Ford (NYSE:F) is currently gearing up for one of its biggest and most significant launches to date, the release of the completely redesigned F-150. It would be a big enough debut on its own given that the F-150 is not only America’s best-selling truck by a wide margin, but America’s best-selling vehicle. The launch is made bigger by the fact that the 2015 F-150 will be the first in its class to adopt a body made from high-strength aluminum alloy.
Many pickup loyalists have expressed concerns, though, that the aluminum body — though it will help save as much as 700 pounds — will come to the detriment of stability, ruggedness, and durability.
However, Ford isn’t jumping into the deep end with no floaties. Since 2011, Ford has been covertly testing aluminum-bodied F-150s in some of the world’s most demanding jobs. The best part? Those driving the six prototype trucks (which were disguised as the respective model years) had no idea that the units were actually embedded specifically for testing. Throughout the program (Ford’s first pre-production real-world test), Ford discretely monitored the performance and abilities of the trucks and how they compared to their steel counterparts.
“Three years later, these fleet customers and the Ford team who built the prototype trucks are convinced the new 2015 Ford F-150 will be the toughest truck the company has ever made,” the company said.
“We did not want these customers to know what was different,” Larry Queener, program manager for the new F-150, said. “So, when we gave them the prototype vehicles, we told them to use the trucks like their other hard-working Ford trucks, and we would be back to follow their progress.”
Ford had its new prototype trucks embedded at Barrick Gold Corp., one of the largest gold mining companies in the world, as well as Walsh Construction, a company working on building a hydroelectric damn in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and a highway interchange construction site in Birmingham, Alabama. The remaining trucks were sent to an electrical utility in North Carolina, where one was subjected to drives up steep mountain roads; the other was assigned to line crews that drive up overgrown paths to replace old poles and electrical lines, Ford said.
Throughout the test, the company noted observations made by the truck operators. “They told us they noticed the boxes did not produce red surface rust when heavy use scratched through the paint,” said Denis Kansier, the F-150 prototype lead engineer, when compared to the traditional steel models.
The fleet customers were informed of the modified aluminum cargo box at the reveal of the F-150 at the North American International Auto Show in January, Ford said, adding that the prototype trucks are still in use at these three companies.
Check out the video below of the F-150 on duty at the Barrick Gold mine in Nevada.