Let's start by offering some perspective about what we're talking about regarding the world debut of the 13th-generation Ford F-Series half-ton pickup truck at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
There is no other way to describe the type of change exemplified by the 2015 Ford F-150 unless you use the word "historic." The Ford F-150 has been the most popular vehicle sold in the U.S. for more than three decades, so for this truck to change from using steel body parts to, what effectively amounts to, a fully aluminum body will likely send ripples (if not shockwaves) through the automotive industry. And it all started quite a while ago with one question: Where can we save weight?
Yes, the F-150 has been using an aluminum hood since 2004 — and several other truck makers have used various types of aluminum and plastic for their hoods and bed designs — but never have we seen the use of aluminum to this extent in any type of production vehicle except luxury sports cars. In fact, when Ford tells the story about when this idea first became a serious pursuit, it goes all the way back to when Ford Motor Co. owned Jaguar and Volvo, with the former using a great deal of aluminum in the design of their luxury sedans and powerful sports coupes. In fact, according to Automotive News, the AIV Sable showed them they could expect as much as a 47-percent weight savings by using aluminum.
Ford engineers took what they knew from Jaguar body construction techniques and started to apply those weight-saving and strengthening strategies to the F-150. The math was pretty simple: Aluminum has greater density than steel and weighs less, so engineers could make the truck lighter without sacrificing strength. That meant the very real possibility of a stronger pickup that would be able to more easily achieve the federal EPA fuel-economy targets fast approaching in 2025.
Every panel on this new truck, and all the cab configurations, will use aluminum panels and construction — the doors, cabin, bed, everywhere. We're told more than 95 percent of the body of the 2015 pickup will now be aluminum. The only spots not made of the lightweight material are some of the QuietSteel pieces still in the dash (mainly because Ford likes the way it keeps the interior so quiet) and in the bottom corner piece of the cabs, which turns out to be a problem spot for current aluminum stamping technology to accommodate.
We expressed some skepticism regarding the use of aluminum in a pickup bed that will see a good bit of abuse, and we were assured this military-grade material (yes, the military is requiring more aluminum than ever before in its current and future vehicles) will be stronger and more dent resistant than the product it is replacing.
Ford said it will continue to offer its current three-cab setup for the 2015 F-150 because that's what customers want. Interestingly, where GM decided to change its extended cab design to a traditional (albeit smaller), conventional four-door design (in large part to better meet the more strict roof crush standards), Ford has kept its clamshell-style door for SuperCab models because their customers like having the bigger pass-through opening for incab cargo storage.
Although testing is quite a ways off, Ford says it will have no trouble meeting the government's roof crush standards. It will be some time before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a chance to test all three cab configurations for the 2015 F-150 (it just finished testing the all-new 2014 Chevrolet Silverado 1500, which got five-star overall ratings on all three cabs), but the Ford people are saying they fully expect their new truck to perform at the highest levels.