In 2044, when you (or your child) is looking for an “antique” 2014 Ford F-150 pickup to restore, don’t be surprised if the body panels are largely aluminum, not steel.
But this is a Ford! This is a Truck! How can they do that? Well, thanks to Washington’s latest fuel-economy regulations, Ford is working on switching from steel to aluminum to reduce the weight of its F-150 by about 700 lbs. (about 15% of its current weight). By cutting that weight, trucks can go farther on a gallon of gas, and it could also lead to smaller engines, further boosting fuel economy.
But will you, a potential customer, go along with this drastic change? Will the most popular truck in the U.S. be as safe and durable as we expect from a Ford F-150 pickup? There’s a lot at stake here, considering the F-150 is one of the most profitable vehicle lines in the world, and it’s outsold every other vehicle in the U.S. since 1982.
There are also a few interesting manufacturing problems that Ford has to deal with. Since aluminum is not magnetic, they’ll need to invest in powerful, power-hungry vacuums to transfer the aluminum sheets within the factory, instead of the giant magnets they now use on steel. Aluminum is also “springier” than steel when pressed, is more likely to tear if pressed too quickly, and it scratches more easily.
But Ford engineers continue to work on the first prototypes, so I think I’ll reserve judgment on the 2014s until I can actually drive one. Sure hope their “Built Ford Tough” slogan will still apply!