Ford’s radical idea

July 27, 2012

New federal MPG rules for vehicle manufacturers are no doubt leading to much innovation in engineering and manufacturing across the GVW spectrum. Of course, most if not all the development work to produce new trucks that will emit fewer greenhouse gases while operating more fuel-efficiently now under way is occurring out of sight of future truck buyers.

However, a detailed news story posted by The Wall Street Journal this morning pulls the curtain back on what Detroit’s Big Three—Ford, General Motors (GMC and Chevrolet) and Chrysler (Ram) are cooking up to make their fiercely competitive light-duty pickup trucks more fuel-efficient.

The big news, according to Journal reporter Michael Ramsey, is that Ford is engaged in what he termed a “radical redesign” of the OEM’s bread-and-butter F-150 pickup that will incorporate a largely aluminum body to help increase fuel efficiency.

Switching to the lighter metal in place of steel should cut the F-150’s weight by some 700 lbs—roughly a 15% reduction. That alone will boost MPG and what’s more, Ramsay pointed out, it will also enable Ford to make other changes, such as using smaller, more efficient engines.

It should be noted that only the F-150 is in line for the aluminum body panels— Ramsay noted that the “larger F-250 and other Ford heavy trucks don’t fall under the new fuel-economy standards.”

Moving to aluminum is not seen as a slam-dunk. Indeed, Ramsay remarked that for Ford, this redesign amounts to “one of the biggest gambles in its 108-year history.”

He said that’s because along the way the OEM will have to “overcome a host of manufacturing obstacles, plus convince die-hard pickup buyers that aluminum is as tough as steel.”

So, the risk is Ford could spend a lot to build this truck and not sell as many as it does now. That would hurt the OEM as the F-series overall is one of the most profitable motor-vehicle lines in the world. Ramsay pointed out that “in 2011, a third of Ford’s $8.8 billion global operating profit was generated by F-series sales, according to a Barclays estimate….Last year, Ford sold 584,917 F-series trucks of all stripes in the U.S. Ford doesn’t break out sales of the F-150 from other F-series models, but the F-150 accounts for about 75% of the total, according to registration data collected by Experian Automotive.”

“The new Ford truck is being designed to come out in 2014 capable of hitting the increasing fuel economy standards through 2020, one of the executives familiar with its plans said,” Ramsay stated. “That would equate to roughly a 25% improvement in fuel economy.”

Perhaps needless to say, Ford’s domestic pickup rivals are also not standing still in the face of the higher MPG requirements.

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