Ford plans wide use of aluminum on F-150 pickup, report says
Ford has to convince buyers that aluminum is tough enough for use in pickups.
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DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. is exploring wider use of aluminum on its next-generation F-150 pickup to trim 700 pounds, boost fuel economy and meet tougher federal fuel-economy rules, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.
The weight cut would increase fuel efficiency of the 2015 F-150 by about 25 percent, the Journal reported, quoting sources it did not name.
In a statement, Ford did not confirm or deny the report, but noted that the F-150’s hood has been made of aluminum since 2004, and that Ford has used the material for the lower control arm on the SVT Raptor, an SUV based on the F-150 that is designed for off-road conditions.
The Ford statement said it was “premature” to say a large application of aluminum is in the works for its top-selling model.
“We are constantly looking at multiple ways to improve our cars and trucks with innovative technology that improves fuel efficiency and capability,” the company said.
The Obama administration has proposed fuel economy rules that would require an automaker’s U.S. car and light-truck fleet to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The proposal has automakers studying a wide range of options such as hybrids, diesels, new materials and enhancements to existing engines and transmissions.
The push for fuel efficiency already has resulted in a partnership between Ford and Toyota Motor Corp. on hybrid technology for light trucks. The two automakers plan a hybrid system for Ford and Toyota rear-wheel-drive SUVs and light trucks later this decade.
Although aluminum is lighter than steel, it does have drawbacks.
It is more expensive than steel and tears more easily than steel in the stamping presses used for body parts.
There are marketing considerations as well. Pickup buyers value toughness, and steel has proved it can take punishment. Ford would have to convince buyers that aluminum is tough enough for use in pickups.
Richard Schultz, a consultant with Ducker Worldwide, told the Journal it would cost an estimated $1,500 in material costs to build an F-150 using enough aluminum to trim 800 pounds.
General Motors also has studied wider use of aluminum to enhance the fuel economy of its pickups. But GM has determined customers won’t pay substantially more for the benefit, the Journal said, citing Mark Reuss, head of GM's North America business unit.
GM plans to meet the new fuel economy rules by producing two different types of pickups, the paper said.
The automaker will launch lighter full-sized trucks next year that have more aluminum parts and improved engines and transmissions to reduce fuel use, the paper said.
The automaker also plans a smaller, lighter truck that is scheduled to go on sale in several years. The new truck won't be able to haul as much cargo or tow as much gear as GM’s biggest pickups, but the company says they will provide 20 percent better fuel economy, according to unnamed source whom the Journal said was familiar with GM’s plans.
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