Ford’s aluminum gamble is even higher now image

The US automaker has made a revolutionary decision – switching its best-selling F-150 pickup to an aluminum intensive design. And now, they want to take the gamble even further by switching the next Super Duty models to the lightweight metal too.

Last week Ford took investors and analysts by surprise after it decided to trim its financial guidance to account for lower profits – the main faults lying in the money losing European region and the very week Russian market. But many observers also rushed to forecast the North American profits, mainly supported by the high-margin pickups as a cause of concern.

“Those on the outside would say it’s a big risk. We don’t say it’s a big risk. We did all our homework and it was a calculated decision,” said Matt O’Leary, vehicle line director for North America trucks, SUVs and commercial vehicles. “We’re using less and it is more recyclable and we can re-invest that; something we’ve never done.”

The detractors claim F-150 profits would be weighed down by the higher cost of using aluminum (not to mention retooling an entire factory) – aluminum has averaged around $2,200 per ton during the last five years, while steel stood at $300 per ton for sheet metal and $500 for shredded auto scrap.

But Ford wants to offset that by making economies of scale after also adding around 350,000 heavy-duty trucks to the 750,000 F-150 light-duty pickups it makes annually. Indeed, the Super Duty models would also switch to an aluminum intensive design, but that won’t happen soon – they are programmed for the major overhaul in at least three to five years.