Why Isn’t the 2020 Ford Explorer Body 100% Aluminum?

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2020 Ford Explorer Limited

Ford utilized a mixed-materials approach with the new Explorer, and there are some very good reasons why.

By now, you’re probably intimately familiar with the all-new 2020 Ford Explorer. Long America’s favorite SUV, the reborn Explorer looks like the best one yet. Especially since it’s beaten the odds and returned to a rear-wheel drive format, something we never thought we’d see happen. We had a chance to test out every drivetrain/trim level offered on the new Explorer, and we came away very much impressed.

However, one interesting detail that hasn’t received much press is the fact that the new Explorer’s body isn’t entirely made of aluminum, like the F-150. And, well, we thought that was a bit strange given how wildly popular the 2015+ F-Series trucks have been. The Detroit Free Press felt the same way, so they set out to get the scoop on Ford’s “mixed materials” strategy with the new Explorer.

2020 Ford Explorer Limited

“Weight was a factor in every decision we made,” Explorer chief engineer Bill Gubing explained. “We looked at every part.” So why not just go with 100% aluminum, which is obviously lighter than steel? Well, for starters, the industry trend has shifted toward more mixed material construction as of late. The Explorer, for example, utilizes steel, aluminum, magnesium and plastic in its structure. The steel industry has also been working overtime to develop lighter and stronger products.

Altogether, the new Explorer is 200 pounds lighter than the outgoing model. Which is obviously paltry compared to the F-150’s 700 pound weight savings. But the F-Series pickups are also Ford’s cash cow, so the extra investment was more easily absorbed. Plus, Ford was still able to make the new Explorer 36% stiffer and vastly more fuel efficient without simply seeking greater weight loss.

2020 Ford Explorer Hybrid

Instead, engineers focused their efforts underneath the Explorer’s body. And they came up with all sorts of ingenious solutions. Things like a magnesium beam behind the dashboard, thinner plastic in the air conditioning ducts, and strategic cutting in the steel chassis, all of which saves weight while adding strength.

Ford sunk a ton of engineering into the 2020 Explorer’s architecture as a result. But they also plan to utilize this structure for a variety of future products. Thus, they’ll wind up saving money in the long run. So, it appears that aluminum is no longer the future we thought it might be, at least in anything other than the F-Series. Apparently, Ford has come up with an even smarter way to improve its future products.

Photos: Ford Motor Company

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Brett Foote has been covering the automotive industry for over five years and is a longtime contributor to Internet Brands’ Auto Group sites, including Chevrolet Forum, Rennlist, and Ford Truck Enthusiasts, among other popular sites.

He has been an automotive enthusiast since the day he came into this world and rode home from the hospital in a first-gen Mustang, and he's been wrenching on them nearly as long.

In addition to his expertise writing about cars, trucks, motorcycles, and every other type of automobile, Brett had spent several years running parts for local auto dealerships.

You can follow along with his builds and various automotive shenanigans on Instagram: @bfoote.

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