Building a car out of aluminum has a number of benefits - the lighter weight allows the vehicle to be more agile, more fuel efficient, make better use of its power and be more resistant to dings and dents. The downside to the advanced construction, though, is that repairs are both challenging and expensive. That's troubling for the new, aluminum-bodied Ford F-150, because it's kind of made a name for itself as a rugged, durable work vehicle.
How will the legions of Ford buyers cope when it comes time to insure and repair their new trucks? Well, according to Ford, it's expecting a ten-percent jump in insurance costs for the aluminum-bodied F-150, although Ford's truck marketing manager, Doug Scott, was quick to point out that the F-150 is generally cheaper to insure than its competition from Ram and General Motors. "At the end of the day, that's sort of a wash," Scott told Automotive News at last week's Detroit Auto Show. "We've spent a lot of time and feel very comfortable that that's not going to be an inhibitor."
The other issue facing Ford is the distinct lack of body shops that have the training or equipment to repair aluminum-bodied vehicles. AN cites an estimate from the Automotive Service Association claiming that of the 30,000 independent body shops in the US, less than 10 percent are able to work on aluminum.
Aluminum repairs demand their own set of tools, and you generally can't mix and match tools for aluminum and steel. The lightweight metal is also difficult to form, as Ford found out. These two factors, combined with the limited number of aluminum-bodied vehicles on the road, has kept shops from investing in the tools and training to work with the metal. Ford doesn't seem concerned, though.
"We've just been waiting for the reveal to unveil a certification process for dealer-owned body shops and the independent channel," Scott told AN. While it may still be some time before that process is implemented, early adopters won't be left out in the cold - Ford estimates that 90 percent of F-150 customers live within two hours of a certified repair facility, while 80 percent are within half an hour.
"Ford is going to have to execute, and building at that volume in aluminum has never been done in the history of the automobile business. And there are reasons it hasn't been don: It's expensive, and it's complicated and it's difficult to work with," said Mike Jackson, the CEO of AutoNation. That said, Ford seemingly has its ducks in a row on the repair end of the aluminum game. Whether this gamble will pan out in the grand scheme, though, remains to be seen.