After years of anticipation and months of intensive buildup, Ford’s new aluminum-clad F-150 has officially entered production at the Ford Rouge facility in Dearborn, Mich. The new truck will be the first mass-produced vehicle in its class featuring a high-strength aluminum-alloy body and bed, and it represents the largest application of aluminum in the auto industry to date. While the lightweight material has been found on specialty cars like Jaguar and Audi, a rough-and-tumble pickup is a first.
In specific trims, the F-150 has been able to shave 700 pounds off of similarly spec’d models from the 2014 model year. That means better fuel efficiency, better towing ratings, and more nimble handling, all by swapping out one material for another. There’s a set of risks assumed, however; using aluminum requires new equipment that hasn’t been time-tested like the existing tools. In turn, this poses some additional challenges for actually launching the products.
“We recognize this is the most watched launch in the industry,” Raj Nair, who is Ford’s product-development chief, told reporters in Dearborn earlier this week, according to Bloomberg. “We know the importance of getting the F-150 right.” He noted that so far, the introduction is on schedule.
Alongside the Mustang, the F-150 is one of the most highly anticipated releases for Ford this year, and it carries quite a weight on its shoulders: the F-Series has been America’s best-selling line of trucks for over 35 years, and any substantial changes to the formula could have ripple effects that may jeopardize the truck’s reign.
Ford is relying on the weight-saving properties of aluminum to help make the truck more competitive, as miles per gallon becomes an increasingly important battleground in pickup truck supremacy. Ram has found great success with its 3.0 liter diesel drivetrain, and GM has been leaning on smaller engines to help keep its fuel economy figures in line. With less weight to haul around when empty, Ford’s F-150 will be able to put its power to use more efficiently.
There are risks associated with the changes, naturally. Repair costs are expected to be higher on the aluminum units, and Ford has spent a colossal amount of money re-tooling, ensuring that its dealers can get the equipment needed to perform work on the trucks. Then, there’s the public perception of aluminum being a flimsy metal used for soda cans, despite the fact that the metals used on the new trucks are military-grade. It’s worth mentioning that airplanes are largely built from aluminum alloys as well.
Ford is offering a new 2.7 liter EcoBoost-branded turbo V6 with the new truck, and the company says that prototypes have been torture tested for over 10 million miles. Ford added 850 workers to the more than 4,000 employees it already had at the Rouge plant, and it also is deploying 500 new robots to help seal together aluminum body panels on the truck, Bloomberg reported.
“The all-new F-150 is a showcase of innovation and class-leading capability for truck customers,” said CEO Mark Fields. “It underscores the product excellence and innovation we are delivering in every part of our business as we accelerate our pace of progress toward profitable growth.”