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

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.
    • Production car use of aluminum body panels in production cars goes back farther than the Audi's mentioned. Look at the BMW 507 [wikipedia.org] and Mercedes Benz 300SL [wikipedia.org] which had aluminum bodies (it was an option on the 300SL) from the 1950s. While the 60s did see the aluminum engine block it also saw the BMW 3.0CSL [wikipedia.org] which had some aluminum body panels. There are probably many other old vehicles that made extensive use of aluminum that I am forgetting but it has become more common in recent years as a lower cost light weight
      • 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 MisterSquid ( 231834 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @10:41AM (#45795835)

          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.

          I respect your anatomical specificity and historical knowledge, but just to be clear Diana's bum is not technically part of her genitals.

        • These cars are usually handled in a genital manner.

          Well, yeah, but they're only SYMBOLIC genitals.

    • http://www.bigmacktrucks.com/index.php?/topic/830-what-models-were-built-hayward/ [bigmacktrucks.com]

      Double that 20 years. I drove an aluminum truck way back in 1984, which was already old and nearly worn out when I got it. I never investigated why the aluminum trucks were dropped - it probably had something to do with the company downsizing, and pulling back to Pennsylvania. During such an operation, I suppose a corporation is going to drop those parts of it's business that are perceived as "risky".

      Google has plenty of ima

    • This is about FORD using aluminum, not automobiles in general.
      • by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @10:13AM (#45795567) Homepage Journal
        Oh, it's one of THOSE things. Like, not the first HUMAN to do a feat, but the first black female human over the age of 33 and under 150 pounds with size 8 sneakers to do a feat.
        Kinda sounds like "Everybody gets a trophy" day.
        Anybody remember Hyundais in the 1980s? Aluminum.
        • 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. [forbes.com] 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.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Get your facts and reasonable arguments the fuck out of here. Almost like you though this place was used for discussion rather than epeen measurement, one upmanship, "same as in my day"isms, cynicisms, and conspiracy theory airing. Asshole!

          • Yep. This is one of the coolest things to come out of American car manufacturing in decades and will have a far greater environmental impact than every hybrid vehicle produced thus far. Hybrids will always be a sham feel-good item due to their reliance on expensive exotic materials for the batteries.

            AFAIK this is the first time a major manufacturer has gone all aluminum for a popular mass market product. Cutting weight is something so basic yet so crucial to future auto manufacturers it's a wonder no ot

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            This comment always made me laugh. The only reason why Ford trucks were the best selling trucks in the world is because GMC split their models into two - Chev and GM (stupid as it may be).

            Check the graph at http://wap.wsj.com/mdc/public/page/2_3022-autosales.html

            You will see the that GM actually out sold Ford in 2012 by 62,000 units in the light truck market (F-150 is a light truck) and are outselling in 2013 by 50,000 units.

    • 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 [wikipedia.org] for the last 28 consecutive years.

    • My only question: can they price it like a Ford and not a Land Rover or an Acura NSX?

      If I can buy an aluminum pickup truck with a decent V8 engine for $20K, I'm in, at $50K - never.

  • and I don't think they made this much of a fuss about it.

    • One could consider buying a smaller car, and only renting when you need to haul something. For most pick-up truck owners, that gives a cheaper, more comfortable ride.
      • I have two Ford trucks and several motorcycles. The trucks come out when I need to haul stuff/take someone (like my daughter) somewhere. The bikes are for commuting. My current commute is about a 50 mile round trip. With my motorcycles, that's about a gallon of fuel a day versus 4 in my larger vehicles. Plus I'm an automatic HOV here, and the I495 Express Lanes are free for motorcycles.

        • How big is your daughter that you need a pickup truck for? I have seen a Honda Fit transport 2 average size adults and 2 very large adults, close to 1,200 lbs of people.
          Kidding aside.
          Most people really don't need pickup trucks, they just want them as a status symbol, they justify it to themselves that they need it, while you can get by quite well with a small call and just rent the pickup truck when you need to some extra work that day.

          People who need pickup trucks are mostly Farmers and Building Contractor

      • Re:Weight-saving (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 27, 2013 @10:03AM (#45795469)

        I've been bouncing the idea of a pickup truck for about 10 years. My wife wants an F150 and swears it will be our next car. Until that happens, I have a 4x8 trailer with a 1500lb capacity (I've used it for more on short trips) which I got about 10 years ago new for about $500. It costs nothing for insurance and only $8 a year in personal property taxes. I have a hitch on 2 of my cars. I use it for dirt, mulch, my ATV's, taking stuff to the garbage dump and picking up and transporting large objects materials and large stuff I buy from stores. I'd say overall it averages two uses a month minimum. I don't care about it's condition meaning I don't worry about tossing stuff in it, scratching it, using a shovel on it etc. I could not imagine myself spending $45k on a shiny new truck and taking it to the stock yard and getting a 1/2 yard of gravel dumped in it from a front loader. My trailer? Who cares.

        The one I have is similar to this:
        http://www.tractorsupply.com/en/store/carry-on-trailerreg%3B-5-ft-w-x-8-ft-l-specialty-single-axle-trailer-1500-lb-payload-capacity [tractorsupply.com]

        I put some plywood on the deck and and on the sides.

        If you have room to store one, they make great haulers.

    • by redback ( 15527 )

      Lots of sports cars are fully or partially aluminium.

      Name a pickup truck that is.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Audi Q7, Audi Q5, Landrover Defender

  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @09:21AM (#45795247) Homepage Journal

    I'll note that my truck has a synthetic 'plastic' bed, it works great, and is probably as tough as a rhinoliner coated steel bed. I'm sure it saves weight/cost.

    The failure mechanics of aluminum is different than steel, but it is possible for it to be stronger for the weight. As a bonus, you shouldn't have nearly the rust problems. As usual, I'd be leery of buying the first year's model.

    I'm still holding out for my strong hybrid truck though.

    • by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @09:44AM (#45795365)

      I'm pretty sure Ford's ability to make anything rust will transcend the laws of physics and we'll see aluminum transmute directly to iron oxide.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Talderas ( 1212466 )

      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

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @09:22AM (#45795251) Journal
    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.
    • Or Chevy will finally take their slogan literally and built a pickup out of rocks.

    • by minstrelmike ( 1602771 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @11:08AM (#45796103)

      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.

      Ford: Made battle armor tough.
      I don't think it'll be a hard sell at all to the macho guys. Buy a truck made out of battle armor that reinforced humvees!?! Are you kidding me?
      Calling it a "rolling beer can" is just frosting on the cake.

  • by Bob the Super Hamste ( 1152367 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @09:24AM (#45795267) Homepage
    While other manufactures have made aluminum for vehicles for a while even this is an old story. Ford announced [wsj.com] over a year ago [slashdot.org] that the next gen F150 was going to be aluminum. The previous announcement stated that it would add about $1500 to the cost of materials. Also this isn't ford's first time working with aluminum bodied vehicles as they have previously experimented with aluminum bodied Tauruses as well as producing aluminum bodied Jaguars.
    • The trucks Home Depot rents out are Ford F-150s. The major advantage to the aluminum F-150 is going to be fuel savings which I believe Home Depot holds their renters liable for fuel costs. I'm predicting that Home Depot will not order the F-150 light duty truck for that model year and instead go with either GM or Chrysler because I'm quite certain that the $1,500 cost increase will make the other two brands more cost-effective.

  • Wasn't there talk of an aluminum shortage earlier this year?

    Or was it just speculation that Goldman Sachs tried to create a shortage to increase prices?

    • by Bob the Super Hamste ( 1152367 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @09:43AM (#45795361) Homepage
      Not speculation by Goldman Sachs but a little scam [nytimes.com] that they figured out how to do.
      • Early morning typo the "not" should be "no"
      • That's not a scam, that's hard work by the bankers making money for their investors using perfectly legal trading methods.

        They do the same thing with gasoline and other commodities. Personally, I think somebody should do a RIAA style calculation of what these manipulations cost the global economy and pass a law to extract it from the banks as tax. This type of manipulation is the dark side of "providing liquidity".

        • by cusco ( 717999 )

          "Other commodities", like foodstuffs. Speculators have driven millions to the edge of starvation by raising food prices out of reach of the world's poor. A couple of years ago the price of rice tripled, even though the world's farmers had record harvests. The price rise was directly attributable to speculators, and reportedly some boast about that on their resumes.

  • Driveline (Score:2, Informative)

    This will work fine. The issues will arise in the driveline. Specifically the rear axle. Clearly gears, diff and drive shaft will still be steel aloy. But if they try for an aluminum pumpkin and axle tubes it's going to fail. The frame isn't a big deal because they can beef that up as much as they want and the load is fairly predictable (strait down) But lots of people have tried aluminum rear axles and they just don't work in the kind of conditions a work truck operates under.

  • by deKernel ( 65640 ) <timfbarber@yaho[ ]om ['o.c' in gap]> on Friday December 27, 2013 @09:51AM (#45795415)

    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.

    • Same thing with the model changes to the Jeep Wrangler line after the YJ.

      All frou-frou and techie-wechie, but no guts.

      Comfort, style, and economy are not the primary design goals in a working vehicle.

      Unless you're a marketing creep.

    • 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 tlambert ( 566799 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @09:57AM (#45795433)

    So what exactly is the mileage after this?

  • 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 Nimey ( 114278 )

      There's always the Dunning-Kruger idiots who think their inexperienced-but-smart selves know more about engineering than people who've been doing it for thirty years. And then they fill up Internet fora with their foolishness.

      INT != WIS.

  • 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 [mercedes-benz.co.uk]! 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.

    • by LordNacho ( 1909280 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @11:29AM (#45796305)

      My thought as well. It's totally baffling that this beast is the world's top selling car. I'm a European currently visiting the US, and my wife and I are constantly pointing at what to us looks like a monster truck. I actually took a photo of me standing next to a random US pickup truck to demonstrate the ridiculousness of a car whose roof I can barely touch.

      The pickup idea is also completely foreign to me as a European city-dweller. Maybe it's because I have a family I can't see why they don't just put in a row of folding seats. I've never needed to carry anything that my Freelander couldn't handle.

      I love the names though. They really know how to name the giant vehicles. Ram, Silverado, Expedition, Armada...

    • The F-150 is the most popular pickup truck. An entrenched market for pickup trucks exists to supply home handymen, construction workers, farmers, repair people, landscapers, and pretty much anyone that needs to carry open loads of approaching 1 ton. (Half-ton pickups are usually capable of carrying more than 1/2 ton in a pinch.) Also, if you are towing, pickup trucks can pull large trailers (like fifth wheel trailers.) So anyone interested in sub-transport sized towing, often purchases a pickup truck.

  • 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 MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @05:12PM (#45800035) Homepage Journal

    Aluminum land rover bodies are a mainstay in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia because they don't corrode like steel bodies. Of course they are used with toyota/denso drive lines. Nobody uses land rover engines.

  • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Friday December 27, 2013 @09:16PM (#45802207) Homepage Journal

    Ford is apparently trying to squeeze more than 700 pounds out of its next generation of pickup trucks.

    Wouldn't it be easier to remove one passenger seat?