Aluminum tool vendors put the peddle to the metal

Rob Retter of Eurovac says the 2015 aluminum F-150 is "the biggest thing in the history of our company." Eurovac, a Canadian company, makes equipment for extracting dust and fumes from industrial sites.

Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS
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Editor's note: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized two of Ford's recommendations as requirements. Ford is encouraging the purchase of the Eurovac II and encouraging separate areas for aluminum repairs.

NEW ORLEANS -- Rob Retter doesn't mince words when he talks about what the 2015 aluminum-bodied Ford F-150 pickup means for Eurovac, the Concord, Ontario, equipment firm his family owns.

"This is the biggest thing in the history of our company," he said.

Retter was perched on the Ford Motor Co. stand at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention showing off two pieces of equipment his company makes for collision repair shops.

One of them, the Eurovac II, carries a price tag of $10,125. It's designed to vacuum aluminum dust off shop floors. Ford is encouraging dealers to buy the equipment if they want to make their body shops aluminum capable.

Eurovac manufactures industrial equipment for removing dust and fumes. A Eurovac portable fume extractor on display is optional.

Until now, aluminum bodies largely have been limited to high-end cars such as the Audi A8 and Jaguar XJ. But the F-150, the top-selling vehicle in the country, changes all that. With the F-150, aluminum moves into the mainstream, and some analysts predict more vehicles will follow.

A steady stream of dealers flowed through the Ford stand looking at aluminum work stations, rivet guns and other equipment. Ford estimates the average dealer will have to spend $30,000 to $50,000 to get set up. Dealers can purchase the equipment through Rotunda, Ford's tool supply unit. Ford is offering dealers a 20 percent discount, up to $10,000, on equipment they buy before Oct. 31.

"Right now they're trying to get their heads wrapped around all the requirements," said Retter.

The F-150 is great news for companies such as Eurovac and Car-O-Liner Co., a Swedish firm with U.S. headquarters in suburban Detroit. Car-O-Liner President Jeffrey Kern said his company is prepared for a surge in business.

"We're capable of handling the additional volume," Retter said. "We've had rollouts before with manufacturers, but not to this level."

At the NADA convention, Douglas Bortz, Car-O-Liner’s national sales manager, shows off some tools designed specifically for repairs of aluminum body panels on the Ford F-150.

The aluminum buzz at the NADA convention wasn't confined to the Ford stand. Car-O-Liner displayed a full aluminum work bay at its booth featuring a damaged aluminum-bodied Audi R8.

Ford is encouraging dealers and independent collision shops who want to perform aluminum collision repair to set up separate areas in their body shops. Ford and experts in collision repair say that aluminum and steel do not mix in work areas, making separate areas advisable.

In a statement, Ford said: "The majority of collision repairs can be completed by most body shops today (e.g. bumpers, grilles, mirrors, dings, dents). Major collision repairs should be performed by aluminum capable Ford Body Shops or Ford National Body Shop Network members (dealers and independents)."

Car-O-Liner supplies the heavy-duty floor-to-ceiling curtains dealers need to set up a separate station along with welding equipment, sets of aluminum body-working tools, and lifts and racks of various sizes. They help dealers set up aluminum work areas.

The good news for dealers is that, unlike some manufacturers, Ford will not require dealers to set up a separate "clean room" for working on aluminum. So dealers can curtain off areas, do the body work, clean the area and convert back to steel.

For suppliers such as Car-O-Liner and Eurovac, the aluminum F-150 is a gift that will keep on giving.

"We're pinching ourselves," says Eurovac's Retter. "Right now we have 25 employees. We're expecting that will grow substantially. We're working hard."

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.


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