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GM matches Ford bet on aluminum: Places orders with suppliers

2015 Chevrolet Suburban
2015 Chevrolet Suburban

It was reported from several sources yesterday (Feb. 18) that General Motors has placed future orders for aluminum with two suppliers - Alcoa Inc. and Novelis Inc. – to provide aluminum to GM sometime in 2017 for use in possible next generation SUV and full-size pickup truck models.

2015 F-150 first maker to build with aluminum

GM has been delivering, since earlier this year, their all-new generation pickup trucks – the 2014 Chevrolet Silverado and 2014 GMC Sierra and has just begun dealer deliveries of their all-new SUV vehicles including the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban along with the GMC Yukon and Yukon Denali.

But they have definitely taken notice of the introduction by Ford of their all-new – and all-aluminum – 2015 Ford F-150 that will begin arriving in dealerships later this year.

Use of aluminum in the body panels of pickup trucks from both Ford and GM is not new as both have been using aluminum hoods for a while. But Ford took the first step to broaden the use of aluminum thereby increasing their segment advantage for the already best-selling pickup truck in North America and around the world.

The strategic move to mostly aluminum – replacing steel – for body surface and under panels plus selected frame and suspension parts by Ford raises the bar in both performance and fuel efficiency through significant weight reduction from the use of aluminum.

Ford says their new F-150 aluminum construction reduces weight in the truck by around 700 pounds – and combined with a new EcoBoost engine that they are adding to the power train offering - will increase tow/haul capacity in addition to mileage improvement for their new truck.

There has been quite a bit of discussion of the actual impact on fuel efficiency from this new combination and numbers in the area of 30 mpg have been mentioned.

Today, by comparison, the F-150 with an EcoBoost engine is rated at 23 mpg with the Ram 1500 powered by their Pentastar V6 at 25 mpg and the brand new Ram 1500 EcoDiesel having just been certified at 28 mpg. New 2014 GM Sierra and Silverado pickups with the EcoTec3 5.3L V8 are rated at 23 mpg. (All mpg numbers are highway mileage ratings with the 4/2 drive train.)

According to media reports, GM officials have declined to confirm the reports of the GM order for aluminum other than to say they have taken notice of the Ford program and are looking at all of the potential avenues to take weight out of future vehicle products including trucks and SUVs.

Chevrolet and GMC product officials at the DFW Auto Show media preview that we attended yesterday were similarly tight lipped - choosing to talk only about their new 2014 and 2015 truck and SUV products – including the all-new 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and 2015 GMC Canyon medium-size pickups that are arriving in dealerships later this year.

Reports indicate that the use of aluminum by GM in vehicles would probably not appear in products until the 2018 model year.

Sources: GM Authority, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, The Detroit Bureau

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