Rivals eye F-150 with respect, questions

Competitors give Ford considerable respect for creating an aluminum body for the F-150, the automaker's top-selling crown jewel. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

DETROIT -- At the Detroit auto show here this week, suppliers and competitors finally got a chance to inspect the innovative Ford F-150 pickup.

A constant parade of them toured the Ford exhibit. They snapped pictures with their cellphones. They measured. They drew technical sketches. They counted and examined the rivets and fasteners. They ran fingers over seams and counted the subassemblies that made up the door frame.

Their judgment: Ford's high-aluminum body doesn't advance the art of carmaking. The basic technology -- rivets and glue -- to assemble aluminum bodies has been used on various production cars for years.

But competitors gave Ford considerable respect for creating an aluminum body for the F-150, the automaker's top-selling crown jewel.

Suppliers and rivals scoured the Ford exhibit at the auto show for details of the F-150. Photo credit: RICHARD TRUETT

"That took some guts," said Mark Bacchus, a Toyota r&d engineer who works at the company's Ann Arbor, Mich., technical center. "It's an aggressive maneuver, but it is not a moon shot. The industry is going that way anyway. Ford just did it first.

"At Toyota, a proposal like this would prompt the question 'What are you doing to offset cost?'" he said. "But we are tiptoeing in that direction. We are already doing aluminum hoods."

An engineer for ThyssenKrupp Steel said as he examined part of the roof rail, "We knew it was coming. I'm kind of intrigued by it. I don't know of any other way to get that much weight out." The engineer declined to give his name.

A Chrysler Group engineer, who also declined to give his name, was skeptical of Ford's claim that the 2015 pickup will be 700 pounds lighter than the 2014 F-150. "I want to see how Ford did the math," he said. "The 700 pounds is baffling."

He also wondered about durability: "For the farmer who buys the truck and really works it, will the rivets pop out three years down the road?"

Ryan Mackey, general manager of Kuhio Ford in Lihue, Hawaii, traveled to Detroit to see the new pickup. He was not concerned that his customers will reject the aluminum F-150 or that quality will suffer because of the pickup's extensive re-engineering.

Mackey believes Ford's adoption of military-grade aluminum and the pickup's high fuel economy will sell it, even if the sticker increases moderately. Ford has not released prices. The highway fuel economy rating of the 2015 F-150 is expected to approach 30 mpg.

"I'm excited at the prospect that we can have a truck that gets 30 mpg on the highway. That's groundbreaking," Mackey said. "I'm thinking it will be a couple of grand more. Any dealer will tell you they want a product that the customer can afford."

Mackey said his store sells about 200 F-series pickups per year; nine of 10 are F-150s.

"I know Ford," he said. "This is their bread-and-butter vehicle. I don't see them dropping the ball on something this important."



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