Ford’s Steel F-150 Pickups Could Get Aluminum Body Makeovers To Save On Fuel Costs

Is it the end of the super steely era? Ford is reportedly mulling over a decision to use aluminum panels in its F-150 pickup trucks, which have utilized steel panels since the vehicle’s birth decades ago. The company has already moved toward technology that helps its vehicles save on gas, and this aluminum move is yet another, as it will cut 700 pounds out of the pickup. That’s a lot less truck to move.

The Associated Press says the change will happen with the F-150s appearing on the market in July 2014. It’s a big move, as the pickups are Ford’s cash cow and the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. for 30 years. Not to mention Ford’s a widespread and devoted customer base which could be resistant to any more  big changes in the beloved vehicles.

Customers have already seemingly taken to things like turbocharged and direct-injected V6 engines on pickups, so perhaps they’re ready for even more changes. And change will happen — as the costs of fuel continue to rise, Ford and other automakers are facing the reality that they must rethink vehicle design and continue to grow or lag behind.

Ford’s F-series marketing manager Mike Levine says it’s “premature” to discuss the next offering in the series, while pointing out that the F-150 has had an aluminum hood since 2004.

“We’re constantly looking at multiple ways to improve our cars and our trucks,” he said.

The lighter the body of the car, the smaller other components like the engine and brakes can be. And the less metal you’re lugging around and burning gas on, the more you’ll save on fuel costs. Taking out all that steel will lead to an increase of about $1,500 to the cost of the truck, however, said Richard Schultz, managing director of consultant Ducker Worldwide, who was briefed on the change by a Ford executive with knowledge of the plans and also conducted a study of the issue.

Any die-hard F-150 devotees out there? Feel free to share your views on the move to steel in the newly-returned comments section.

Ford looking to aluminum for pickups? [Associated Press]
Ford Plans New F-150 with Aluminum Body [Wall Street Journal]

Comments

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  1. Marlin says:

    Not only saves on fuel but means it will be faster and also haul more.

  2. Hi_Hello says:

    it’s not a big change. When they start rolling out cars with carbon fiber, that will be a big change.

    heck, if they make one with carbon fiber that you can use to ram a brick wall and still drive, I’ll buy two. One to ram stuff and one to drive on a daily basis.

    • YouDidWhatNow? says:

      I’d say 700 pounds is a big change.

      I’d also say $1,500 is a big change. Big enough to put off a lot of people who might have bought one to go and buy something else.

      • Marlin says:

        $1500 extra on a Corolla or Cruze yea thats a lot. But for a full size truck its not much more. The average price of a full size truck today is in the high 20’s and many of them can hit 40k+ easy with options.

        • YouDidWhatNow? says:

          Try $60k. This I know, because I’ve owned nothing but full-size trucks I’ve bought new for the past almost 20 years.

          And I find it hard to swallow that $1,500 isn’t “much more” in the context of just about anything, unless you’re independently wealthy. If I happened to be looking for a new truck right now, and I could buy a Ford for $51,500 or a Dodge for $50,000 that were otherwise identical, guess which one I’m buying?

          • mrstu says:

            Well, if the Ford is 700 lbs lighter, they’re not ‘otherwise identical’. $1500 is about 15-20 tanks of gas for the thing, depending on the price where you are, if that weight makes a big difference in fuel economy the dodge might be the more expensive truck in the long run.

    • BorkBorkBork says:

      I think carbon fiber shatters on certain impacts.

  3. TonyK says:

    Smaller engine and brakes. How is that going to impact hauling capacity and tow load? How about durability in sectors, like lawn or home remodel/repair where these trucks take a beating.

    Not that I really care. My taste does not lean towards trucks or heavy SUVs. The closest we got was our Honda 2004 CRV.

    • Marlin says:

      Truck weighs less so the smaller engine would even out, also a lot of the towing ability is based on the frame and axle. Same with brakes. Most brake systems today are over sized. They are also much lighter than older braking system yet work better.

      So you can still make them lighter yet work as well or better.

    • DaveInBillsburg says:

      Smaller engines can be used since the truck is lighter, they can also use smaller brakes since it will require less braking power to stop a lighter vehicle. Since the engine and brakes will be smaller, they will also save weight to the 700 pounds saved on the body will increase due with the brakes and engine weight savings as well.

  4. McRib wants to know if you've been saved by the Holy Clown says:

    Good. Then they’ll be less super rusty trucks around here, with their flaky, red rustule infections/

    • Chuft-Captain says:

      That’s what I was thinking too – this should mean the trucks actually last longer, therefore givign you more work for their cost.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        No, it could mean they wear out faster, as aluminum isn’t as durable as steel in terms of standing up to wear & tear, especially in areas like the bed and tailgate, and especially considering the thickness of such materials.

        And aluminum corrodes just like everything else – it’s just that it corrodes white instead of red, like iron. So you can trade your flaky, red rustule infections for flaky, white rustule infections.

  5. Bobster says:

    Bad part of it all is the prices going up by $1500, considering that the prices are already higher than they should be for a truck.

  6. newfenoix says:

    The aluminum body panels don’t bother me. Ford lost me on other issues like the bi-turbo V6 that they expect to work as well as a V8. It won’t because it does have the torque of a V8. Dodge Ram and Toyota Tundra is the way to go now.

    • Marlin says:

      Wow, you really have no idea how a turbo engine works do you?
      Might want to look up the torque numbers on the new ford motor.

      Also Dodge Ram and Toyota Tundra Hahahahahahahahahahahaaaa….

      • newfenoix says:

        Actually I do know how a turbo works. Turbos work at higher RPM and that is not where torque is produced.

        • GearheadGeek says:

          The TURBO turns high RPM, you haven’t been paying attention to modern DI turbo engines. The Ecoboost reaches its very respectable max torque at a much lower RPM than normally aspirated gasoline engines.

    • phil says:

      Actually, the EcoBoost V6 has done pretty well – and I’ve seen some good write ups of it in the RV towing world. At 420 ft-lbs of torque, it doesn’t quite catch the 6.2l V8 (434 ft-lbs) – but handily surpasses the 5.0 V8 (380 ft-lbs), and does so at substantially lower RPM (2500 vs. 4250+).

    • GearheadGeek says:

      The Tundra is an excellent truck by all accounts, I have several friends who to their Airstreams with a Tundra. That said, the Ecoboost direct-injection V6 has turned out to be an excellent engine as well, and produces lots of power. When it’s towing, mileage is comparable to V8 trucks towing a similar load, and when driving without a load the mileage is excellent.

      It remains to be seen how durable the engines will be, though they’ve done some pretty harsh testing of early production runs of the engine. If I had to replace our ’07 F150 today, the choice would be between an Ecoboost F150 and a Tundra. The Ram just doesn’t have a good enough record for overall reliability.

      • newfenoix says:

        I have a Tundra right now. It is an 05 with the 4.7 V8. Turbos add to the maintenance issues and the Ecoboost engines have two turbos. I just don’t like the idea of having all of that extra junk on my engine. I just don’t think that they will be as reliable in the long run. The 2 wheel drive Rams have a good record and that is what I would buy.

        • GearheadGeek says:

          The Rams have great engines, decent transmissions and lots of issues with electrical, interior and AC durability. They’re fine trucks to keep for their bumper-to-bumper period, but I tend to keep a vehicle 10 years or so. I think you’d be much better off with a new Tundra than a new Ram if you’re going to keep it for the long haul.

          If the 4.7l is enough to get your job done, the Ecoboost would be serious overkill for you anyway. The Ecoboost produces its peak 420 lb-ft of torque at 2500 rpm, compared to your 4.7’s peak of 325 lb-ft at 3400 rpm.

    • BorkBorkBork says:

      Go read the sales figures of the EcoBoost V-6, newfenoix

    • Costner says:

      I hate to inform you… but you’re wrong.

      The EcoBoost V6 (twin-turbo V6) produces 365hp and 420lb-ft of torque. The 5.0L V8 produces 360-hp and 380lb-ft of torque. In fact the EcoBoost produces more hp and torque than all of the V8s produced just a few years ago – and it gets better fuel economy. The only way to get more torque is to upgrade to the massive 6.2L V8 which is standard in the Raptor… but you will be spending a LOT more time at the gas pump for very little improvement in power.

      Plus, if you honestly have your head set on a V8 for some reason you can still get one, thus your comment makes zero sense. Your follow-up comment about the turbo shows you haven’t even bothered to look at the torque curve of the EcoBoost, because if you did you would realize it is actually better than the standard V8.

      By the way – the V6 Ecoboost can actually tow 1300lbs MORE than the 5.0L V8 yet gets 4-5mpg more. Honestly anyone who has been paying attention understands the EcoBoost is a far superior engine than the standard V8, and you can expect Dodge, Chevy, and Toyota to be working on versions of their own to compete. The only other alternative which might replace a turbo engine in the short term would be a diesel, but since the manufacturers don’t like to put diesels in half ton trucks, I’m guessing we will start seeing a lot more turbos.

      You might be asking if the EcoBoost is so great, why do people still get the V8 – and that is a great question. The one negative of the EcoBoost is the price as it can cost $1750 more for the option.

    • wackydan says:

      The Twin turbo V6 (Ecoboost) develops more torque than the new 5.0 V8… And it produces that torque from a very low RPM on up.

      I think you need to do a little homework before you spew nonsense here.

  7. Dave says:

    Ford keeps making changes to the F150 line, some because of CAFE targets, and some because of consumer preference. I was going to buy a new F150 last year, but Ford no longer offers a manual transmission on the F150 line. I ended up buying a 2011 Ranger 4×4, but even that model didn’t have the twin stick option for the four wheel drive, instead going for an on the dash switch. Sadly, this was also the last year for the Ranger in the USA. It looks like in the future I’ll have to buy an older model and have it refurbished or switch to a different manufacturer to get the truck I want.

  8. do-it-myself says:
  9. benson304 says:

    Funny part about this is when I went to look at the Explorer they were touting the fact it still used steel. Figured I’d see something about their move away from it sooner or later and was wondering how it would be spun.

    I know the explorer is not the F150 but I’m sure the marketing is similar there.

  10. ARP3 says:

    But, isn’t it harder to repair dents in aluminum? Is the “cage” going to be aluminum as well? That could have some safety implications.

  11. Bort says:

    two things i would be concerned with, rust (corrosion) and longevity, all aluminum will eventually fail, unlike steel there is no amount that can resist fatigue failure

    • GearheadGeek says:

      aluminum is more brittle and thus more susceptible to fatigue failure as you say, but all other things being equal it’s MUCH more resistant to corrosion than steel is.

      • Bort says:

        but fatigue failure can be very catastrophic, a frame crumbling in an accident because of unseen cracks or age can leave everyone dead

        • GearheadGeek says:

          So, use aluminum for panels and steel frame for strength like my 40-yr-old Airstream. The semi-monocoque thing isn’t going to work for consumer automotive production, though, and is ancient tech anyway. AT the moment I think it’s much too expensive to do extensive frame work in aluminum, that’s why only the high-priced luxe and/or performance models use it for that.

          Note that I didn’t say the susceptibility to fatigue wasn’t an issue, just that corrosion isn’t generally the thing to be concerned with about aluminum as long as it’s not used stupidly (you can rot aluminum in a hurry with galvanic corrosion if you have it rubbing up against the wrong metals, e.g.)

          • Bort says:

            Rushing aluminum into use will lead to problems, it has to be done properly, and body panels are designed to crumple to absorb impact energy, but after a few years on the road they will behave differently then they did when new, the design for using them has to take this into account. And don’t forget road salt, sometimes what you can’t see can be very bad for you.
            I agree that used properly it aluminum can be useful, and we all want better gas mileage, but a rush to replace iron with aluminum without proper testing and focus on lifecycle and human life preservation will lead to many deaths, and when comparing profit to lives the automotive industry has quite the track record for choosing profit

            • ptr003 says:

              What the hell are you talking about? Body panels are not there to absorb impact, the crumple zones are in the frame. Aluminium also doesn’t corrode, making it IDEAL in use with road salt. Please don’t try to sound like you know what you’re talking about when you don’t know very basic information. My BMW has PLASTIC panels, which is even better as it doesn’t dent.

  12. human_shield says:

    It’s a good idea. The aluminum will still hold up to most of the abuse these trucks will see, which include spilling a Starbucks on it and getting hit with a grocery cart.

  13. howie2092 says:

    Aircraft have been mostly aluminum for 70+ years. Cargo aircraft see much more wear and tear over a multi-decade service life than most pickup buyers ever would imagine. I see no problem transferring that technology to cars and trucks.

  14. esc27 says:

    Sounds great for city and “play” trucks, but how will this impact the durability of real “work” trucks. My Dad has a 10 year old truck and a 20 year old truck. Both have been “well used” and have the dents to prove it, but both still run (the 20 year old not so well.) I’m not sure aluminum would hold up as well, and the fuel efficiency doesn’t help much if 90% of your driving is off road within 2 miles…