SAN ANTONIO – The aluminum-intensive ’15 F-150 pickup represents a “bold move” for the entire auto industry, including materials suppliers, says Matt O’Leary, Ford vehicle line director- North America Trucks, SUVs and Commercial Vehicles.
“We’re not just making a bold move for our industry, but a bold move for the aluminum industry,” he tells WardsAuto during an F-150 event here. “Right now automotive has been a small player (in aluminum), and this is a really big deal to them and they’re looking forward to working on this.”
O’Leary says the attention shouldn’t be on the F-150’s largely aluminum body, but rather how its lighter weight changes the driving characteristics of the F-150 and allows for the addition of additional technologies.
“You save that weight and you can reinvest it in capability,” he says. “To me the business case is always there.”
While the high-volume F-150 program marks a huge opportunity for aluminum suppliers, it doesn’t mean a death sentence for the steel industry.
Although the body of the F-150 is aluminum, the frame is composed of different steel alloys. O’Leary says steel still has its place in the industry, noting aluminum and steel have been used in combination for some time.
“Aluminum isn’t new. The hoods on F-150s have been aluminum for years,” he says. “It’s a scary deal for the steel industry. They’re wondering, ‘What we are going to do to not lose all this business?’ In my opinion, there’s room for both. We just take the material that’s needed for a specific purpose.”
Ford didn’t jump headfirst into the new F-150 program in an effort to be the first automaker to offer an aluminum high-volume product. It did intensive research to ensure the aluminum body would be durable, capable, repairable and manufacturable, O’Leary says.
“Those on the outside would say this is a big risk. We don’t say it’s a risk,” he says. “Yes, there are issues we have to sort through, but we did all our homework and before we said we’d go forward with this program we made sure we’d deliver.”
Big moves such as switching to aluminum are necessary to maintain the F-150’s leadership in the fullsize pickup segment, O’Leary says, noting Ford constantly evaluates what its truck customers want and need, and tries to predict how those wants will evolve in the future.
Standing still, he says, is not an option.
“We’ll introduce this truck and customers will love it,” O’Leary says “Yet, as this is going out we’re going to start thinking about the next all-new F-150 and see how are customers are using this vehicle, how are they adapting to the technology and what wants and needs are we not meeting that they can’t even articulate.”
Although aluminum lightens the truck, it comes at a price, as the material costs more than traditional steel.
Ford, however, was able to keep the cost hike under what most analysts predicted. The base-model ’15 F-150 XL will sticker at $26,615, including a $1,195 destination and delivery charge, an increase of $395 compared with the current model year. The top-of-the-line Platinum model will start at $52,155, which is $3,055 more than the outgoing version.
O’Leary says Ford found ways to mitigate the cost increase, and says the automaker won’t see reduced margins on the new truck.
“It’s more expensive pound for pound, but we’re using a lot less of it, and aluminum is much more recyclable then steel,” he says. “We did add some pricing, but it wasn’t so much for the aluminum, but for the other technology we’re giving. Our strategy has been building technology we can sell across vehicle lines to reduce the cost.”