LIGHT TRUCKS: Reports of Aluminum on Ford Trucks May be Premature
Friday, July 27th, 2012
About 35 years ago, in an effort to take weight out of its pickup trucks, Ford Motor Co. began experimenting with a compression molded SMC (sheet molding compound) tailgate. The experiments were a success and the company was able to develop an SMC tailgate that was tougher than the steel tailgate it was using. But in trials of the tailgate, Ford learned that most pickup truck buyers - mostly farmers at the time - spurned the plastic part and wouldn't buy a truck with a plastic tailgate. That was the end of that.
Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Ford Motor was working on an F-150 pickup truck with a largely aluminum body for introduction in 2014. The story came from a company source, but hours later Ford Motor issued a statement warning that the reports of an aluminum-bodied F-150 were "premature." Ford knows that you don't mess around with lightweighting a pickup. In many pickup truck buyers' eyes, the heavier the better. Look at a Dodge Ram.
Ford took a cautious step back earlier today when spokesperson Said Deep told The Detroit News, "It is premature to discuss specific approaches or solutions that we might use for future products." He added that "Ford is already a leader in aluminum use in full-sized pickups."
Indeed, most auto manufacturers are looking more closely at aluminum to reduce weight in their vehicles. BMW has been a leader in using aluminum for suspension components and Ferrari, a leader in the use of carbon fiber for its race cars, uses aluminum for virtually the entire chassis for its sports cars.
U.S. automakers are trying to lose between 250 and 750 pounds of weight from their vehicles in order to meet new fuel-efficiency requirements. While plastics offer opportunities to do that, many of the potential plastic applications in vehicles have been developed and in cases where plastics can't provide the structural requirements, aluminum may be the next best alternative. Aluminum applications in vehicles can cut between 10% and 40% from their steel counterparts, although aluminum is more expensive.
Alcoa Inc., the nation's largest aluminum producer, is reported to have a staff of as many as 1,300 people working on automotive aluminum applications and the company has set a goal to double the amount of aluminum it sells to automakers over the next few years.
Like other auto manufacturers, Ford has to be looking at plastics, aluminum and new light-weight steels, especially for pickup trucks, whose buyers appear to set a different set of values on the vehicles they purchase and drive. Fortunately, for auto designers and engineers, there are more and more alternatives for them to choose from, although the best alternative might not always be taken, because of consumer perceptions.
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