How Much Auto-Grade Aluminum Will Ford Buy For F-150 Production?

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Which pickup truck wins the Most Iconic Truck in America?

Consider this: some 33 million Ford F-150s have been made over the years and over 11 million are said to be still on the road.

Last year, Ford sold 763,402 of them, making the F-150 the best-selling car, SUV or light truck in the US. One in every 20 vehicles sold in the US last year was an F-series pickup.

It is a vehicle sold as much on its rugged image as its utility, so for Ford to bet the farm on going all-aluminum, they must believe in the approach root and branch.

RELATED: Why Alcoa and Novelis are happy about all-aluminum.

Even so, the company has withheld going uni-body – meaning the chassis and body both being made from aluminum. The new 2015 (to be released later this year) aluminum body version will retain a steel ladder chassis, as the firm perceives owners will not view a unibody as rugged enough.

Nevertheless, the new chassis will be lighter by employing high-strength steels, and so will the aluminum body and pick-up bed, making the overall vehicle some 700 pounds lighter. What does that mean for Ford’s total aluminum buy?

Exact numbers will depend on the model and haven’t been released yet, but according to a report in Extremeetech.com, the outgoing 2014 Ford F-150 weighs from 4,800 lbs for a rear-drive regular cab model with a V6 engine, to 6,200 pounds for a four-wheel-drive super crew cab (two full rows of seats, four regular doors), so a 700-pound weight savings on the biggest F-150 would be on the order of a 10% savings.

If Ford continues to sell three-quarters of a million F-Series pickups with body panels, analysts say that would represent the largest single use of aluminum other than the collective use by the military, or at 700 lbs per vehicle and 2013 sales, that’s 242,400 metric tons of auto-grade aluminum.

But it’s not like Ford is alone in going aluminum. Jaguar Land Rover and Audi have been there with their high-end vehicles for the last couple of years, but their volumes are a fraction of Ford’s F-150. Not surprisingly, the industry, both carmakers and aluminum producers, are keen to see how this works out.

On the face of it, Ford is moving the F-150 (and with it, their entire light truck business) into the 21st century, not just by improving fuel efficiency, but by adding the whole range of extras to the range that they already provide on their cars. In the same way that 18-wheel heavy truck sales took off once users realized the newer generation of more aerodynamic shapes were saving them thousands of bucks in fuel, it’s likely many more consumers will take up new 30-mpg F-150 models, those consumers who previously had been put off by sub-20-mpg consumption returns.

It may not save the wider aluminum industry, but it could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity for sheet manufacturers willing to invest in the technology to meet the potential demand.

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