Can Ford Finally Declare Victory With the Aluminium F-150?

Source: Ford
Source: Ford Motor Company

No matter how many precautions Ford took with its top-selling pickup, the risks of getting the aluminum F-150 wrong were too big to ignore. Journalists and consumers were more than happy to point out these vulnerabilities in the runup to and rollout of the 2015 model. With the new F-150 landing the highest NHTSA safety rating and sales holding steady, Ford can soon claim victory with the redesign of its flagship vehicle. Only a few hurdles in reliability remain.

Strong on safety, sales

Ford announced the 2015 F-150 SuperCrew, its most popular model, received the coveted five-star crash rating from the NHTSA with top scores in each category except the rollover crash test, where it earned four out of a possible five stars. According to a company statement, that designation made the aluminum model for 2015 the safest in the truck’s history. Ford said 31 new features helped increase the F-150’s strength.

For the 2014 model year F-150 made with steel, frontal crash scores were three out of five stars, which left the model with a four-star rating overall. For the redesigned pickup, the automaker improved that rating in front crash test to five stars, which pushed its overall score over the top. During the design and early production phase, getting this part right was at the top of Ford’s priority list.

Quality and dependability have proven to be the most important factors in new car purchases for several years, and as fuel prices rose consumer priorities hardly shifted. With the pressure falling mostly on the new model, Ford was able to enjoy consistent sales through the phase-out period of the 2014 models. Through the first quarter of 2015, F-150 sales actually ticked up 2.3% as consumers wait for dealers to get the full stock of aluminum trucks this summer. (Chevy Silverado has been outpacing F-150 in gains with 17.6% growth through March 2015.)

Source: Ford Motor Company
Source: Ford Motor Company

Final hurdles for aluminum F-150

With concerns about the strength of the new F-150 ostensibly settled, remaining hurdles revolve around the operating costs and longevity of the aluminum pickup, specifically insurance costs and fuel economy. Ford appears to have the efficiency count settled with the 26 miles per gallon rating the EPA delivered for the 2.7-liter mode, the best for a gasoline truck. A study of the truck’s life-cycle emissions similarly place F-150 at the top of the pickup class, beating even the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, which should allow for good press when emissions are concerned.

Fears of skyrocketing insurance premiums, which surfaced soon after the aluminum model’s debut at the 2014 Detroit Auto Show, appear to have been premature. Automotive News reported in March that insurance rates would need another year to settle in, once repairs start coming in to body shops and insurers are on the hook. By then, Ford will likely have a massive number of customers in the 2015 model, barring any recalls or other setbacks.

At least one prominent industry figure is saying Ford can claim victory now on its massive investment and the inherent risk of changing the best-selling pickup for decades running. According to The Detroit News, Ford already passed a huge test in the eyes of Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

“The F-150’s top crash rating validates the design and engineering effort Ford invested to ensure it wouldn’t sacrifice safety when switching to a lighter aluminum body,” Brauer said. As for the number of SuperCrew models finding customers, Ford told The Detroit News the number was 70% of overall customers for the 2015 model. Crash test results for other trims are forthcoming by late April.

By the summer, when Ford dealerships are expected to have full inventories of the 2015 F-150, momentum may be too strong for any competitor to halt. In that respect, Ford can already claim it won with the redesign of its flagship vehicle.