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Ford Rolling Out Aluminum Body F-150 Truck

4:18 PM, Dec 26, 2013   |    comments
The finished Atlas Concept at the Detroit unveiling with Ford CEO Alan Mulally (left) and Bill Ford, executive chairman. Carlos Osorio AP
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Chris Woodyard, USA Today

Get ready for Ford's aluminum pickup truck, likely either to be hailed as a breakthrough product or one that draws scads of comparisons to a beer can.

Ford is going to announce in a couple of weeks that the next F-150 will have a body made mostly of aluminum instead of steel in a bid to save weight, and thus gas, says Bloomberg News on the basis of what it says are confirmations by unnamed sources. And, it says Ford is going to lengths to invite comparisons to the aluminum used in military vehicles, not in flimsy beer cans.

To try to sell the press, and thus the public, on its new silver bullet, Ford has approached Alcoa to borrow some military-grade aluminum for its booth at the North American International Auto Show, where the truck is expected to make a grand entrance, according to Bloomberg. The macho appeal of the military vehicles would be used to crush the beer-can image.

Remember, though, making a truck out of aluminum is a highly risky move for Ford. It has a proven winner in the F-150, not only the nation's most popular pickup, but the most popular vehicle of any sort. Pickup truck buyers tend to be brand-loyal traditionalists, and they don't take easily to changes.

"Ford's sales job will be considerable: 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," Bloomberg writes.

If Ford can pull it off, analysts say F-150 will blaze the way for more extensive use of aluminum in mainstream cars, not just the high-end models where it found now.

"Like alternative drivetrain technology, lightweight materials will be a key component in meeting the fuel economy standards of the future. Ford's use of aluminum in the next F-150 foreshadows a widespread trend we'll be seeing across every vehicle segment in the coming years," says Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book in a statement to USA TODAY.

Ford is apparently trying to squeeze more than 700 pounds out of its next generation of pickup trucks, according to the news service. Aluminum body panels would play a key role. Last January, Ford showed the Atlas truck concept that is expected to be the forerunner to the next pickup.

Ford has showed it is willing to make changes for a better product. When turbocharged engines were introduced, they became a huge hit in F-Series pickups. In the past, pickup owners clung to V-8s as the only way to produce the towing and hauling power they need no matter how bad their gas mileage.

The change to aluminum may be the last big ones from Ford CEO Alan Mulally, who is due to retire next year or leave for Microsoft's top job. As the head of Boeing's commercial airline business before coming to Ford, Mulally was a huge proponent of weight savings through use of composites. But the resulting 787 jet has been racked by delays and trouble. Mulally must be hoping that the same issues don't extend to an aluminum F-150 even though the metal is trickier than steel when it come to automotive components.

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