There's no doubt that Ford is taking a risk in producing the body of its upcoming new F-150 pickup truck in aluminum. What is up for debate, however, is whether aluminum was a wise risk to take in the first place. Wards Auto took the opportunity to poll some experts on the subject of aluminum versus steel in the automotive sector, with somewhat unsurprising results.

Richard Schultz, a project consultant at Ducker Worldwide, which bills itself as "a leading aluminum industry consultant (though they also deal in steels), suggests that the potential drawbacks to aluminum – higher costs, lower supply – aren't really impediments to the auto industry's increased acceptance of the lightweight metal.

Similarly, Randall Scheps, global automotive marketing director for Alcoa, a massive aluminum producer, counters claims that aluminum is less safe for vehicle occupants, suggesting that the use of aluminum can actually increase safety as it could potentially allow for larger vehicles with more crush space than steel.

Craig Parsons, president of Nanosteel, a company that produces a high-strength steel product, has other thoughts. "I think technologies like nanosteel are going to give automakers alternatives to aluminum so they can do lightweighting with better geometries and thinner materials," he told Wards. Parsons also questions the capacity of the aluminum supply chain.

So, the experts in their respective fields seem to be divided along company lines. What about you? Do you think the use of aluminum in the F-150 gives Ford a big advantage over its rivals in the pickup truck segment? Have your say in our informal poll below.



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  • 188 Comments
      SpacemanSpiff
      • 9 Months Ago
      So the aluminum industry experts say this is gonna be an advantage, and the steel experts say this is a mistake? Go figure... All I know for sure is, after getting caught twice now in some pretty bad hailstorms in my Explorer, its aluminum hood has come out unscathed. The steel roof however, has needed repairs both times. If the whole body is made like my hood I'm sold. If I was wanting to buy a new truck this would be it, and I'd be the first in line at my dealer ordering one.
        John Ward
        • 9 Months Ago
        @SpacemanSpiff
        The aluminum hood on my 97 f150 is the only part that doesn't have a problem at this point. Everything else started to rust or rusted all the way through. It was never garage and driven is salt so I don't think that is too bad for a truck that is almost 20 years old but the hood is fine.
      mapoftazifosho
      • 9 Months Ago
      Hey guys, my friend in the oil industry says electric cars and hybrids are a fad. My dad also owns a family video and doesn't think netflix is really going to catch on...
      Pete
      • 9 Months Ago
      Couple of points that I haven't seen yet: 1. The aluminum market currently has a glut of metal. There's much more aluminum being made than used right now (which also drops the price). Doesn't mean it's all rolling stock ready for automotive use, but still, the aluminum supply chain is in decent shape and shouldn't be a problem for Ford or others who are going that way. Conversely, while normal steel is cheap and easy to get, the high-tech, light weight steel products that can compete against AL are NOT cheap and easy to get. A lot of it is still in R&D, and they are all some pretty obscure alloys. 2. Ford recognized that repair of aluminum bodies was a potential issue and addressed that by rolling out advanced training and tooling for all Ford dealership repair centers. Yes, there are still a lot of DIYers and small shops who are going to struggle, but there aren't a lot of places in this country that you can't get to a Ford dealership for help. 3. Aluminum body panels are actually supposed to be more resistant to dents and damage (honestly, don't know why that is). I don't think that'll prevent damage if you back into a pole, but I think the "door ding" type dents are supposed to be a thing of the past. 4. If you are a Ford fan and you can't stand the idea of a truck made out of beer cans, move up to an F-250. The price isn't a whole lot higher (the big price gap is to the F-350). It's a bigger truck, but not huge and it's still made out of steel.
      terribleterrytoo
      • 9 Months Ago
      Do you all not think that a company the size and intelligence of Ford has not already spent million$ studying the cost and strength of aluminum versus steel and how most consumers will respond? They aren't about to build an aluminum truck if it's going to price itself out of the ballpark against their competition. Ford trucks equal huge profits for that company. And remember, they will only offer this in the F-150; not the Super Duty, which is where most of your heavy construction work is done. I can carry landscaping equipment in the back of a mini-van. Or now, in the back of a F-150 and get better mileage than your steel Dodge or Chevy. And MRT?? If Ford is over-priced, why is it still the best selling truck for 38 years in a row??
        Dump
        • 9 Months Ago
        @terribleterrytoo
        Building with & painting aluminum isn't a problem. Ford worked that out years ago - when it owned Jaguar - in the development of the current generation XJ, which uses a large amount of aluminum currently. I guess the overall uncertainty lies in the general supply need for aluminum b/c Ford builds so many F150s. I think there's plenty of raw material to use, it may be a question of how fast they can continue to receive it for manufacturing & assembly logistics concerns.
      D. Thompson
      • 9 Months Ago
      The Jaguar SK120 was and is aluminum bodied. Other than popping out dents(much skill needed)there were and are no problems except for much lighter weight.. Yes I own one, and rust is the last of my worries.
      Bjudd4
      • 9 Months Ago
      Everything else aside; living in upstate NY where rust is a major issue on all trucks, using aluminum for the body panels should be a huge advantage. Use of aluminum in body panels is not new, even for Ford. My '02 Ford Ranger FX4 has an aluminum hood, and it is the only panel on the entire truck which does not have rust or ANY signs of degradation. The doors, bed, cab, fenders, etc. all are rusting, but the hood is mint. Eliminating rust from the equation would mean many more years of use out of each truck in this part of the country.
      scott3
      • 9 Months Ago
      To be honest on paper it is only a small advantage but in marketing it is great. The fact is Ford has yet to publish a curb weight and only claims that this truck in some version may be up to 700 pounds lighter than the 2014 model. What they do not state is that the present models are already heavier than any of the others on the market. I took the curb weight of the GM truck and the present for truck in equal configuration and it showed the Ford only to be around an estimated 283 pounds lighter in a V8 2014 form. That is just one fat buddy net gain.. The real key is how much MPG that 283 pounds turns into and how much more it will cost. Then you will have to wait to see how much repair coast will be and how it will play out. Generally the repair and insurance is not an issue on the cars but they are all high end vehicles. Many fleet and commercial buyers use operating cost when looking to buy trucks. The fact is this is not going to be a cheap truck next year and they will be much like GM trying to get away from incentives. In the long run GM and Dodge will have to make the same move as they all have to lose mass. The other question is how will the mid size trucks do and how will it effect Ford and their use of the Ranger in the future. Will it move that truck up? It was designed for the N/A market too. Over the next 10 years the full size truck will increase more and more in price and the MFG will want to get into a smaller truck. You will be able to buy a full size V8 but the price will be a limiting factor to many and they will make up for lower sales in price over volume. I see this as like the Ecoboost move as it is not a bad engine but is it really worth $1000 more than the V8? The marketing got many excited and it does have good flat torque but the MPG is just a little better and the GM V8 get just a little more MPG too. But yet GM fails in the marketing aspect on this. To be honest the market will make a little moves here and there but this segment is so loyal not a lot will change. The one key to increase sales will be who has the lowest price but even then the pecking order will still not change and you will only see percentages of change. It will be interesting even as Ford has really no idea how this will turn out. They have an idea of what they would like to see but know idea in the end. But to me it is not as big of a risk as some speculate. Ford trucks are like McDonalds. Not always the best burger but always number one due to loyalty and the number of locations.
      cpmanx
      • 9 Months Ago
      I just don't get the point of empty speculation when we don't know: the actual weight reduction, the MPG figures, the list price, the profitability, how quickly repair shops will adopt tools for working with aluminum, the repair costs, the effect on insurance rates, the response of competitors, etc, etc. I'm excited that Ford is advancing the state of the art in pickups and I hope the next F-150 is a big success. But there just isn't enough information yet to speak meaningfully about the issues raised in this story. We're trying to guess the end of a story that is just beginning.
      Christopher M.
      • 9 Months Ago
      You better hope FORD does not hit a homerun with this truck, they are far enough ahead already!!!!!!
        Dump
        • 9 Months Ago
        @Christopher M.
        If the aluminum trucks become a hit, the initial concern should be the truck's larger aluminum components which may become targets for thieves looking to cash-in recycling returns or for the auto repair black-market for parts. Just like people are still risking their lives to cut down (active) low-voltage power lines & older plumbing systems. The copper & aluminum are still get very high rates for material returns. Good luck.
      frank1946
      • 9 Months Ago
      What happens when you overload ? Most of us do.
        sawman70
        • 9 Months Ago
        @frank1946
        Frame rails are still steel. Check their site.
      Mike
      • 9 Months Ago
      Ummm…none of these people quoted are unbiased "experts". They all gave quotes aligning with the respective organizations they represent. Can you find any metal aficionados that don't have an alliance with either steel or aluminum?
      Natalie Price Rea
      • 9 Months Ago
      my husband has an aluminum tow chassis on histruck (towtruck) and the vibrations from driving ware down the places that its connected and end up taring it up.... he told me he sees major problems 10-20years from now with that ware and expects the same issue to arise
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