There are plenty of vehicles sold today that use aluminum bodies, but according to Automotive News, the keys to their success come down to proper adhesive application and having the right type of rivet for the job.
Companies like Jaguar and Land Rover (sold to Tata Motors by Ford in 2008) have gone through a steep learning curve in order to make the weight-saving metal work in luxury sportscars, sedans and SUVs. As a high-tech alternative to the industry standard of spot welding, the new process uses up to 20 different types of rivets — each with a special coating to prevent corrosion between aluminum and steel — to fasten the different body panels.
Replacing the relatively simple process of spot-welding steel panels with rivets and adhesive will vastly increase production complexity and theoretically increase the likelihood that some kind of small problem could arise. The article notes that the Solihull production facility in England (which produces a mere 95,000 units per year) stops any time an improperly aligned rivet is "gunned" into the panels. Production does not restart until the rivet is replaced. Doing something like that on a pair of Ford production lines (in Dearborn, Mich., and Kansas City, Mo., for example) could significantly slow down the plants' combined maximum production output of almost 650,000 units annually.
Rivet production and proper installation are likely to be key issues in how durable and long-lasting the 2015 Ford F-150 will be. And it will be interesting to see how well those rivets hold up to the vibration and harsh duty cycles of the typical pickup truck (a very different duty cycle from the one luxury vehicles endure). Replacing several or thousands of rivets in a given pickup is likely to be impractical, if not impossible.
Cars.com photo by Mark Williams