Executive Briefings

Ford Bet on Aluminum Trucks, but Is Still Looking for Payoff

Three years ago, Ford Motor made a daring gamble when it started selling a new version of its F-150 pickup truck made mainly of aluminum rather than steel.

No carmaker had ever committed to using aluminum so widely in such a high-volume, high-profile vehicle. But the new F-150 proved to be a technological marvel — 700 pounds lighter than the truck’s previous version, able to pull heavy loads with a V6 engine rather than a gas-guzzling V8.

Ford expected aluminum to give its truck a critical advantage in an era of tougher fuel-economy standards and rising gasoline prices. The company also thought the truck would pull customers away from General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and command prices high enough to increase Ford’s profit, despite aluminum’s higher cost.

But the revolutionary switch seems to be giving Ford less of an edge than it had hoped.

With moderate gasoline prices, fuel economy is no longer a persuasive factor for many truck buyers. While sales are brisk, F-Series trucks — including the F-150 and the brawnier Super Duty — have only slightly increased their share of the full-size pickup truck segment since the aluminum models arrived. Their share is actually lower than it was in 2013.

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No carmaker had ever committed to using aluminum so widely in such a high-volume, high-profile vehicle. But the new F-150 proved to be a technological marvel — 700 pounds lighter than the truck’s previous version, able to pull heavy loads with a V6 engine rather than a gas-guzzling V8.

Ford expected aluminum to give its truck a critical advantage in an era of tougher fuel-economy standards and rising gasoline prices. The company also thought the truck would pull customers away from General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and command prices high enough to increase Ford’s profit, despite aluminum’s higher cost.

But the revolutionary switch seems to be giving Ford less of an edge than it had hoped.

With moderate gasoline prices, fuel economy is no longer a persuasive factor for many truck buyers. While sales are brisk, F-Series trucks — including the F-150 and the brawnier Super Duty — have only slightly increased their share of the full-size pickup truck segment since the aluminum models arrived. Their share is actually lower than it was in 2013.

Read full article