Ford bets big on the Aluminium F150

As any engineer will tell you, when you want to go fast, weight is the enemy; so it seems obvious that you should construct your vehicles from materials of the lowest weight. That is precisely what Ford is proposing with the redesign and relaunch of their category leading F-150 pick-up truck. For more than 30 years, the F-150 has dominated the segment and so Ford obviously was looking for ways to extend the winning streak. Modest improvements could have been made but the engineers over at Ford decided to take a radical approach that had not been tried on any high volume vehicle; and that was to manufacture all the body panels from aluminium.

This isn’t a new technology. Audi, Jaguar and Land Rover have been using aluminium as the primary metal in their vehicles for a while but they produce relatively low volume, expensive vehicles. The problem with aluminium is that it is more expensive than steel and cannot be welded in the same way; it has to be riveted and bonded, and doing this at the pace that Ford intends to – 140,000 vehicles per week – has never been tried before.

The aluminium revolution in the F-150 has been pushed through by Head Engineer, Derrick Kuzak, who wants the weight saving, not to gain more speed, but to deliver better efficiency. With any vehicle, if you have a lighter body, you can get away with a smaller and thus lighter engine to push it around. The new truck will be at least 500lbs lighter than the model it will replace, which is a massive achievement when you consider the ever increasing weight of family sedans (read also Plump my ride!). This weight reduction will translate to a fuel saving of between 5% and 20%, according to Ford. The outgoing model’s engines, a normally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 and the 5-litre V8, will be an option in the new truck, but it really has been designed for a brand new 325hp twin-turbocharged 2.7-litre V6 gasoline engine that offers the power of a V8 with the efficiency of a 6-cylinder.

All of this is a big gamble for Ford who still hasn’t proven that it has perfected the technology and so far the company has invested some US$1.4 billion in the project to get two factories ready for production. Any delay in production will hurt Ford badly and prove a bonus for their rivals over at RAM and GM, who have already started a price war to woo die-hards who fear the unknown costs that may be associated with aluminium, such as collision repairs, which are not as straightforward with aluminium as they are with steel.

Nobody outside of Ford expects the launch and introduction to go smoothly, citing the case of the Ford Escape Cross-Over vehicle, which is a far less complicated vehicle to build and has been recalled a total of 12 times in a year. Of course, others would argue that practice makes perfect and the lessons that have been learned from the Escape will benefit the F-150. The stakes are high, though, because the F-150 made up 90% of global profits; any production delays will severely hurt the company’s bottom line.



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