A long time after Henry Ford turned the auto industry on its head (actually – onto its wheels) by utilizing the assembly line to produce millions of Model Ts, the Ford Motor Company made another monumental change in 2014, another forward leap in automobile production, with the change from steel to aluminum for the body of its best-selling pickup truck F150.
Not only is the complexity of computerization and connectivity in all types of automobiles growing, but new materials for body construction are now coming into play as well – aluminum and various types of composites — plastic and fiber sandwich-construction.
Changing the body and load-bed from steel to aluminum in a full-sized pickup was a big risk for Ford and its suppliers. Reportedly, Ford invested more than $1 billion in new tooling, and Alcoa and Novelis together spent another billion dollars to enable large-scale aluminum-sheet production.
Everyone has to chip in to preserve nature and ourselves, our freedom of mobility, and our dwindling resources. In the near future, all of us have to carry the burden of earlier mistakes.
We all must invest in our future by improving ways of going from Point A to Point 2 (a family joke).
No one will be spared from spending for the privilege of mobility, because the future is complex …. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure…. Unfortunately, change is not without cost.
In addition to its body production, Ford is investing another half a billion dollars in its Lima, Ohio, engine plant for the manufacturing of the EcoBoost family of engines. These all-aluminum engines use the lighter metal instead of cast-iron in cylinder blocks and –heads.
As well, transmission housings are cast from aluminum, to save weight, and reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emission.
Back to the all-aluminum body: Ford’s F-150 chief engineer Pete Reyes said, “After we debuted the truck at NAIAS [the North American International Auto Show], when we looked back at all the feedback and questions, a lot of the questions came back to, ‘How can you be sure that this truck will be just as tough?’ He added, “Our research indicates that 80 percent of customers view an aluminum-bodied truck as "legitimate", but 20 percent still need to be convinced; Of those 20 percent, about half will be "difficult to sway."
Those few doubters should be won over by Mark Keller, Ford manager for structures and body, who revealed that the sheet thickness in the load-bed was increased by nearly 50 percent, the cab panels by about 30%, and still - the whole 2015 aluminum pickup weighs in about 1,000 pounds lighter than a comparable previous model made of ferrous metals.
To make sure that aluminum is up to the task, Ford (as do most other automakers) put their new model onto a torture rack, which shakes and twists a vehicle repeatedly in seven different ways for days on end, the equivalent of several hundred-thousand miles of driving through ‘pothole alley’.
Testing continues of the F-Series Heavy-Duty trucks to prove that all-aluminum is plenty strong enough for the “treatment” an F-250 or F-350 will receive on the farm, the construction site, or anywhere else. The SUVs from Ford and Lincoln will undergo the same evaluation regarding the advantages of aluminum lightweight construction because all three models share some parts and manufacturing processes.
Nonetheless, accident will happen before cars and trucks can “drive themselves”, autonomously.
Working to repair lightweight aluminum bodies, collision centers will have to change the way of doing business. Craftspeople skilled in the in the way of working magic on steel will have to learn new methods to repair aluminum, which behaves differently. Body shops will need to invest in new tools and training, and it will take time for everyone to become familiar with anything new.
Remember, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) is mandated to reach 54.5 mpg in 6 years from now. (That should be about 42 mpg on the EPA window sticker) [why can’t they get those things straight ???]
Saving non-renewable resources, saving the environment, and saving the world from unforeseen problems requires the auto industry to continually reinvent itself, and design, develop, test and produce always-new alternative transportation.