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Aluminum body for a pickup truck?

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A workaholic pickup made of aluminum? Yes! — Why not? It makes good sense.

Using aluminum for the complete body of the Ford F150 pickup truck, for the cabin and the load-bed, caused a sensation not only in the automobile industry, but also in the population using cars or trucks; — almost unheard of for a family car, much less for a work truck.

An added bonus: aluminum does not rust.

The F150 is an automotive icon; Ford introduced it in 1948; now in its thirteenth generation, it has been the best-selling pickup in 43 years. Last year, more than 883,000 F150s were sold in North America alone, many more in at least another dozen countries.

As Ford’s best-selling vehicle, it took a great leap of faith and painstaking planning for the company to make such a drastic, far-reaching change. Two American sheet-metal producers, Alcoa and Novelis invested more than one billion dollars to get ready for the production of aluminum in such huge quantity as is needed for a million aluminum bodies.

Preparing for ever more stringent government fuel consumption regulations, all automakers are exploring new ways to save weight, thereby saving fuel and CO2 emissions during vehicle production as well as during their operation on the road.

Alternative transportation requires new thinking, new jobs and new occupations. When carburetors were no longer needed and produced, new fields opened up in fuel injection and computerization, in new materials and diverse manufacturing processes.

Many cars and large and small trucks already use plastic outer panels, hoods and fenders of light-weight steel or composites, to save weight. Sportscars have used aluminum to save weight for a long time; high-end cars from Audi utilize a space frame (ASF) of cast aluminium in several models, and attach aluminium panels to that; the Jaguar XJR uses aluminum monocoque (uni-body) construction, and others are applying similar construction methods.

It must be considered a breakthrough in automobile manufacturing to produce a pickup truck with a body made of a lightweight material. Saving between 700 and 900 lbs (with the crew-cab) will bring down fuel consumption and emission a good deal towards to ever more stringent government regulations.

All new systems and processes require a learning curve, which most automakers learn to manage through participation in auto-sports. (We have to learn to avoid the word motor-sport, since that is only fitting for electric vehicles from now on)

Instead of welding, fabricating (or repairing) aluminum bodies requires bonding and riveting. Aluminum itself also behaves differently than steel. Will it stand up to the use on a farm or construction job?

“You can take advantage of the lighter weight, shrink the displacement of the engines, reduce power a little bit but still maintain the same power-to-weight ratio as you had before,” explained Mike Levine, a Ford truck spokesman. “The panels will be thicker — but lighter over all — than steel”, he added.

Various metals –as many as 15– added to the alu (or steel) during its formation take care of any desired quality during its lifetime. Repairing accident damage (autonomous driving will reduce that possibility) also requires collision centers to re-learn how to do ‘body work’.

This writer is presently involved with one automaker to help collision centers adjust to the new way of ‘taking the dent out of accident’.

We may wonder why Ford started with the high-volume F series instead of the Mustang, using alu-construction. To ‘get a handle’ on such an across-the-board change will take less time than doing it piecemeal.

Sweeping changes are crucial to reduce weight, consumption and emission. The high-end luxury and sportscars have shown that we are heading in the right direction with downsizing.

Alternative transportation at this time requires new thinking, design, construction and driving habits. All aboard !
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