Deep Dive: 2015 Ford F-150

Welcome to the future: The next Ford truck is betting big on aluminum.

If you’re worried that the F-150 will tow less, fret not.

Ford made a big splash at this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit with the reveal of its redesigned 2015 F-150 full-size pickup truck. The launch was a big deal because of the F-150′s best-selling status and tight competition in the class, but also because Ford promised to shave 700 pounds by using aluminum instead of steel in the truck’s body.

That’s a big deal, since aluminum hasn’t been used in such a big way in a mainstream full-size pickup truck to this extent before. During the 2014 Chicago Auto Show, we spoke to Ford Chief Engineer Pete Reyes about the 2015 Ford F-150 and how aluminum will impact the truck market in the coming years.

2015 Ford F-150

Meet the 2015 Ford F-150.

If you’re worried that the F-150 will tow less, fret not. Ford has not released numbers yet, but Reyes promises better towing and hauling numbers.

“The math goes like this,” Reyes said. “If you take 700 pounds out of the truck, and you keep your powertrain and your cooling — and in fact we improved cooling — all of the pulling, and the stopping … now you could put all of that 700 pounds back. Now I can tow 700 pounds more, because the powertrain and the brakes can do it.”

Reyes told us it was efficiency and improved capability that drove Ford’s decision to use aluminum so heavily in the 2015 F-150. He cited towing and hauling for “all customers.”

Reyes said Ford based the timing of the redesign in part on the manufacturing availability of “high-tech materials,” such as aluminum. This is because the frame and body is often redesigned all at once. According to Reyes, the underlying design is meant to last a long time, so the change is meant to underpin at least two generations of F-150.

One way Ford is offsetting potentially higher aluminum costs is by redirecting resources from systems that might not need as much development attention — say, a well-developed system that doesn’t need an upgrade — and using those resources to invest in higher-tech materials, such as aluminum.

Ford also created its own scrap business to save costs. Scrap that’s recycled from industrial processes — such as aluminum extracted from an ingot billet — can be converted into aluminum for use in the F-150. Such is the case with excess aluminum from the assembly lines of other Ford vehicles.

Pete Reyes

Pete Reyes, Chief Engineer for the 2015 Ford F-150.

Aluminum does conjure up the image of crumpled soda cans, which can be scary to American consumers who are (perhaps rightfully) afraid of every other vehicle on the road. But Reyes said that 80 percent of customers queried in focus groups understood Ford’s reasoning. He reminded us that over-the-road trucks have been aluminum for a long time, and it’s a common material in military hardware.

Predictably, following the old “win on Sunday, sell on Monday” racing mantra, Reyes pointed out a Baja-prepped truck on the show floor, since said race truck was showcasing an all-aluminum body.

Ford has good reason for going to aluminum, beyond saving weight, increasing capability, and improving fuel economy. The full-size truck market is always hotly contested, and with the Ram 1500 redesigned for model year 2013, and Chevy and GMC launching their redesigned Silverado/Sierra pairings in 2013 for the 2014 model year, Ford has plenty of competition when it comes to who has the most high-tech trucks.

2015 Ford F-150

The 2015 Ford F-150 uses a lot of aluminum in its body.

“These pickup truck owners are typically loyal,” Reyes said. “It’s hard to steal one from the other.” Reyes credits Ford’s EcoBoost engine lineup as one thing that’s helped the company increase market share from between two to five percentage points over the last five years.

“There has been a horsepower and torque war,” Reyes said, with bigger engines, more power, and more towing capability. “We’ve gotten to a point where some of our customers have told us ‘wait, I’m now an overbuyer. I love your truck, but I don’t need 11,000 pounds towing. I don’t need 3,000 pounds in the back.’ And our answer to that, with this truck, really is, ‘ok, well we’re going to take a lot of weight out, and the new engine we’re going to introduce is the middle-guy.’”

That engine he’s talking about is the 2.7-liter V-6 EcoBoost, which Ford says will achieve V-8 levels of power while consuming fuel at a less prodigious rate.

Whether it’s fuel economy or towing, Reyes said that truckmakers are at the mercy of their customers. That’s true with all segments, of course, but the increased competition in the full-size truck segment makes listening to the customer even more important.

“This competition is always going to adjust to where they want to be,” Reyes said.

Capturing buyer’s loyalty isn’t easy, but Reyes said that when it comes to truck buyers who aren’t partial to one brand or the other, being the number-one seller in the segment helps.

Finally, Reyes said that the truckmaker that has the best tech will do the best in the segment going forward. Fuel economy will matter, too, as gas prices remain high, but automakers can only get into so many pissing matches over horsepower and towing figures — many customers will want to use technology to be coddled, and in the case of fleet managers who own work trucks, to do their jobs better.

We don’t yet know if Ford can deliver what it’s promised with the 2015 F-150, but we do know that the heavy use of aluminum and the continued use of EcoBoost engines bear watching, since the best-selling truck can set market trends. Ford has either sent the market in a new direction, or produced a truck that might come up short. The end result will have a lot of bearing on the bottom line in Dearborn.

Written by Lewis Shaw

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