DETROIT—Ford chose to hold its annual North American International Auto Show press conferences in the Joe Louis Arena, the cavernous stadium where the Red Wings play. The sheer level of glitz and the million-watt sound system made sure that all of us journalists were wide awake for the morning's big announcement.
As it happens, Ford had something to crow about—the F-150 pickup, the bestselling vehicle in America for 32 years (one of every four Ford sales), is now going to be bodied in aluminum alloy, losing 700 pounds in the process. Car Talk first reported on this development back in October, when it was just a strong rumor. The truck is all-new for 2015.
Ford’s big trucks were already going green. According to Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas, the company has sold 425,000 of them with the fuel-sipping EcoBoost engine. Forty percent of buyers pay extra for that powerplant. And now the truck will be bodied in military-grade aluminum, with a high-strength steel ladder frame. Both Alcoa and Novelis are suppliers.
The aluminum truck makes sense, because the big beast could possibly achieve 30 mpg on the highway, with 2.7- and 3.5-liter EcoBoost engines as part of the package. Ford’s surveys show that 80 percent of F-150 buyers want better fuel economy, and they’re favorable to aluminum. Ford slipped some aluminum-bodied trucks into company fleets, and got favorable reactions.
According to Raj Nair, who heads global product development, “The new materials save weight and boost gas mileage.“ He said the aluminum bodies survived 10 million miles of Ford torture testing.
According to Novelis during a visit to their snowy Oneanta, New York headquarters, the aluminum supply chain will be sustainable. Trucks will roll to Ford’s truck plants in Dearborn, Michigan and Claycomo, Missouri carrying big rolls of alloy, and will come back laden with scrap to be remade into more sheets of aluminum.
Even a diehard EV advocate like me has to admit that cutting 700 pounds of dead weight out of millions of bestselling trucks is a high-priority idea.