The word from the Wall Street Journal is that Ford’s planning to build the next generation F-150 with a largely aluminum body. Their goal is to cut down the weight of the truck by a whopping 700lbs. Ideally, this would increase gas mileage significantly, and allow for the use of smaller engines. In addition, it’ll be getting a more muscular look to match it’s brand new body.
Building in aluminum has it’s issues, however. For one it’s expensive. Steel has the benefit of being cheap to manufacture and fix, while aluminum is more difficult to work with. In general, it costs between $1.5 to $2 to cut one pound of weight from a car by using aluminum over steel. Richard Schultz, managing director of metals at consultancy Ducky Worldwide, estimates a $1,500 bump in material costs to the F-150 should Ford go through with it. That’s not even including the retooling costs required for large scale aluminum adoption.
This sounds like a risky gamble for Ford on one of their most popular models, but the payoffs could be huge. While aluminum isn’t quite as resilient as steel, it’s very strong. Ford’s Raptor actually uses aluminum control arms and hasn’t had a problem yet. Aluminum is also the least expensive way to add lightness to stress bearing components while maintaining strength. Although it might make for a more expensive F-150 in the short term, there’s indicators that an aluminum body would actually make for a better truck overall.