Now about that NAIAS (“Detroit Auto Show” to most). The big news (and I mean big) is aluminum Ford F-150s. Sure, the Acura NSX and big Audi luxury sedans were aluminum-bodied, as is the Tesla Model S. But those are niche vehicles, for people who can afford a daily driver. The F-150 on the other hand, is the stereotypical daily driver. (Well, except for chromed-up air haulers, a stereotype within truck world.) Will trucksters accept aluminum… or cruncha lightweights?
They should- Ford’s been making aluminum hoods, decklids, trim, etc. for about two decades now, besides Honda Ltd. and Volkswagen Group and others. About two decades right alongside steel lines, in the same factories. ‘But those are covers,’ you might whine. ‘I can drive without a hood or trunk if necessary.’ You can make the same attack on the F-150- it’s a body-on-frame design. The cab and bed sit on a frame, which is still steel. Trucks can still roll down the road to some degree with no body. You can also make the point of heavy trucks (NOT air haulers), and airplanes. Aircraft are monocoque, with fully load-bearing skins of aluminum- have been for almost a century now.
The F-150 frame also happens to be updated- Ford went to high-tensile steel to lighten that, too. One could argue that’s a bigger actual change, since the frame is primary structure, and the cab and bed secondary. Of course, this is an emotional argument- just look at truck commercials, particularly Chrysler’s. Logic doesn’t apply when you “threaten” someone’s “drivin’ iron.” Hence, Ford calls it “military grade” aluminum, when no such grade exists. They’re 5000- and 6000-series alloys, no more (or less) military than the stock that aluminum smelters supply to planes and architects and baseball bats and whatnot.
Get used to it. Mercedes is moving to aluminum for the next S-series. In fact, planes themselves find aluminum so boring they’re in the middle of a shift to composites. First fighter jets, then slowly spreading to civil airliners. Cars, then, are just beginning this shift. First race cars, then Volkswagen and Toyota were experimenting with composites. The BMW i3 will be the first mass-produced car with an actual composite structure. Even then, it will be in the passenger cage; the front and rear zones will still be dumb, massive metal. And I’m not even counting the Corvette, which had dumb fiberglass bodies from the start. Turns out, Ford’s run by Alan Mullaly, who came from Boeing. The man’s used to aluminum.
The upshot is lighter cars, and smarter auto shops- Mercedes shops around the world are retraining and recertifying for aluminum work; no doubt Ford is doing it faster. The F-150, then, will weight about 700 pounds lighter for 2015. Tesla’s already there.
The future is light and efficient- get used to it. It’s logical even if you aren’t.