolls the Dice With Breakthrough F-150 Aluminum Pickup Truck

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  • by dbIII (701233) on Friday December 27, 2013 @09:17AM (#45795221)
    Land Rover.
  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Friday December 27, 2013 @09:22AM (#45795251)
    Most people care more about the status symbol of the new shiney, but I wouldn't be surprised to see it used in a series of Dodge/Chevy ads. "Silverado, tough as steel" or some such.
  • by gandhi_2 (1108023) on Friday December 27, 2013 @09:56AM (#45795427) Homepage

    No one hauls a half ton of cinder bocks in a land rover.
    The F150 is for work.

  • by Talderas (1212466) on Friday December 27, 2013 @10:06AM (#45795501)

    The article has things blown way out of proportion. The major customers for F-150s are not individual consumers. The major customers of the F-150 are companies that have fleets of trucks. Think companies like Home Depot or U-Haul that rent out light duty pickup trucks or companies like Union Pacific or BNSF that mount railwheels on their trucks so that they have a way to get vehicles, people, and material out to remote areas.

    The big advantage in aluminum is the reduced weight and consequent fuel savings. It's not going to make one lick of difference to Home Depot or U-Haul because their customers pay the fuel costs so they're go with whichever company is producing the cheapest trucks. Companies like UP or BNSF are going to care about the weight because they have a huge fleet and the fuel savings can be huge. However those companies also are far more reliant on after-production upfitting to make the trucks work for them so the question is how will the aluminum affect that after production work?

    As an example of how cutthroat the fleet business can be.... GM already screwed up by releasing the 2014 (or is it 2015) model light duty trucks later than Ford or Chrysler. Most of those fleet companies have jumped to Ford or Chrysler which are delivering the newest models earlier.

    So Ford is definitely taking a risk. The can easily tank the sales for the F150 model year they convert to aluminum if the fleets don't stick with Fords.

  • They didn't just have one guy say "hey, let's switch everything over to aluminum and see what happens". They had engineers work on it, they reviewed the costs, forecasted the risks and expected benefits, etc. They know what they are doing. There is little if anything left to chance on this. Most likely they did a number of aluminum prototypes and ran them around on the proving grounds with aluminum versions of existing body panels so as to not draw additional attention.

    Big companies like Ford don't just do things like this on a whim, they can't afford to. The American car companies still have the black eye of their quality problems from the 80s and 90s; they are one misstep away from corporate ruin. While the F150 is still the top selling vehicle on the planet, they can't afford to take it for granted or to leave its fate to chance.
  • by Paul Jakma (2677) <> on Friday December 27, 2013 @10:15AM (#45795585) Homepage Journal

    That's just staggering, that this is the most popular vehicle in the USA. It's about the same size/weight as a European 8-seater minibus []! And this isn't at all the biggest Ford sell, is it? I've seen things on the motorway there that are almost bus sized.

  • I can tell that both the designers and people who think this is a great idea don't actually use a pickup for a living. I use a pickup on a ranch, and I use it HARD so that is where I am coming from. The new pickups in the last 10 years just don't last anymore because they are making them lighter and more economical to drive, and they just can't take the abuse that workers put them through on a daily bases.

    Independent studies place the F150 basically equal (depending on which metric) in durability with the Silverado 1500 and Ram 1500. If you are wearing out your trucks it might be time you look in to the 250 (or higher) series. The 150 series trucks from each of the manufacturers are designed to match their usual working demands - most people who buy them live in the city and drive them mostly on the road. The most common cargo (in this country especially) in the bed of a pickup is air.

    The 150 trucks are designed mostly for the urban handyman who occasionally pulls around and launches his own fishing boat on the weekend. They're good trucks but don't try to overstate their purpose.

  • by thesandbender (911391) on Friday December 27, 2013 @10:30AM (#45795727)
    Aluminum is a perfectly sound material as long as it's used correctly. It's been used in aircraft, rockets and other vehicles that take stresses far beyond what you will ever do to your truck. Flying may seem like it doesn't generate much stress but the loads on a 747 or A380 when they are landing are tremendous. The regular compression/decompression cycles that a plane goes through when going from ground level to altitude are also impressive when you look at the numbers. The fact that we consider it so commonplace is a testimony to how durable aluminum is. The average person is shocked when they see the thickness of the tubing used in bicycles, including downhill mountain bikes which take one hell of a beating.

    But this is all contingent on how the aluminum is employed. If they have good, experienced engineers then this can only end well (I'd love to have a truck that didn't rust).
  • by alexander_686 (957440) on Friday December 27, 2013 @10:33AM (#45795755)

    You are kind of missing the point.

    All of the examples you pointed out are for higher end performance cars. These cars are usually handled in a genital manner. I remember a story where Prince Charles got angry at Di after she sat on the hood of his car at a polo game and left a bum imprint. That is not going to cut it for a “work” truck which is constantly being banged into, sat on, having things tied on, etc.

    Personally, I am trying to figure out how these things are going to get repaired. If I understand it correctly, repairing steel parts is very different than aluminum. (FYI, I know quite a few farms who take a DYI attitude towards auto repair. I don’t think they will be happy.)

  • by timeOday (582209) on Friday December 27, 2013 @10:39AM (#45795815)
    And Obama wasn't the first black man in the world. But he was the first one to be elected President of the United States.

    This is the big time. The F-series is America's best-selling vehicle [] for the last 28 consecutive years.

  • by njnnja (2833511) on Friday December 27, 2013 @10:42AM (#45795841)

    The F-150 is the best selling vehicle (car, truck, or suv) in North America,and has been for almost 20 years. [] This isn't some niche manufacturer that is going to sell 50,000 units and be happy with it. Ford is expecting to sell millions of these before then can do another redesign, so if it isn't successful it's a serious problem, and therefore it's a huge risk.

    Furthermore, losing 700 lbs on every one of the millions of these that are going to be sold over the next few years will do more to reduce dependency on foreign oil and co2 emissions than all of the zero emission vehicles put together. So as cool as the technology behind electric and hybrid cars is, if you want to burn less gas, you have to root for advances in truck technology such as this.

  • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Friday December 27, 2013 @10:54AM (#45795967) Homepage Journal

    The weight savings were not small.

    Gross weight for a class 8 tractor trailer combination on US highways is 80,000 pounds. Guys who had all steel tractors and trailers were sometimes unable to load 43,000 pounds. Most were able to load 45,000 pounds. Just about no one was able to load 47,000 pounds, and still be legal. With my aluminum Mack and aluminum Cobra trailer, I routinely loaded 51,000 pounds, and scaled it legally.

    Since I got paid a percentage of what the load grossed, you can see that I was effectively being paid for ten loads, with the same time and effort that other drivers were being paid for nine.

  • by gl4ss (559668) on Friday December 27, 2013 @11:01AM (#45796029) Homepage Journal

    aren't both of them used in usa mainly for commuting?-D

    but it is a laugh that they're trying to sell aluminium use in a car as a revolution..."work" car or not.

    and half a ton? come on man, you can move half a ton in a FUCKING A2.

    was going to say a beetle but A2 is more relevant I suppose(and yes a properly specced F150 could carry that A2)... steel is just easier to work with and we all know how much american auto industry hates to re-tool since they believe in the ford model of doing business... especially ford.

  • by jcochran (309950) on Friday December 27, 2013 @11:07AM (#45796095)

    I really hope that Ford over designs that truck since unlike steel, aluminum has no fatigue limit. And for those of you who don't know what a fatigue limit is, with some metals, they bend under stress and when the stress is removed, return to their original shape. And if the amount of bending is under their fatigue limit, then that bending process can happen an infinite number of times and no harm is done. However, if the stress is over the fatigue limit, then eventually, the metal will crack and fail. Steel has a fatigue limit, aluminum does not.

    So both materials have their advantages and disadvantages.
    Steel. It corrodes fairly easily, but has a good fatigue limit. So if you keep it from rusting, it will pretty much last forever.
    Aluminum, doesn't corrode, but doesn't have a fatigue limit. So eventually, it's going to fail. No matter what you do, it will eventually fail. But the length of time until it fails can be extended by minimizing flex by using more material than what is strictly needed to handle the load. Or if you don't use excess material, inspect it frequently for fatigue cracks, and if any are found, repair them. On aircraft, they do have a strict inspection schedule and frankly, a lot of the inspection process involves crack finding via dye penetrant and X-ray. Somehow, I don't think such an inspection process would be done with a Ford F150. And I worry that Ford just might not bother to overbuild that truck since doing so will make it more expensive and heavier. I instead suspect that they would design it to last maybe 5 years or so under "typical use" until the frame starts to crack. A "reasonable" service life and guaranteed obsolescence.

  • by jythie (914043) on Friday December 27, 2013 @12:07PM (#45796643)
    F150s can be for work, but the majority of people I see buying them never put anything heavier then ikea furniture in the back and would not even know where the hitch is.
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Friday December 27, 2013 @01:30PM (#45797449) Homepage Journal

    The first Land Rovers where built out of left overs from the war. England had a lot of aluminum for aircraft construction but where building few aircraft.
    Steel has some real benefits for car bodies like the fact that is is more springy than aluminum, it will flex a little and bounce back it is also easier to weld and tends to be harder. It is also stronger for a given thickness.
    Aluminum is much more corrosion resistant and stronger per mass.

  • by rtkluttz (244325) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:00PM (#45797795) Homepage

    A lighter truck just cannot do the same work as a heavier truck. Even if it were made out of theoretical indestructible materials. Modern trucks have had engines and bodies capable of hauling/pulling loads many times greater than they can effectively stop. Weight is about STOPPING a load and trailering it in a stable fashion. Even if it had an unlimited energy drivetrain and was built with theoretical indestructible materials, a light truck will get pushed down the road or thrown into a ditch by an unstable load if it doesn't have the weight on top of the tires. Lighter truck = less work done safely. Period.

  • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:04PM (#45797847)

    My point is that by "land owners" you must mean "landed gentry" or something. In America, we have lots and lots of people who own many acres of land but can't afford a $25,000 vehicle (let alone one that costs the same number in pounds). Besides, the cheapest model of Land Rover is $40,000+ and a Range Rover is well over $80,000. Do you guys use Audis and Mercedes for farming work too?

  • by LynnwoodRooster (966895) on Friday December 27, 2013 @02:34PM (#45798257) Journal
    US versions of Range Rovers tend to start at $83,000 and come - base - with nice leather appointments, heated seats, and the like. Not much like a Hummer at all (the original Hummer, that is) - unless you added a bunch of options.

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