My first Ford truck was a 1977 Ford Explorer that my dad had owned and had given me to drive in high school and college. It has been a long time, but I think it averaged about 12 -15 mpg.
If you have every owned any truck, you know that one of the major issues is fuel mileage. For decades, automakers were able to ignore this aspect of car making, but over the last decade the price of a gallon of gas has averaged over $3 a gallon for the first time in American history. So I, along with everyone else, have become more selective when purchasing a new or used vehicle.
Not only is competition forcing automakers to think in new ways, but the Federal government has outlined new CAFE standards signed into law in recent years that will go into effect over the next decade. The pressure is on to come up with new and innovated ways to meet these standards, and that pressure is hitting truck and SUV makers front and center.
Ford is tackling it head-on with what many are calling a game changer in the full size truck field that has the potential to revolutionize the segment. Others are just shaking their heads at the thought of a company playing around with their golden goose.
Either way, Ford is taking a big risk because they own 40 percent of the US truck market and have been the bestselling truck in America for 37 consecutive years.
Ford’s new 2015 aluminum-clad F-150 is such a radical departure from past full-sized pickup trucks that it dominated the auto show in early 2014. The move to an all aluminum body is Ford’s attempt to reduce weight in their trucks, thus improving fuel economy.
F150 Atlas Debut
Traditionally, Ford trucks have always been heavier than competitors, thus hurting their fuel efficiency. F150's have lagged for years behind the Chrysler’s Ram truck at 25 highway mpg.
Up to this point, Ford has limited the aluminum on its current trucks to just the hoods. However, the new truck will have 20 times more aluminum on it than most cars now. The only major piece of the body sheet metal that is not aluminum is the sound absorbing firewall.
Ford’s F150 sales account for about a third of the company’s revenue in North America, so needless to say, the stakes are high.
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My Experience with Aluminum Cars
Aluminum bodies are nothing new in the car industry, or within Ford itself, but putting an all-aluminum body on a car or truck destined for as much punishment as is typically inflicted on your average truck seems like a recipe for disaster, but I could be wrong.
In the early 90s, my parents owned an aluminum bodied car from Ford called a Mercury Sable. This particular car used aluminum in the suspension and body panels.
On one occasion the car was caught in a hail storm and it left several large dents in the hood and roof. When they took it to the repair shop they were told that aluminum vehicles are more difficult to repair and the shop did not even want to touch it because they needed a totally separate facility for aluminum versus steel repairs. Their insurance company had to pay for a brand new hood rather than sanding or pulling out the dents, something that would have traditionally be done with a steel bodied car.
F150 Atlas Review
So given the fact that aluminum costs more than steel, potential buyers have to be wondering how much the price will be going up. There are also concerns about repair costs. Aluminum is more difficult to work with than steel and there simply are not enough body shops around the country with qualified workers, so the concern is that whatever fuel costs that are saved will be eaten up by insurance costs.
Ford is hinting that the price of the F-150 will stay within the current range of the series starting around $24, 000 for a base model and upwards of $50,000 for the top-of-the line Limited Edition.
The company plans to make up the increased production costs by reducing its recycling costs, since there will be less metal to recycle, and by slimming down the engine and other components, since they will not have to move so much weight.
The most notable change of course is the all-aluminum alloy in the F-150’s body. However, if you are having images of aluminum cans running through your head, the Ford marketing department has a solution. They are churning out adjectives like “high-strength” and “military-grade” to change those preconceptions and they are quick to point out that it is the same type of aluminum used in military and aerospace applications.
Ford will offer three cab styles: Regular, Super Cab, and Super Crew in five trim lines: XL, XLT, King Ranch, Lariat, and Platinum. The bed will also be offered in three lengths: 67.1, 78.9, and 97.6 inches.
Along with the traditional engines types, Ford is introduces a new 2.7-liter EcoBoost V-6 which will improve fuel mileage.
However, take it from me, if you are going to be hauling or towing something like a boat to the lake, this new engine is not likely going to cut it. The last thing you want is having an engine that will not pull your boat out of the water and backing up traffic to the launching ramp.
Ford is claiming the aluminum used in the cab, front-end and tailgate saves about 500 - 700 pounds versus the previous all-steel F-150, depending on the style of cab and bed length.
Ford is pushing the 700 pound figure, however the only ones likely to see those savings are the Super Crew long-box buyers.
There is still plenty of steel in the frame and underbody for structural integrity and crash protection.
Ford Atlas Specs
- Four cameras for 360-degree view
- Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) with cross-traffic alert
- LED lighting built into the mirrors and bed of the truck, including optional LED headlights
- Remote tailgate release with hydraulic pistons
- 400-watt, three-prong outlet on the dashboard
- Inflatable rear seat belts
- Sony premium audio
- Integrated gyro displays roll and pitch on the 8-inch dash-mounted LCD
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This is a big moment for the full-size pickup truck but it remains to be seen if customers will accept the change. I know from my own experience, and from watching my dad and uncle work, trucks are put into situations that a car simply would never be in, so only time will tell if the lightweight aluminum holds up throughout job sites across America. My uncle is an electrician and uses a full-size pickup for his work, and he is very old school, so I cannot see him going for this new redesign.
So right now, I do not think competitors are panicking just yet. Someone has to be the trial balloon and I think GMC and the other major truck makers are content on letting Ford stick their neck out. I imagine the only industry that is really concerned are the steel makers.
However, aluminum, carbon fiber and even plastics will increasingly be used in all vehicles to meet government fuel economy standards that require the car and truck fleets to get over 50 mpg by 2025, so I think Ford is gambling on the next generation of technology, and truck buyers.
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