It's no secret that all the half-ton truck makers are sweating bullets as the calendar ticks closer and closer to the government's 2025 deadline requiring fleets to meet the aggressive 54.5 mpg corporate average fuel economy.
To do that, we know some very interesting strategies — and likely very expensive strategies — will need to be used.
Of course, using lighter metals, as we've mentioned in earlier stories, is the low-hanging fruit for many truck engineers. Pickups like the current Ford F-150 and 2013 Ram 1500 take advantage of aluminum body panels. Other strategies in the truck-making mainstream have included extensive use of composite materials in pickup beds — Toyota Tacoma, Ford Explorer Sport Trac, Honda Ridgeline and Chevy Avalanche, to name a few — and more sophisticated use of high-strength steel and more high-tech design work in some of the more traditionally heavy pieces of the suspension and frames.
None of this well-documented history kept the Wall Street Journal from suggesting that the new F-150 will extensively use aluminum to cut the necessary weight from the truck — somewhere between 700 and 800 pounds — to meet the stricter fuel economy regulations of the next 10 years. Never mind that just using a lot of aluminum would probably be a horrible choice for a work truck, or that the added cost and volatility of worldwide aluminum pricing could keep customers away.
No doubt all the major companies will have to use stronger, lightweight materials such as graphite composites, magnesium alloys and high-strength steel (as well as aluminum). But to suggest a vehicle that is likely to do some kind of hard commercial or family-fun work is a better choice to use softer metals — rather than a single-purpose passenger car or high-end sports car — seems to be a pretty big misunderstanding on how certain vehicles are used and what makes the most sense.
A better guess might be that the personal-truck-use segment might be headed for more downsizing, even for full-size pickups, and that assumes gas prices continue to head toward the "danger zone," which some analysts don't see hitting until gas prices surpass $6 per gallon.
This morning Ford called the Wall Street Journal's suggestions "premature." The company said it is looking at many ways to reach the 54.4 mpg target by 2025 and that a fully aluminum pickup truck is likely to have many things working against it. One expert in a Detroit News article, documenting Ford's refute, said there would be significant extra expenses in designing, building and repairing any vehicle that uses a lot of aluminum.
For now, it doesn't look like we'll get an all-aluminum truck anytime soon, but we can expect more experimentation in certain suspension, frame and body panel components, looking for the right balance that keeps the strength but loses the weight.