How Are Pickups Shedding Weight?

Saving Weight GW F-150 II

By G.R. Whale

Lighter vehicles mean better fuel economy, so since the 1975 enactment of federally mandated corporate average fuel economy standards, all vehicles — pickup trucks included — have gone on a long-term diet, shedding weight with each redesign. Besides helping the environment by reducing oil consumption, lighter vehicles also are easier to stop, accelerate and turn. Pickup trucks included.

So how have truckmakers helped pickups lose weight over the years?

Lightweight Materials

All pickup manufacturers are learning to save weight, as we've seen with Ford's extensive use of aluminum on both their light- and heavy-duty models, as well as General Motor's "mixed-materials" strategy. The forced diet started with finding lighter-weight materials from which to manufacture components. Take engines, transmissions and transfer cases; 20 years ago they were made of iron. Now nearly all of them are made from aluminum, the exceptions being the engines found in some heavy-duty pickups. That means about 80 percent of pickups are equipped with aluminum engines, transmissions and transfer cases. Aluminum now can be found in suspension systems and front differentials as well.

Many drive shafts also are made from aluminum nowadays, but the additional costs and exposure to harsh environments will likely prevent pickup drive shafts from ever being made from the lightweight carbon fiber found on some performance cars.

Impact of Weight

It's commonly claimed that a 10 percent weight reduction nets a 5 to 7 percent decrease in fuel consumption. But it's difficult to check that claim. The only test we could come up with is comparing an empty truck with an identical truck loaded with 10 percent more weight. When we've done that, fuel economy improves for city driving but not for steady, long-haul highway cruising.

When Ford introduced the all-new aluminum 2015 Ford F-150, its EPA ratings beat the CAFE guidelines for its segment. That's not surprising given the pickup's more aerodynamic exterior and light-weighting changes. However, in PickupTrucks.com's Texas Truck Showdown 2016: Max Towing, the steel V-8 2016 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 outweighed the aluminum V-6 2016 Ford F-150 by 500 pounds and posted slightly better mpgs in a real-world fuel economy test. The Chevy got 23.9 mpg combined when driven empty while the Ford came in at 22.8 combined.

Class 8 trucks — big rigs and tractor trailers — have used aluminum frames for decades. Last year Class 8 manufacturers Alcoa and Metalsa showed an all-aluminum commercial truck frame that reduced vehicle weight by 900 pounds compared to previous versions. However, our sources at Alcoa were unaware of any pickup manufacturer using, or even contemplating, an aluminum frame, although some work has been done with aluminum cross-members.

Right now all pickups use some aluminum in the drivetrain and most wheels; Ford builds most of a pickup's body from it, and GM and Ram use it in hoods. That helps lighten the load. However, all full-size pickups have a steel frame, and steel can still be found in some of the bodywork (Ford's F-Series included).

The Honda Ridgeline and Toyota Tacoma employ sheet-molded composite for their inner cargo beds. We were told Toyota considered changing the Tacoma bed to high-strength steel for 2016, but found that midsize owners appreciate composite for its utility, durability and value relative to a steel bed that requires a drop-in or spray-in bedliner for dent and anti-corrosion protection.

IMG_2602 II

Carbon fiber is light and strong, but not cheap. While carbon-fiber-reinforced polymers have been investigated for B-pillar support in pickups, there are concerns about attachment points. We don't see carbon fiber making big inroads in pickup trucks in the near future. Magnesium applications likely will be limited to instrument panel beams, inner door panels and locations not susceptible to corrosion.

The Future

Aluminum use will continue to grow: A 2014 Ducker Worldwide study suggests that completely aluminum-bodied vehicles will double by 2020, and by 2025, seven of 10 pickups will be aluminum bodied. We're guessing the higher profit margins on half-ton pickups will justify restricting use of aluminum to that segment, although Ford is basing the body strategy of the 2017 Super Duty on the F-150. Wall Street Journal report suggested that the next Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra will have aluminum bodies. Use of high-strength steel will keep growing in pickup frames and certain crash structures such as the F-150's side door beams and wheel well tubes. It also will be found in lower-volume vehicles that don't justify the expense of plant switchovers to aluminum.

Both the aluminum and steel industries tout their materials' environmental benefits, which include recycling. Recycling materials can help keep production costs in check. Ford recycles 20 million pounds of aluminum stamping scrap every month, equivalent to 30,000 SuperCrew standard-bed F-150s. Rather than trashing the scrap aluminum, Ford cycles it back into its production process to make brand new F-150s.

On the topic of recycling, the biggest advantage of aluminum is that it can be melted down with little structural change, so it won't degrade much from one life cycle to the next. That's not true with steel; each time it is melted down and reshaped, new uses must be found. The commonality here is that these materials allow truckmakers to save money through recycling; those savings can be passed along to consumers.

Our advice to truck buyers and truckmakers is the same: Keep recycling everything you can. It might make our new trucks cheaper.

Manufacturer images

 

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01 Structure - Rear 3.4 II

03 Body Structure Highlights II

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Comments

YEAH SHOW THEM HOW YOU DO IT FORD SO THEY CAN FALLOW YOU TO GLORY. I KNOW GOVERNMENT MOTORS IS GONNA USE A LOT OF ALUMINUM ON THE 2018 CHEBBY AND ALL THEIR CRAPPY TRUCKS. BUT THEY ARE GONNA COME LATE TO THE PARTY SOMEONE IS AHEAD OF THEM.

I have 2 trucks with the composite bed on both of my Tacoma's. I can tell you it is one durable bed, no issues or complaints whatsoever.

It was even on my 05 X-Runner and that bed got abused with race totes and race tires and jack in and out countless times with no issues.

When did mpg's become more important that functionality?

Those that seek mpg's, go buy a car and stop ruining the truck industry before every truck becomes a Prius!

" Unless you just crawled out from under a rock somewhere, you must realize that your government is mandating fuel efficiency. The manufacturers aren't doing it for shitz and giggles."
-- Posted by: Bob R | May 28, 2016 4:31:17 PM

While I agree with your statement, Bob, the fault does lie with the OEMs as well for trying to dodge those rules for so long. One of the biggest ways to lose weight is to simply sacrifice some size. They could lose 30% of their current Road Whale™ size and lose roughly 25% of their current weight while STILL being able to perform the tasks of regular half-ton, three-quarter-ton and one-ton trucks while gaining another 25% or more on current fuel economy. Problem is, fans of today's full-sized trucks would feel embarrassed by being forced to drive something so comparatively small, despite the fact they would be a reversion to the '60s-vintage full sized models.

"When Ford introduced the all-new aluminum 2015 Ford F-150, its EPA ratings beat the CAFE guidelines for its segment. That's not surprising given the pickup's more aerodynamic exterior and light-weighting changes. However, in PickupTrucks.com's Texas Truck Showdown 2016: Max Towing, the steel V-8 2016 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 outweighed the aluminum V-6 2016 Ford F-150 by 500 pounds and posted slightly better mpgs in a real-world fuel economy test. The Chevy got 23.9 mpg combined when driven empty while the Ford came in at 22.8 combined."

That is all you need to know right there my friends. A 6.2L V8 GM engine making way more HP and TQ, destroy Fords 3.5L V6 in mpg race with a 500 pound heavier truck. Oh and Ford paid 300 million more dollar for glue, used beer cans and still lost HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

http://www.autonews.com/article/20141124/OEM06/311249975/as-ford-spends-big-gm-joins-aluminum-with-simple-welds

@ Bob R,

So the government is your God?

The government can shove it with their over taxation, little in return!

Thanks to the weak of society and greenies is why mpg's are a topic today. Maybe if they focused on the root cause, too many babies, we could all live happy in truck world!

Don't worry Ford #1, Second to None , GM won't be following Ford's millitary grade garbage. They will be building a lighter vehicle the proper way, with modern technology.

I am not completely against aluminium cabin to use, if we really have to, but rivets in 21st. Century ? Are you kidding me ?


RAM - - -

You make a good point. Our fighter jets are now put together with cyanoacrylate and polyurethane adhesives, and they are 10X more flex-resistant than rivets.

=====================

@roadwhale

Jeez man, every time someone acts in their own self interest you get all Ralph Nader inside.

Maybe you should consider that we don't need a bunch of nannies telling us what to do every bleepin minute.

The carmakers are thus entitled and so are the consumers. So that means that you and Obama should chill and let you neighbors enjoy the truck they like.

Ford is annoying calling it's ages old aluminium techniques innovative. GM super scary steel to aluminium spot welding sounds like trouble but that's at least innovative.

The GM does better only with the new transmission and not to mention the ecotec 3 engines are all newer than 3.5l ecoboost. Guess we will see the payoff of weight savings and the new engine and transmission from Ford later this year. We should see a nice increase I believe. Gearing is what hurts the Ford on the highway. FCA and GM with 8 speeds have demonstrated the nice advantage more gears brings. Ford just chose to take a different path first but later this year when the 2017 comes out it will be a total package and the only gas engine beating Ford will be next gen FCA and GM products. I don't think GM 8 speed euipped models will get too much gain from 10 speed. However the brand as a whole will benefit from all the 1500s have the 10 speed unlike now where only the top models get 8 speed. To me can you really brag about gas milage when the trucks majority of customers drive from GM are 5.3l and 6 speed which deliver less performance and fuel economy than ecoboost Ford and even GM 6.2l 8 speed. At least Fords change effected every single trim and doesn't Force owning a 50k+ truck to have the power and economy. Both brands are doing great things this is just food for thought. Weight savings in a truck brings so much more than a little savings at the pump.

I am waiting for the new truck sales and the economy to crash before I buy a new truck.
Also waiting for the presidential election to be over cause of increased tariffs from Mexico may effect what brand of truck I buy.
I am leaning with the Chevy or GMC , Ram in second place and maybe the Nissan Titan XD may be my first choice if the test ride excites me.
I own a 2013 F-150 now and NO WAY am I buying another F-150 !

The first pudge bucket that needs a slim down is the Nissan
XD. At 7,300 lbs for a 5/8 'tweener, that pant load is
desperately in need of a diet.

Keep them heavy, slimming down leads to weaker trucks with flimsy sheet metal and weak stearing and suspention pieces that crack and cause a hazard.

"Jeez man, every time someone acts in their own self interest you get all Ralph Nader inside. Maybe you should consider that we don't need a bunch of nannies telling us what to do every bleepin minute."

Maybe YOU should re-read my statement, PapaJim. I agreed with Bob that the CAFE laws are at least partially at fault, but that doesn't mean the OEMs aren't complicit in the current issues by trying to dodge them, either. Had they made an honest effort to comply instead of using those loopholes to get around the laws, we'd have trucks getting much better economy today and probably still have legitimately 'mid-sized' trucks as well.

Had they made an honest effort to comply instead of using those loopholes...

@Roadwhale

Spoken like a true Boy Scout!

Your reply reveals much about your limited understanding of human nature. You clearly expect others to comply with the full intent of the law, rather than attempting to exploit loopholes.

The number one responsibility of a manufacturer in a free-enterprise system is to at all times honor the wishes of consumers. Complying with arcane edicts such as EPA regs falls somewhere well down the list.

We might save money on fuel, and who knows maybe the Gods will smile upon us and the prices of new trucks will decrease. But guess what is looming on the horizon? With the increased costs of repairs for aluminum bodied vehicles our insurance costs are going to skyrocket eliminating any savings form fuel economy gains or even MSRP price reductions. Don't you just love progress?

The Toy composit bed impressed me in the Taco I was the cartaker for. I never dropped a 50gal drum of lead off a 2 story building into the the back of it in freezing temps but it held up fine for normal use and shoveling and dirt being dumped into it dragging things in and out.

Aluminum seems to be doing just fine for Ford so far. Its still early but issues have been small and minor so far and production issues continue to diminish. Sales have grown even stronger and the owners I talk to like it. I see more manufacturers going to aluminum bodied full size trucks in the not so distant future. Its now been proven to make sense.

Looks like a write up to spark Ford sales.

They forgot Ford used smaller leaf springs to save weught, after getting Mike Rowe to pitch about how longer leafs rode better.

Goes to show Ford could care less about ride. But they tried to make the smaller leaf work, and now they can't hold much either.

Same jittery ride.

Oh, aluminum does corrode. Must be a reason the military still looks for it on aircraft?

Has happened, will continue....



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