It’s Ford Motor Company’s biggest bet in decades: an aluminum-sided F-150 that could set a new industry standard or cost the company its pickup truck crown.
Ford was scheduled to start production of the 2015 F-150 today at its Dearborn Truck Plant, four miles from the company’s headquarters. It will arrive at US dealerships next month.
Ford thinks a truck that is lighter and more fuel efficient, but even more capable, will win buyers while its competitors struggle to catch up. Aluminum which is lighter than steel but just as strong isn’t new to the auto industry, but this is the first time it will cover the entire body of such a high-volume vehicle. Ford made 647,697 F-150 pickups at its two US plants last year; that’s one every 49 seconds.
There are big risks. F-Series trucks have been the best-selling vehicles in the US for 37 straight years; last year, Ford sold nearly 100,000 more full-size pickups than General Motors. Any quality problems, production hiccups or customer doubts about aluminum could slow sales and hurt Ford’s bottom line. Morgan Stanley estimates F-Series trucks account for 90 percent of Ford’s global automotive profit.
CEO Mark Fields told the AP he is confident Ford made the right decision. The new truck has been through 10 million miles of testing, which is more than any other vehicle in Ford’s history, he says.
Top managers agreed unanimously to switch to aluminum at a meeting in 2012.
“Were we recognizing that it was a risk? Sure,” Fields says. “But it was a very calculated and informed risk that gave us the confidence that we were going to get this done.”
If Ford’s bet pays off, it could gain an even more commanding lead in the lucrative truck market. More importantly, aluminum “future proofs” the truck and the company in an era of rising fuel economy standards, says Karl Brauer, a senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book.
“If Ford masters the art of delivering an aluminum vehicle at the level the F-150 sells, they are going to be able to expand that to Mustangs, Edges and Lincolns,” Brauer says.
Truck buyers are among the most loyal in the auto market, and Ford can count on many of them. The company says more than 224,600 potential buyers have already asked for more details about the truck.