Friday is generally a slow news day no matter what medium you work in, and so it is little wonder that the Wall St. Journal chose today to drop a story about Ford building a pickup truck made entirely of aluminum. But as further proof that Wall St. is not to be trusted, this article overlooks some very simple and obvious facts which make it all but impossible for Ford to build a pickup entirely out of aluminum.
Have You Ever Tried To Fix Aluminum?
First and foremost, pickup trucks are sold as work vehicles. Sure, there are plenty of “lifestyle” pickup owners who think because they have a 25-foot boat they need to drive a V8 truck to and from work every day. But a vast majority of truck owners use a truck, as a truck, which means dings, dents, and body damage are commonplace.
Aluminum is a manufacturing nightmare. It isn’t magnetic, so expensive vacuum machines are used to move sheets of it. Also, welding requires experienced TIG welders, and that ain’t cheap. The WSJ estimates an aluminum-bodied F-150 could see $1,500 add to the price, but I think that is on the conservative side. Aluminum is in high demand, and I don’t see prices dropping anytime soon.
Are The Weight Savings Worth it?
Sure, an aluminum F-150 would shave about 700 pounds off of its curb weight, improving fuel economy by as much as 25%. That would put an EcoBoost-equipped F-150 close to 30 MPG highway, and it might even pay off that extra $1,500 premium. But convincing construction workers that an aluminum-body is as tough as steel would be a hard sell…though then again, Ford thought EcoBoost engines would be a hard sell too, and those are selling like hotcakes.
I still think the likelihood of an all-aluminum F-150 is pretty far-fetched, though there is no doubt that Ford is looking to shed pounds from the F-150 as well. More likely, Ford is looking to make major body components, like say the cab, from aluminum. But the pickup bed? That will stay steel for the foreseeable future, even if certain aluminum alloys can be as strong, if not stronger than steel. Magnesium frames are also another likely substitute for steel that could save weight, but ultimately I think the answer will lay in downsizing the whole damn thing.