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Will The Next Ford F-150 Be Aluminum?

Ford F-150

Automakers have been using aluminum in cars for several decades. Gearheads will fondly remember GM’s 350LT-1 V8 with cast aluminum block and heads of yesteryear. Most automakers have stopped making cast aluminum blocks due the expense, but most of them are still using aluminum heads in their 4-cylinder engines. There is now a race to do everything possible to meet the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements set to take affect soon. Some automakers are going back to incorporating aluminum into their designs. And many are doing away with steel body panel construction in favor of stamped aluminum panels.


Aluminum Makes It Lighter

Everyone knows that aluminum is lighter than steel. But most people don’t know that when processed properly, it can be just as strong as steel. Ford is one major American manufacturer that seems to be jumping into the aluminum game with both feet. They’ve been using it on lower control arms on their super off-road vehicle the SVT Raptor since 2004. They’ve also been using it on the hoods of their other F-series pickups for the past couple of years. According to a report in Automotive News, they’re considering using aluminum for most of the body panels for trucks starting as early as 2014. It’s going to mean a complete retooling of the factories to stamp panels out of aluminum, and it’s said that it’s going to add up to as much as $1500 to $2000 to the cost of the truck to consumers. But when you consider the alternative, having to put smaller engines into their trucks to meet the new fuel economy requirements, the trade-off is worth it. They’ll save on the average of between 700 to 1000 pounds, which means that steel as a percentage of the total weight of the vehicle will drop from about 50% to less than 46%. This drop in weight will allow the vehicles, with no other advancements in technology, to increase their fuel economy by as much as 8-12%. If you figure in the price of gas these days, even with only an 8% increase in fuel economy, you can save much more than $2000 over the life of the vehicle. 


The Drawbacks of Using Aluminum

Every plus has its minus. The drawbacks of using aluminum all deal with increased cost. As mentioned above, using aluminum could increase the cost of the truck by as much as $2000. Add that to your loan and you’re probably looking at a total increase of $2200 or so over the life of the loan. But, that’s not where the increased cost to the consumer comes into play. The real increase that many truck owners will feel is when they have to have those aluminum body panels repaired. If the panels need replacement, it’s going to take special skills to perform that work, and not many run-of-the-mill body shop technicians have the requisite skills to work with aluminum. An even smaller number of them can weld aluminum when the need arises. As a result, we’re likely to also see an increase in insurance premiums on vehicles equipped with aluminum body panels, because insurance companies aren’t going to take any sort of a financial hit when a claim is filed. They’re going to pass those costs on to the consumer.So, the use of aluminum in vehicle body panels is likely to be a double-edged sword. Yeah, you’ll pay a little more over the life of your loan. But you’re going to save money at the gas pump. How insurance costs will factor in is yet to be seen.