New Ford F-150 is 700 pounds (318 kg) lighter image

Unveiled just before the official start of the 2014 NAIAS, Ford took risks with its top-selling and most profitable model, introducing an F-150 pickup that weighs as much as 700 pounds (318 kilograms) lighter to deliver a boost in fuel economy.

Ford said today in a statement the new F-150 going on sale late this year boasts military-grade aluminum alloy throughout its body – and the US carmaker also added a 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine, the smallest-displacement powertrain in its truck lineup.

Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally, trained as an aeronautical engineer, is pushing Ford into the use of lightweight material commonly found in planes and never-before tested on this scale in automotives. The switch from steel-bodied F-150s will pose a challenge on the factory floors that have produced the top-selling truck in the last 32 years.

The introduction of the production-version F-150 will serve as a bookend to the career of Mulally, 68, who plans to leave the company as soon as 2015, the truck’s first full year on the market. Alcoa Inc. and Novelis Inc., which both recently expanded capacity in U.S. aluminum factories, are the major suppliers to the F-150, according to consultant Ducker Worldwide.

Researcher IHS Automotive last year projected that Ford’s large-pickup output would drop about 8.5 % in 2014 as the automaker changes over its factories to build the new F-150.

The truck plant near Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, will shut completely in June as it transitions to make the new F-150, according to IHS. Ford’s other F-150 plant in Claycomo, Missouri, probably will prep for the transition in March and April and complete the switch in November.

The upcoming F-150 will push Ford’s pickups closer to 30 miles per gallon (12.75 kilometers per liter) highway rating, two people familiar with the truck have said. The top-rated pickup in the F-150 lineup for the 2014 model year has a 23-mpg highway rating. Ford didn’t give details of the new truck’s fuel economy in its statement.

Ford sold 763,402 F-Series pickups last year, according to Autodata Corp., making it the industry’s top-selling truck the last 37 years and the No. 1 model among all vehicles for 32 years.

Via Bloomberg