Ford will debut an aluminum F-Series – its anticipated and high-stakes redesign of the top-selling pickup in history – at next month’s Detroit auto show, advice according to sources and the company will take pains to show its new, aluminum F-150 pickup has much in common with combat vehicles.
The automaker has asked Alcoa Inc., which makes aluminum blast shields for battlefield-bound vehicles, to lend some of its military-grade metal for the automaker’s display, said one of the people familiar with Ford’s plans, who asked not to be identified because the plans are secret.
The company is eager to demonstrate the toughness of aluminum, which is lighter than steel, to pickup buyers who’ve made F-150 the bedrock of its business. Any problem would weigh on earnings that Ford already is projecting will decline next year and add to the challenges facing Mark Fields, likely the company’s next chief executive officer. At last year’s Detroit show, he pledged that Ford would take as much as 750 pounds (340 kilograms) out of its next-generation trucks to meet tightening fuel-economy regulations.
By January, the pickup line will become America’s best-selling truck for 37 years and its best-selling vehicle, period, for 32. So, the rollout isn’t likely to be easy. Manufacturing experts and steel-industry advocates say that moving to aluminum will require fundamental changes to how Ford truck bodies make their way down the assembly line.
Ford is adding thousands of salaried workers including technical engineers to support new-product introductions and assigned Fields, 52, the task of honing its processes after recent bungled rollouts have cost the company lost sales and expensive recalls.
The complicated switch to aluminum from steel in the F-150’s body contributes to IHS Automotive’s estimate that Ford will need to take about six weeks of downtime at each of its truck plants to retool and swap out robots and machinery.