Ford Will Maintain Truck Leadership With New F-150, CEO Says

Nov. 11, 2014
Ford CEO Mark Fields says decisions on converting other vehicles to aluminum will be made on a case-by-case basis.

DEARBORN, MI – Ford today begins production of the all-new aluminum-intensive ’15 F-150 pickup, a vehicle Chairman Bill Ford says represents a “pivotal moment in history.”

The decision to switch to an aluminum body on the F-150, Ford’s most profitable vehicle, has been met with skepticism by analysts and industry insiders. But the automaker says it has taken every precaution to ensure the launch goes off without a hitch.

Every aspect of the truck was analyzed using high-tech virtual-reality tools in a facility Ford calls “the cave” before it was greenlighted for production.

Suppliers and workers at the Dearborn Truck Plant underwent extensive training on how to assemble the new truck, and the facility’s body shop was stripped bare and outfitted with all new equipment, including 500 robots to accommodate the aluminum body.

CEO Mark Fields says the launch so far has gone flawlessly, labeling skepticism toward the project unfounded.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he tells reporters following a Job One ceremony here. “We’re rolling off the first vehicle and we will be shipping by the end of the year.”

Fields says the decision to the switch to aluminum was simple because it gives customers what they are asking for, including better fuel economy that will result from the 700 lbs. (318 kg) in weight savings vs. the outgoing truck and improved capability.

With a recent drop in gasoline prices, some question whether Ford is launching the truck into a market no longer concerned with fuel economy, but Fields says the price at the pump doesn’t matter.

“Whether gas prices are $3 (a gallon), or like 25 year ago $1.50, or even $4, this is a very compelling product,” he says. “It’s what (customers) want.”

Ford is set to release official EPA fuel-economy figures at the end of the month, but the automaker has said the new pickup will be the most fuel-efficient F-150 ever.

As for switching to aluminum on other products, including cars, Fields says decisions will be made case-by-case, noting Ford already has announced the next-generation Super Duty pickup will have an aluminum body.

“Aluminum is very compelling for larger vehicles that have to serve a functional purpose,” he says.

During the changeover from the outgoing steel truck, Ford had to halt production at the Dearborn plant, cutting into inventories of the older model. That, combined with increasing incentives from some competitors, led to a dip in F-150 deliveries in October.

While the Dearborn facility now is ready to go, the automaker’s Kansas City, MO, plant, which also builds the F-150, is retooling to accommodate the new truck.

Despite the disruptions and stepped-up market pressures, Fields says Ford will maintain its truck leadership with the new F-150.

“As a leader, we expect competitors to come after us,” he says. “And as we developed this new truck, we said leaders set standards through innovation.”

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Byron Pope / WardsAuto

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