Steel Industry Swings Back at Ford F-150

TAWA_Awards F150 II

When the manufacturer of the best-selling pickup truck in the U.S. makes the switch from steel to aluminum for the entire body and bed, it's not an easy changeover. And it's especially not easy for the steel industry to sit by and watch it happen. We're guessing the last thing Big Steel wants to see is all the other truckmakers jump on the Ford bandwagon, shedding weight by switching to aluminum — especially when the industry thinks it still can offer viable options. And that's exactly the message Big Steel is sharing.

By no means a coincidence, the marketing arm of the eight biggest North American steel producers — the Steel Market Development Institute — became the title sponsor of the Texas Auto Writers Association's 2014 Truck Rodeo, which took place Oct. 8-10 just outside San Antonio. The all-new, all-aluminum-bodied 2015 Ford F-150 was competing for the highly coveted Truck of Texas award and, in fact, won it. It also took home four other major Truck Rodeo awards.

Although some might say the optics here look a little funny, SMDI President Larry Kavanaugh wants automakers to know that there are plenty of material choices available that also reduce weight. He was quick to reminded us that the use of advanced high-strength steel has been on a meteoric rise of late. "In fact," he said, "the new Ford truck frame uses more high-strength steel than any other pickup."

Ronald Krupitzer, outgoing vice president of SDMI, said the institute wanted to get involved with the TAWA Truck Rodeo in more specific terms. "Texans know and love their trucks," he said in a statement. "When they need a vehicle to keep up with the workload and lifestyle, advanced high-strength steel offers the perfect balance between weight and performance … we look forward to partnering with the Texas Auto Writers Association and sharing their insight on why time-tested materials, like advanced steel, will help ensure the durability, strength and safety of future vehicles."

While diplomatic, the SDMI representatives were focused on promoting the message that steel will always be the bigger player in the pickup segment. According to a recent report (to download the report summary, click here) they cited extensively during our interview, advanced high-strength steels will continue be the material of choice for automakers beyond 2025, while aluminum use is likely to peak in just a few model years.

Whether it's right or wrong to have the TAWA Truck Rodeo sponsored by a group with a vested interest is up for debate, but they did comfortably shake hands with the Ford F-150 team members, just like they did with eachh of the other Truck Rodeo category winners, when the awards were given out and photos taken. And whether this is the start of huge competitive campaign that puts exotic materials on one side and Big Steel on the other remains to be seen. In the final analysis, most buyers won't care what pickups are made from — all they want is a lighter, stronger and more durable vehicle and if it can be a little less expensive, that would be good too. 

For more information about SDMI, visit; for more about TAWA, visit photos by Mark Williams; TAWA images


TAWA_Awards_103_DSC_0095 (1) II
The Three Amigos? Larry Kavanaugh, SMDI president (left), Doug Scott, Marketing Manager for Ford Truck Group (middle), and Michael Marrs, TAWA president (right). 




Here is a an oldie but a goodie from Chrysler singing the praises of switching to aluminum. From the year 1997....

(Also gas back then was like 75 cents a gallon so going to aluminum is not about gas prices.)

Chrysler launches an aluminum revolution
By Charles J. Murray, Senior Regional Editor

No easy choice. In retrospect, the advantages of aluminum now seem obvious. But it wasn't always so. Steel had long served as the material of choice for structural components. Its strength and low cost made it an easy selection. Plus, engineers understood it. It presented no unknowns.

But when Chrysler engineers began redesigning the minivan, nothing was taken for granted. For the front suspension cradle, their first priority was functionality.

What's more, Chrysler designers were adopting the cab-forward configuration that later made the LH vehicles so successful. That meant that there would be less room under the hood and, as a result, a tighter packaging environment for the cradle. To meet those packaging constraints, they needed to maintain unusally high levels of alignment integrity.

Chrysler engineers first discussed the idea of alternative materials in 1991. "We knew the part would have a complicated architecture," Gasparovich recalls. "And we worried about whether we could make a steel part with the dimensional integrity we needed."

When engineers investigated aluminum as an alternate material, they found that it met those needs.

(more at the link)

Aluminum test-bed. The new suspension cradle, which quietly debuted with the introduction of the 1997 minivans, has yielded a multitude of benefits for Chrysler. Its design enabled Chrysler engineers to employ a fully isolated front suspension, thus improving the vehicle's noise, vibration, and harshness characteristics. It also allowed for the front suspension to be reliably built and repeatably positioned in an automated assembly fixture for installation into the vehicle.

Despite the recent growth in the industry's use of aluminum, experts say that its popularity could drop off as quickly as it grew. "The future of this material in vehicles is very dependent on fuel economy standards and volatile material costs," says Cole of the University of Michigan. "If those things change, everything changes."

For that reason, Chrysler engineers view their use of aluminum as a moving target, with ever-changing goals. "From a vehicle standpoint, we can say that we've been successful," Swanson concludes. "But we can't be completely satisfied. The way to remain competitive is never to be satisfied."

How aluminum cradles are made

To develop a manufacturing process for their aluminum cradle, Chrysler engineers collaborated with designers at CMI-Precision Mold, Inc., Bristol, IN. Together, the two firms developed a high-tech, 10-step process to cast, heat treat, straighten, and inspect the aluminum parts:

Step 1. Reverbratory furnace melts A-356 alloy and introduces molten material into 187' heated launder.

Step 2. Gravity die cast machines produce 80-lb cradle.

Step 3. Multiple-stage trimming machines saw and mill. Casting reduced to about 30 lbs.

Step 4. Continuous Roller-Hearth processes product through solution furnaces, polymer quench, and double-age oven.

Step 5. Automated straightening cells use laser-targeted anvils to gently bring castings within strict tolerances.

Step 6. Mechanical and microstructural properties are evaluated at materials lab.

Step 7. Six-station transfer line qualifies castings for machining

Step 8. Castings undergo final machining.

Step 9. Automated system X-rays each casting. Computerized recognition system identifies defects.

Step 10. Castings undergo partial assembly of lower isolators.

Steel-aluminum cradle comparison

Items mounted on Chrysler's aluminum suspension cradle,versus a list from the minivan's old steel cradle:

Aluminum Cradle Mounts Steel Cradle Mounts

Lower control arm

Sway bar

Steering gear

Steering gear with pressure and return hose assemblies

Rear engine mount

Body isolators

ABS integrated control unit

Brake hose mounting bracket

Brake tube mount

Brake junction block assembly (non ABS)

Leak detection pump

Power steering pump oil cooler

Steel Cradle Mounts

Lower control arm

Sway bar

Steering gear

Bobble strut

"The aluminum advantage isn't all about FE though. Rust prevention? Increased payload/towing? Decreased wear/tear? Improved handling/acceleration?" - Denver Mike

@Dever Mike, Good post. I'll add one more. Stops better.


More 1990s Flashback......

To the average driver, it's invisible: a big, bulky, non-descript lump of metal that dutifully bears their vehicle's largest loads in virtually every situation. Most drivers never see it; few ever give it a second thought. They know only that it's down there, somewhere beneath the powertrain. And it's probably made of steel.

Probably. On one of the world's most popular vehicles, however, this is no longer the case. The front suspension cradle--the beefy structural component that carries huge static and dynamic loads on Chrysler's minivans--is aluminum.

To many, that may sound almost like a contradiction in terms. Structural aluminum? Aluminum, after all, has built a reputation as a lightweight material. But experts say there's no reason it can't be used in automotive's toughest structural applications.

"Aluminum may have some of its best applications in structural components," notes Dr. David Cole, director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan. "It serves very effectively there."

Indeed, looking at the advantages of Chrysler's aluminum cradle makes one wonder why the industry hadn't done it earlier. Check, for example, the list of items that can now be mounted on the suspension cradle: ABS control unit, brake junction block assembly, leak detection pump, power steering pump oil cooler, and a host of items that weren't mounted on the steel version.

What's more, aluminum provides better dimensional integrity: about a half-millimeter across the length of the part, compared to about three times that for steel.

Best of all, however, is the weight reduction. In an era when engineers work frantically to cut a pound of weight from a vehicle, Chrysler engineers reduced the weight of the minivan's suspension cradle by at least 14 lbs. While conservative estimates held that a stamped steel cradle would have weighed more than 40 lbs--the aluminum version weighs a scant 26 lbs.

Chrysler managers are ecstatic over the thought of having removed so much weight. "Weight reduction is one of the few universal goods," notes Bob Gasparovich, who served as manager of suspension engineering when the cradle was developed. "It makes fuel economy better. It makes the vehicle perform better, handle better, and stop easier. It does just about everything that's good."

Real men drive steel trucks says Robert Hegbloom, CEO OF RAM TRUCKS!

Ram Execs: “Aluminum is the Best Material to Use for Beer Cans”

- Ram’s director of marketing, and PRESIDENT of Ram,
Robert Hegbloom

"Aluminum is the Best Material to Use for Beer" - Robert Hegbloom

That's proof that PR marketing guys don't make good presidents. And Fiat-Chrsyler can't keep their story straight. I'm sure they'll be flip flopping on this in a few years......

"The next-generation Jeep Wrangler may be built off a unibody platform, feature smaller and turbocharged engines (EcoBoost), and switch to an aluminum body, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne said."

I can't want to see one of these beer cans power by a soda can.


8:30 a.m. EDT September 29, 2014

NHTSA reviews 4.9M Chrysler vehicles for stalling issue

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Monday it will open a formal review into 4.9 million Chrysler SUVs, trucks and vans after reports of electronic failures that could lead to stalling, failure of lights and air bags and fires.

More Breaking News:

RECALL: 907,000 Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep vehicles recalled for alternator and mirror issues (and fires)
8:50 AM, Oct 16, 2014

DETROIT (AP) - Chrysler is recalling nearly 907,000 Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep SUVs and cars for failing alternators and heated power mirrors that can cause minor fires.

The largest of Thursday's recalls covers nearly 470,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees, Chrysler 300s, and Dodge Chargers, Challengers and Durangos from 2011 through 2014. The alternators can fail, causing the 3.6-liter V6 engines to stall unexpectedly.

Chrysler knows of one crash but no injuries or fires. It will replace alternators for free. Owners will be notified in November.

The second recall covers nearly 437,000 Jeep Wranglers from 2011 through 2013. Water can enter the heated power mirror wiring and cause a short

:Hemi lol: thanks for the humor, I needed a good laugh! The Tundra 5.7 "spanks the Hemi 5.7"??? Really? WHERE?

The last challenge you must have missed, where the Tundra got crappy mileage. It needs twice as many valves to get less power, and a lot less mileage.

It used to be the Tundra had a gear advantage, and a Ram 5.7 with a 5/6 speed was a close second. Now? Bah hah hah! The Tundra got so SPANKED (your word) in the last challenge, it wasn't close in most categories!

Then you are probably going to tell us how the Tundra makes all of its tourque at a lower RPM? Too bad the Ram 5.7 makes the same thing at 3400 RPM on its way to make them a lot more at 3950! And, the last time we were on the subject, you went on and gave misleading information about coolant capacity! Truth be told, the Dodge Ram 1500 with an eight speed and a 5.7 has more coolant capacity and your Toyota Tundra.

Are you guys still passing around the consumer reports magazine around your dealership now that Ram has higher numbers then Toyota has? That's funny there, I don't care who you are!

You could keep talking with your Toyota salesperson mumbo-jumbo, who cares? You can fool some people sometimes, but you can't fool all the people all the time.

Go to TFLTruck and tell me who is cheap on the steel, especially in the frames. It is not GM!

@ Real men drive steel trucks says Robert Hegbloom, CEO OF RAM TRUCKS!

Ram Execs: “Aluminum is the Best Material to Use for Beer Cans”

- Ram’s director of marketing, and PRESIDENT of Ram,
Robert Hegbloom

Boy what an idiot. So then will RAM stop using aluminum for their wheels and go back to steel. In few years he'll be singing a diff tune.
FYI I like my beer in bottles, taste better.

Hegbloomer is an idiot, why else would he be working at such an unreliable company. I was buying my wife a car yesterday, she's a nurse and needs something that can traverse all weather conditions. Jeep came to mind, so I stopped by the local Chrysler dealer. Looked over the entire selection of jeeps. Never saw a salesman. Got in my truck and drove 2 blocks to the Ford dealership. Drove away with a new car last night, and after reading horror stories about jeep problems, made the right choice.

@ t4 Tom

Is that the same hemi in the test that completely falls on its face--worst MPG towing, next to worst acceleration loaded--when actually used as a pickup? I guess you missed that part of the challenge... .

@All the haters
I want you all to thing about something for a minute. Brand wars are inevitable, however, it doesn't take a genius to realize what brand stands for and behind it's customers.

Chrysler - Has been producing affordable luxury vehicles for a long long time. To get a vehicle on par with the features a Chrylser offers, you have to spend at least 10k more.

Dodge - Producing the best vehicles for middle class Americans since the Dodge Brothers first became visionaries.

Ram - Producing the trucks that help build America.

Jeep - Designing the best off-road vehicles. Jeep is synonymous with off-roading.

By contrast here is what Ford does to their customers:
Sign a contract with International to obtain some 6.0l powerstrokes that are utter garbage and have the tendancy to break easily.

Here are some things GM does to it's customers:
Kill people with ignition switch failures.
Build garbage motors
Build truck engines that suffer from piston slap

@Recalls Almost Monthy
Can you provide a link? Nope, I didn't think so. Unlike the lies that come out of your mouth, I can provide many many links proving that the 6.0l powerstroke is utter garbage as well as GM vehicles. Can you do the same? Nope.

Try again and next time make sure to find some source to support your view.

Fords tin can 150 and frame twisting 250 have got nothing on this Ram.

While you at it go ahead and Google "Ram dash cracking".

Posted by: Recalls Almost Monthly | Oct 16, 2014 11:47:32 PM


@ t4 Tom

Is that the same hemi in the test that completely falls on its face--worst MPG towing, next to worst acceleration loaded--when actually used as a pickup? I guess you missed that part of the challenge... .

Posted by: Dav | Oct 16, 2014 10:38:58 PM


Yes, the whole Bed Floor and walls...100% Aluminum. Very thick and special armour type grade!!!

Is the entire f150 bed including the floor and fender wells made out of aluminum?

Posted by: BD | Oct 15, 2014 1:16:04 PM

I dont know what people are doing to make their chevy/gmc to rust but i have a 2005 chevy 2500hd 120k and a 2006 gmc 2500hd 155k both plowed snow their whole life and no rust and company i sub through have 13 2500hd-3500hd 07-15 no rust and some are scratched all to hell and 7 of them are salt trucks that do not get washed ever!!! and all these truck landscape the rest of the year.

If they build crap motors why is the ls motor the most popular eng to build with the hot rodders even the mustang guys take the pos ford engs out and put ls motors in.

Wow - a flame war between trolls.

@Lou BC--Most of these guys are living vicariously through their trucks. Outside of their trucks they have no life and they have little exposure to the real World. I would hate to have a life revolving around any corporate brand--kind of like living the rest of my life like I was still in high school. No evolved life here.

@Lou_BC and Jeff S,
This is the problem with PUTC. PUTC will generally not remove a comment unless asked. Can someone at PUTC or actually read the comments and decide on which to delete.

They have allowed for this type of commentary to exist. If a moderator was constantly removing those types of comments the site would mature.

The school kids and other's, ie, product endorsers would leave or be forced into mature dialogue. Whilst PUTC might consider itself doing a community service by baby sitting these guys this will continue.

I don't know how much a manufacturer can derive at with the quality of much here. If a manufacturer did follow the comments on PUTC the US pickup industry would fold.

Is it possible to have someone at PUTC remove these comments. I do think at least half the comments would disappear.

I have previously made a comment on this site regarding the maturity of these kids, it was removed.

But to fix this site will take some effort on the part of the moderator or even Mark Williams. But, effort means work.

Getting an award from anything to do with Texas is as upright and honest as a Bernie Madoff investment. Texas is infamous with its rigged beauty contests and a truck & Texas award is laughable.

I dented my brand new f 250 by leaning on it....

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