When big news comes out of Detroit, it usually isn’t good. We have become accustomed to plant closings, layoffs, union strife, you name it. Regardless of the recent resurgence in auto sales we all know how cyclical things in the Motor City can be. This time the news is from Ford, and rather than being bad, it is almost shocking considering what the industry has been through.
First off, let’s briefly look at Ford’s fortunes in recent times. When GM and Chrysler took government bailouts, Ford said thanks but no thanks, we’re doing OK. This is a company that has had a member of the Ford family at the helm since the company began. Ford is global, and often when one part of the globe is doing well, another may be faltering, yet somehow the family has stayed in the fray for more than a century. Since the bailout of GM and Chrysler, Ford has continued to introduce new models and set styling trends. The one area that continues to haunt Ford is consistency in quality. Some products are great, others not so much. My own experience has been mixed. However, throughout the years, Ford’s F-150 pickup has dominated its market segment. The F-150 has gotten Ford through the tough times, and now they have made a radical announcement that changes everything. At the Detroit Auto Show, Ford introduced the 2015 F-150 with an all aluminum body.
What other vehicles can you name with an all aluminum body? The Land Rover Defender. The Rolls Royce (mostly). The old AC Cobra. All British, all very expensive. There are some military vehicles and a few other exotics, but mass production of aluminum bodies for an American vehicle is unprecedented. Why aluminum? Because it is lightweight. My 3Ž4 ton Dodge pickup has to weigh in at more than 5,000 pounds and it gets about 15 miles per gallon on a good day. Most trucks aren’t radically different. However, what if you shaved 700 pounds off the trucks weight? With a reasonable aerodynamic drag coefficient you can expect some significant fuel mileage increases, and for the American pickup fleet, that’s impressive. Then there’s the issue we all deal with here in Vermont: rust.
While aluminum does not rust, it can corrode. Fastening an aluminum body to a metal frame poses a few challenges as well. When aluminum comes in contact with steel, it can cause corrosion. I am assuming that Ford’s engineers have used like metal fasteners in aluminum or steel where appropriate, and the correct type of isolation for those critical areas as dictated by the vehicles metallurgy. Things like grilles and bumpers contain a lot of plastic these days, so that’s not a problem.
I have to admit that I am intrigued by Ford’s bold move. The fact of the matter is this; if someone doesn’t do something to improve gas mileage for pickup trucks, sales will be negatively impacted. By taking this preemptive strike Ford is placing itself head and shoulders above the competition. How long before lessons learned with aluminum truck bodies translate to passenger cars with aluminum bodies? These are exciting times we are living in. The few truck guys I have talked with seem to welcome the new aluminum Ford F-150. I really hope that Ford gets this right for the sake of the environment, the economy, and owner’s who are sick of dealing with body rust. This is quite the roll of the dice!
Arlo Mudgett’s Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT FM Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m.