- Next gen F-150 to feature intensive use of aluminum panels
- But not the frame... which will still be steel
- Goal to the shed 700 lbs to meet the new CAFE standards
- Estimated cost extra per vehicle: $1,500
- Chrysler also just started design for next gen Ram with similar goal of weight reduction
The article talked about GM's new pickup trucks next year will not use expensive aluminum but I think the writer missed the reason... The design for GM's truck were locked in before bankruptcy. It is hitting the market next year because it was massively delayed. Ford (and Chrysler) are starting with clean sheet designs for 2015/2016 model years with the hindsight of the new CAFE requirement. I'm not sure what this means for GM in a few years but this explains why they revived the Colorado for the US market after they had previously decided to pull out from the small truck market.
My thought: 700 lb weight reduction will make a very promising SVT Lightning.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000...227138686.htmlOriginally Posted by WSJALLEN PARK, Mich.—In this suburb just west of Detroit, Ford Motor Co. F -0.11% is working on one of the biggest gambles in its 108-year history: a pickup truck with a largely aluminum body.
The radical redesign will help meet tougher federal fuel-economy targets now starting to have wide-ranging effects on Detroit's auto makers. But Ford will have to overcome a host of manufacturing obstacles, plus convince die-hard pickup buyers that aluminum is as tough as steel.
Ford is hoping the switch to the lighter metal will cut the weight of its F-150 truck by about 700 pounds, according to Ford executives familiar with the company's plans. That is roughly a 15% reduction for the F-150, which is the company's most popular pickup in the U.S., favored by farmers and suburbanites alike. Such a reduction would enable Ford's trucks to go farther on a gallon of gasoline, and open the door to other changes, such as the use of smaller engines, that can further boost fuel economy. Along with the aluminum makeover, the new F-150 also is getting a more muscular look, according to one Ford designer.
In the summer of 2011, the Obama administration pushed through new fuel-economy regulations that would require the U.S. vehicle fleet to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The requirements ramp up fuel economy goals for vehicles of different sizes each year.
The new Ford truck is being designed to come out in 2014 capable of hitting the increasing fuel economy standards through 2020, one of the executives familiar with its plans said. That would equate to roughly a 25% improvement in fuel economy. One of Ford's most popular trucks, the 2012 F-150 four-wheel drive with the 3.5-liter V6 engine, now gets 17 miles per gallon combined city and highway mileage.
Across the industry, auto makers are pouring money into new technology to meet the standards. At General Motors Co., GM +1.65% nearly every vehicle is being fitted with a hybrid-electric system that captures energy when the vehicle slows and uses it to boost power when it accelerates. Several other car makers are designing engines that shut off at stop lights to save fuel.
Other car makers also are embracing aluminum. Novelis, the world leader in rolled sheet aluminum and a subsidiary of the Aditya Birla Group, is tripling its U.S. production capacity of automotive sheet aluminum, used to make body panels.
Few have as much at stake as Ford. The F-series is one of the most profitable motor-vehicle lines in the world. In 2011, a third of Ford's $8.8 billion global operating profit was generated by F-series sales, according to a Barclays estimate. Since 1982, F-series trucks have outsold every other vehicle in the U.S. market. The new pickup will be coming at a key time for Ford, which this week said second-quarter net income sank 57% because of weakness in Europe.
The aluminum body is being used for the F-150 only; the larger F-250 and other Ford heavy trucks don't fall under the new fuel-economy standards.
There are currently 10 different versions of the F-150, starting in price from $23,500 to $49,030. Last year, Ford sold 584,917 F-series trucks of all stripes in the U.S. Ford doesn't break out sales of the F-150 from other F-series models, but the F-150 accounts for about 75% of the total, according to registration data collected by Experian Automotive.
Ford isn't giving details on the next F-150, including how much aluminum will be used. "Aluminum is certainly a big opportunity for weight reduction," on the F-150, Raj Nair, the global chief of product development, said in an interview earlier this year. "We have been public that weight reduction is going to be a big part of our strategy."
Using aluminum could put Ford in a tough competitive position against GM and Chrysler Group LLC, the other heavyweights in pickup trucks. Aluminum is more expensive than steel, and extensive use could drive up costs, cut the F-series' hefty profit margins, or push away price-sensitive customers. Aluminum also is trickier to work with. The switch will require investment in hundreds of millions of dollars in new manufacturing equipment, and the use of auto-assembly techniques that pose challenges in high-volume production.
There is also risk that Ford will offend pickup purists who want the toughest truck around, not necessarily the lightest truck around. Doug Scott, the F-150 marketing manager, said durability and reliability will be a key in the next truck, just as they are in the current model. A Ford spokesman noted Ford already uses aluminum control arms on its F-150 SVT Raptor, a four-wheel-drive truck designed for the most punishing off-road use.
Mike Shaw, who owns more than a dozen dealerships in Colorado, including those selling Chevrolet, GMC and Ford, said his truck buyers might balk at first at a truck with a lot of aluminum parts. "There is going to be a certain percentage of the people that will bitch and complain, but they will ultimately get that vehicle," he said. "They may hold off for a little and keep their old ones longer. Then they will buy a new one."
For Ford, and its chief executive, Alan Mulally, a misstep would be costly. Since arriving at Ford in 2006, Mr. Mulally has emerged as one of the most respected CEOs anywhere, having turned Ford around while GM and Chrysler slid into bankruptcy. The F-series decision will likely be the most important vehicle call in his tenure at the company, and getting it right is critical for ensuring Ford continues to prosper over the next decade.
Richard Schultz, managing director of metals at consulting firm Ducker Worldwide, said it costs auto makers between $1.50 and $2 to cut one pound of weight out of a vehicle using aluminum instead of steel. His firm did a study showing that 800 pounds could be cut out of a 2008 full-size pickup by replacing steel with aluminum and a few other lightweight metals. He estimates it would cost about $1,500 extra in material costs to build an F-150 using that much aluminum.
GM, Ford's longtime rival, which outsells Ford some years in trucks with Chevy and GMC combined, also looked into increasing the use of aluminum to improve fuel-economy in future pick ups. But GM concluded customers will balk at paying more. "Pickup buyers have enjoyed this bandwidth of cheapness, in which they get size, capability and aesthetics at affordable prices," said Mark Reuss, who runs GM's North American operations.
Instead, GM plans to address the fuel-economy challenge by producing two different trucks. Next year, GM is expected to launch a full-size truck for customers who need power and towing performance. GM is working on improved engines and transmissions to reduce fuel consumption. The new trucks will also have a sleeker design to improve aerodynamics, and use aluminum to cut weight, but not to the same level as Ford.
Then, about two years later, GM will add a smaller truck. It won't be able to haul quite as much gravel or tow as much gear as the bigger model, but GM is counting on it to offer 20% better gas mileage, without the extra cost of heavy use of aluminum parts, a person familiar with GM's plans said.
GM and Ford rarely take such divergent paths. They typically respond to consumer shifts with nearly identical strategies, as they did with muscle cars in the 1960s and sport-utility vehicles in the 1990s. One time they didn't was in the 1930s, when GM produced cars under an array of brands, while Ford continued making a few, simple models. The result: GM zoomed past its rival and became the world's No. 1 auto maker.
Chrysler, which has the Ram 1500, already is pulling out all the stops to try to best the fuel economy of Ford's current F-150. Chrysler's redesigned truck, out this year, will have an eight-speed transmission, shutters that close on the grille to improve aerodynamics, a system that cuts the engine at stop lights and a suspension that lowers the truck on the highway to cut down on drag. Chrysler is just getting started on developing the next-generation model that will have to hit much higher fuel-economy standards.
Ford's experimentation with all-aluminum bodies goes back to the early 1990s, when the company produced a small fleet of aluminum Tauruses, requiring the company to create several bonding and welding processes.
While experts say it is possible to produce vehicles in the same high volumes as those with steel bodies, it has never been done on the scale of a truck like the F-150. A big headache is the lack of magnetism, requiring powerful and electricity-hungry vacuums to be used to pick up the aluminum sheets for transfer. Assembly plants now use giant magnets to move steel body panels around.
Aluminum also is more springy than steel, snapping back farther after it is pressed. That makes it more challenging to build the massive dies on which the metal is formed. Aluminum is more likely to tear if pressed too quickly, requiring the presses to be run more slowly. And it scratches more easily, so workers have to clean the surfaces of the dies in the plant regularly to prevent slivers of aluminum from ruining panels.
Volkswagen AG's VOW.XE -4.00% Audi luxury brand and Jaguar and Land Rover have the most intensive use of aluminum in their vehicles. In 2003, Jaguar came out with a new XJ model that had an aluminum body and interior structure. The car was developed while the luxury brand was owned by Ford, before it was sold along with Land Rover in 2008 to Tata Motors Ltd. TTM +0.37% But Jaguar, which has two aluminum models, the XK and XJ, produced about 50,000 models globally last year, a pittance compared with Ford's F-150 production.
In 2004, as the auto market soared, Ford sold a record 939,511 F-series pickups. That amounted to 5.5% of the entire U.S. vehicle market.
But four years later, gas prices rose above $4 a gallon, sales of pickups began tumbling, and the Bush administration set higher fuel-economy standards for trucks. At that time, Ford looked into a two-truck strategy similar to what GM is doing, according to an engineer close to Ford's truck plans and another person familiar with the company's work. It considered making a smaller, lighter truck that would get better gas mileage and could be called the F-100, these two people said. In the end the company worried that cutting weight to improve fuel economy would result in a truck that would be less durable and would damage Ford's reputation for toughness, they said.
Ford then handed the job of finding a solution to Peter Reyes, the 49-year-old engineer who is heading the F-series program. Mr. Reyes made a name for himself by leading the development of a new midsize sedan, and then an update of the Super Duty versions of the F-series trucks—large, commercial trucks that generate huge profits.
Mr. Reyes's team set a goal of reducing their truck's weight by up to 700 pounds, with good reason. The general rule is that a 10% reduction in weight results in a 7% increase in fuel economy.
Mr. Reyes's team looked at using an aluminum frame, but it backed off, a person familiar with the effort to cut weight said. Since truck frames need to be extra rigid to handle payloads, and so much more aluminum would be required for that big, crucial part than steel, the cost proved too high and the weight reduction too small, this person said.
Instead, Ford is using aluminum body panels. Behind the tall green fence topped by barbed wire at Ford's pilot plant in Allen Park, Ford engineers have been working to assemble the first prototypes. Access is restricted to a small number of team members who have signed nondisclosure agreements, according to an engineer familiar with Ford's effort. By the end of this summer, Ford has to lock in plans because tool makers at its Rouge assembly plant outside Detroit in October will begin designing the massive dies on which the body panels are pressed. It is an extra long lead time to allow for bugs to be worked out.