Switch To Aluminum Bodies Killed F-150 Sales-Not!

Remember when Ford switched to aluminum bodies for the best-selling vehicle in America? The F-150 pickup truck outsells every vehicle in the US. Many said Ford was sabotaging its cash cow, and that it was the beginning of the end of the F-150’s reign as the number one. 

To say Ford took a risk when it made the decision to build its F-150 pickups with aluminum bodies. What about “Built Ford Tough” advertising? Aluminum isn’t as tough as steel. This was back in 2015 when the first aluminum F-150s started to sprinkle into the American consciousness.

Dropping concrete blocks into F-150 beds

2016 Chevy truck advertising | GM
2016 Chevy truck advertising | GM

If it wasn’t Ford hyping us in advertising about how revolutionary this was, then it was Chevy dropping concrete blocks into Ford truck beds. This gaping holes and gashed bed floors were not pretty but were pretty convincing. Why would Ford build an aluminum bed that got beaten to death so easily?

Then the reports that aluminum bodies cost much more to repair. And that repair shops didn’t know how to fix them anyway. Insurance companies were going to start charging a premium for aluminum F-150 owners. After all, if you want something as exotic as an aluminum truck, you’ll have to pay exotic money to fix it.

Driving a beer can coffin

Getty Images

Worse, if you were in an accident the aluminum crushes just like an aluminum beer can. Injuries would surely rise, and the severity of those injuries would be much worse. You were driving a beer can coffin if you owned one. 

Well, the F-150 is still the top-selling vehicle in America. As for the wild speculation about everything bad about aluminum? After four years of data, here’s some of what the researchers have found that has actually happened.

The Highway Loss Data Institute has crunched the collision claim numbers. Claims have risen by seven percent. But, overall claim severity is down by seven percent. What this means is that the crunch is a bit more destructive, but the cost to fix it doesn’t cost as much compared to a steel body. 

2017 F-250 Super Duty 4X4 Crew Cab Platinum
2017 F-Series Super Duty | Ford

Repair-friendly F-150 aluminum is cheaper and better

Ford says the reason it’s cheaper to fix the F-150 is due to its modular structure. They say making the bodies repair-friendly was part of the designers’ mandate. A two-pronged approach to educate both dealer technicians and insurers by Ford was proactive. Dealers were also encouraged through Ford’s Collision Repair Program to purchase the necessary equipment and train personnel. 

“It was our moonshot,” Dave Johnson told Automotive News. He’s Ford’s global director of service engineering operations. “We wanted them to be insurable on par with a steel F-150.” It seems that the costs and damage claims have evened out.

Ford debuting it's Tonka Special Edition truck.
Ford Tonka Special Edition truck | JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images

Aluminum bodies not consistent with expectations

“Simply put, when we look at the overall losses relative to the other pickup trucks there is not a change, which is not consistent with expectations,” says Matt Moore, senior vice president of the HLDI. Other conclusions the HLDI makes are that total parts costs for aluminum F-150 trucks are 16% less than for previous steel F-150 pickups. Hood prices dropped 43% and 37% for front bumpers. Rear bumpers and bedsides cost more. 

So Ford’s moonshot has paid off. The V6 is the top-selling engine as the grunt of a V8 isn’t necessary when you’re shoving less weight through the atmosphere.