Ford F150 proves that aluminum alloy works

Something big happened in the truck world back in 2014. Something really big. One of the largest manufacturers and sellers of mid-duty pickup trucks was going to be redesigning their flagship truck. This was more than just a redesign. They were going to change the body material entirely. When Ford announced an all aluminum body F150 in 2014, the automotive world reacted very emotionally. This was a huge risk for Ford. This was a major change to a vehicle that, for decades, is their top selling vehicle. The F series outsells everything else in North America, period. Ford’s F series generate significant revenue for the company. To call this a risk was an understatement.

While using a new and untested body material was enough of a risk, Ford took even more risk in the production shutdown that would inevitably follow. Both of their plants would have to undergo half billion dollar renovations to work with aluminum. Inevitably, this would lead to a big hit in revenues, something Ford warned investors about in a conference call before production started. Surely even the most successful of vehicle nameplates would not survive this, not to mention keep their title as number one selling vehicle. Ford took a serious gamble with the aluminum F 150, and seemed to be asking a lot of truck buyers to agree to their crazy plan.

But it worked.

Now, as the end of 2016 approaches, Ford’s aluminum F150 is in its second generation. The company has unveiled a new EcoBoost engine and impressive 10 speed transmission. Both of these are setting industry firsts, and both have been, so far, well reviewed. What’s most impressive is how the aluminum bodied F150 has been received by the market. I drove one soon after it was released and then again earlier this year, both times I was very impressed. The aluminum body does a lot to reduce weight, maintain structural integrity by protecting rust. Initial concerns about aluminum’s fragility seem to have been in vain. Competitors were initially excited to point out the weaknesses of the aluminum alloy in an effort to take market share from the industry leader. None of this, however, seemed to have an effect where it mattered.

Sales. Ford experienced a dip in sales during the early quarters of 2015. This was expected. However, orders for the new F150 continued to charge forward. Ford never lost their position as the number one pickup, and number one vehicle by sales numbers. It seems the market was more than ready for an aluminum alloy pickup. Ford executed their production switch so quickly, so well, that it barely made the news. There were some grumblings about sales dips during the transition, but nothing serious. Ford’s aluminum was so successful off the line that GM quietly announced they would be switching to an aluminum alloy as well by 2018, or so says the rumours. Does make their anti-aluminum alloy commercials feel a bit…hypocritical.

Ford’s strategy to use aluminum alloy was a conscious one; Likely one driven by a need for mileage. Their powertrain upgrade was years away, so no new engines or transmissions were going to help them increase the miles per gallon. Now, two years in, they have taken the curtain off a 10 speed transmission and newly improved EcoBoost engine. Official numbers are not yet out, but reviews of the 10 speed are positive. This 10 speed is a result of internal collaborations with GM, hopefully avoiding many of the reliability issues their competitors have experienced, according to Ford. The future for the F series of trucks looks good, even better with a fresh powertrain on the way. But there is yet another card up their sleeve.

Just recently a new F150 was spotted being tested. A diesel F150. Surely a better three words have never been strung together. There aren’t any specifics, and only rumours about which diesel will be used, but the 3.0L V6 from former Ford subsidiary Land Rover appears to be the choice. Its power and torque specs match the EcoDiesel from FCA nicely. Ford does owe thanks to FCA for the diesel. Their EcoDiesel has proven immensely popular in the Ram, something both Ford and GM have likely noted. Speculating again, if Ford does mate this engine with their new 10 speed, we’re going to be looking at some fantastic mileage for a mid-sized pickup. Often the question is asked, “How can you make a great thing better?” to which I respond, “With a diesel”.

Long live the aluminum alloy F150.

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