Automakers getting clever about disguising development vehicles isn't anything new. Between mules wearing the sheetmetal of other cars and prototypes decked out in as much camouflage as is practical, automakers know how to make it very difficult for the general public to get an exact idea of what kind of vehicle is in development. Ford, though, is rapidly becoming the master.

We knew that the Blue Oval originally tested the durability of the aluminum construction being used for the 2015 F-150 by building an all-aluminum 2014 truck and entering it in the Baja 1000 off-road race. That's no longer a secret. What we didn't know, though, is that the aluminum development dates back to before even that, and that some of the people in question had no idea what it was they were working with.

Ford says this is the first time prototypes have ever been handed over to the public.

See, way back in 2011, Ford built six examples of the then-current F-150 generation, using aluminum for the most-abused part of the truck, the cargo box. Those trucks were then delivered to three outfits across the country – Barrick Mining in Nevada, Walsh Construction in Pennsylvania and Alabama and a utility provider in North Carolina. The catch was, not a single group knew they were testing a vehicle with such intensive aluminum work. While this strikes us as a slightly risky move, it seems to have paid off for Ford.

"This secret testing almost immediately yielded results and lessons we have rolled into the all-new F-150," said Denis Kansier, the F-150 prototype lead engineer. "For example, we made the cargo box floor thicker to improve strength, and we made modifications to the tailgate based on lessons we learned through customer usage."

Meanwhile, the trucks that were loaned out are still in use. The Barrick trucks cover 100 to 300 miles per day and, between the two, have over 150,000 miles on the clock. The North Carolina trucks cover around 200 miles per day, while the Walsh trucks helped put together a hydroelectric dam and a highway interchange.

According to Ford, this is the first time prototype vehicles have ever been handed over to the public. "Our customers demand the highest levels of toughness and productivity – so we wanted to test the truck outside, in the harshest conditions and in the hands of real customers – with no limits," said Larry Queener, the F-150's program manager. "But we did not want these customers to know what was different. So, when we gave them the prototype vehicles, we told them to use the trucks like their other hard-working Ford trucks, and we would be back to follow their progress."

Take a look below for a video and press release on Ford's testing, and then hop up top for images of the clandestine aluminum-box trucks in action.



HOW FORD QUIETLY WENT ABOUT EARLY TESTING OF NEW F-150 CARGO BOX WITH REAL CUSTOMERS IN THE TOUGHEST CONDITIONS

Beginning in 2011, at job sites including a Nevada gold mine and a Pennsylvania dam, as well as in servicing power lines in Appalachia, six prototype F-150 pickups with high-strength, aluminum-alloy cargo boxes have been quietly tested in the hands of longtime Ford fleet customers
Extreme real-world customer testing early on has helped prove durability of aluminum alloy and determine final cargo box design, ensuring the all-new Ford F-150 will be the toughest F-150 yet
First time Ford has given customers advanced prototype vehicles so far ahead of production
Ford Motor Company went beyond its labs to test a key part of the all-new Ford F-150. The company embedded six prototype pickups – each with an experimental aluminum-alloy cargo box – at some of its fleet customer job sites then quietly went about evaluating the design and engineering of the next-generation pickup in the toughest conditions.

Three longstanding Ford fleet customers, unaware of Ford's experiment, took delivery of prototype F-150s with current steel bodies and all-new, high-strength, aluminum-alloy cargo boxes in 2011. Three years later, these fleet customers and the Ford team who built the prototype trucks are convinced the new 2015 Ford F-150 will be the toughest truck the company has ever made.

"Our customers demand the highest levels of toughness and productivity – so we wanted to test the truck outside, in the harshest conditions and in the hands of real customers – with no limits," said Larry Queener, program manager for the new F-150. "But we did not want these customers to know what was different. So, when we gave them the prototype vehicles, we told them to use the trucks like their other hard-working Ford trucks, and we would be back to follow their progress."

Denis Kansier, F-150 prototype lead engineer, visited the customer sites every three months to check on the integrity of the vehicles and identify possible adjustments to the design of the new Ford F-150.

"This secret testing almost immediately yielded results and lessons we have rolled into the all-new F-150," said Kansier. "For example, we made the cargo box floor thicker to improve strength, and we made modifications to the tailgate based on lessons we learned through customer usage."

The six-vehicle fleet accumulated more than 350,000 miles in just more than two years.

Blind testing with customers

The job sites where the real-world testing was done were chosen for the tough nature of the work these fleet customers do there – from picking up and hauling heavy objects, like 40-pound pintle hitches used for heavy towing, to rolling over unforgiving off-road terrain. The customers were given two prototype vehicles each. The customers and the sites they worked on include:

Barrick Mining, Elko, Nevada: The Barrick surveying team drove the vehicles through severe terrain at the company's Bald Mountain and Cortez mines, including travel into mine pits before and after blasting. The prototype F-150 trucks are still being driven between 100 and 300 miles a day, and have accumulated more than 150,000 miles between them

Walsh Construction, Holtwood, Pennsylvania and Birmingham, Alabama: Walsh Construction was selected for the severity of use at two of its work sites – first, a hydroelectric dam in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, then a highway interchange construction site in Birmingham, Alabama

Regional utility company in North Carolina: One F-150 prototype was assigned to a meter reading crew that drives up steep mountain roads; the second truck was assigned to line crews that drive up overgrown paths to replace old poles and electrical lines. The meter readers removed the truck's tailgate to improve visibility – an alteration Ford engineers responded to by incorporating height modifications into the final F-150 design. The trucks at these sites are still being driven an average of 200 miles a day

As the testing of these six F-150 prototypes ensued, drivers began to notice differences compared to typical steel truck beds. One of the differences they noticed was a lack of rust.

"They told us they noticed the boxes did not produce red surface rust when heavy use scratched through the paint," said Kansier.

The fleet customers were informed of the modified, high-strength aluminum-alloy cargo box at the reveal of the all-new F-150 at the North American International Auto Show in January. The prototype trucks are still in use at these three companies.

To watch the customer tough testing in action at Barrick Mining, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBuYbGXVHdE&feature=youtu.be.

Tough testing strategy

Ford's extensive testing strategy for the new F-150 includes three phases that will allow engineers to understand how each truck stands up under an array of harsh conditions: "We Test," which takes place in Ford labs, "They Test," at fleet customer sites and "You Test," in which consumers will have an opportunity to put the new truck through its paces.

In addition to testing by the three fleet customers, prototype F-150s have been tested in a number of real-world environments. Among them is Davis Dam – a durability route in a remote corner of northeast Arizona – where the F-150 climbed 13 miles pulling a maximum trailer load in 120 degree heat. In California's Anza-Borrego State Park, an hour east of San Diego, the truck ascended a mountain of sand and rock with a 30-degree grade, sometimes reaching an altitude of 6,000 feet, 250 times over five days – all without fail.

For a graphic of all the testing courses, which span coast to coast, click here.

Before the first 2015 F-150 rolls off the assembly line, the new truck will have been subjected to 10 million miles of combined real-world and simulated durability testing. For a list of some of the ways Ford has torture tested the next-generation F-150, visit https://media.ford.com/content/fordmedia/fna/us/en/news/2014/04/09/10-ways-ford-torture-tested-the-2015-F150.html.


I'm reporting this comment as:

Reported comments and users are reviewed by Autoblog staff 24 hours a day, seven days a week to determine whether they violate Community Guideline. Accounts are penalized for Community Guidelines violations and serious or repeated violations can lead to account termination.


    • 1 Second Ago
  • 72 Comments
      OglesbyThomas
      • 6 Months Ago
      +1. Sneaky yet VERY smart.
      Bradford
      • 6 Months Ago
      What's with all the weird font changes?
      Ken
      • 6 Months Ago
      Bit sloppy with the mixed fonts/font sizes in the article.
      Bernard
      • 6 Months Ago
      Nice torture test. Just make sure you keep those trucks away from any mercury: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7Ilxsu-JlY That's also why you're not allowed to have that stuff on a plane in any quantity.
        Jesse Gurr
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Bernard
        I would hope that the paint would protect it. The aluminum has its own protective barrier, aluminum oxide, that forms when aluminum is scratched and is exposed to air. Just putting mercury on aluminum won't do anything because it won't penetrate the oxide barrier. You will have to scratch it first. I don't see many people with mercury just laying around though.
      Tonic
      • 6 Months Ago
      Mitsubishi had aluminum body panels on their cars dating back to 2003 in the USA. Aluminum roof, aluminum doors, aluminum front clip, forged aluminum suspension, aluminum engine, and carbonfiber on the rear wing. Ford is 10 years too late. Already done. (couldn't post under my other name? whats up?)
        Aaron N
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Tonic
        And where is Mitsubishi with their full-size pickups? Oh right...
        EXP Jawa
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Tonic
        Acid, give it a rest. Ford was doing aluminum body panels back then too - in fact, I'll give you one better. The Ranger 2WD gained an aluminum hood in 2001. That really isn't the point. Mitsubishi is no more relevant to the discussion than your EVO is to every other discussion, despite your efforts to the contrary. Everyone has been been using aluminum for bolt-on panels for a while. Using it extensively for major structures, on a work truck that sees usage far beyond what you're hopped-up economy car will ever see, is what why this is a big deal. If you don't get that, you're either thick or not trying. Come back when Mitsubishi does something similarly impressive, in the full size truck market...
        Master Austin
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Tonic
        Ford used aluminum for it's hood and other panels as far back as the '96 on the Lincoln Mark 8, which was awarded to Alcan Aluminum Ltd. FYI
        Bird2112
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Tonic
        My 2003 Ford Expedition has an Aluminum tailgate. BTW Mitsubishi barely has cars for sale in the US and the F150 is the best selling vehicle (car or truck) in the US.
        Tonic
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Tonic
        This forum has been lagging on posting comments for the past few days. It's obvious on some threads where there's people with 5 and 6 repeated posts. This site isn't THAT popular so what's the deal?
        Master Austin
        • 6 Months Ago
        @Tonic
        Ford used aluminum for it's hood and other panels as far back as the '96 on the Lincoln Mark 8, which was awarded to Alcan Aluminum Ltd. FYI
      AcidTonic
      • 6 Months Ago
      Mitsubishi had aluminum body panels on their cars dating back to 2003 in the USA. Aluminum roof, aluminum doors, aluminum front clip, forged aluminum suspension, aluminum engine, and carbonfiber on the rear wing. Ford is 10 years too late. Already done.
        graphikzking
        • 6 Months Ago
        @AcidTonic
        They put aluminum in certain performance vehicles for lighter weight etc. Ford put aluminum in HEAVY DUTY (sometimes) used vehicles and many of the people in that segment are resistant to change, especially when Aluminum doesn't conjure up thoughts of "strength and rugged". An Evo owner is looking for "lightweight". Also, F150 is #1 selling vehicle on the planet. The Evo doesn't sell as many worldwide as Ford sells F150's in 1 month. So economies of scale are MUCH MUCH larger to undertake. A much riskier investment to be honest. BMW has been in engines for MANY years when they switched from Iron blocks, so yes aluminum has been used extensively throughout the years. You aren't throwing 1500 lbs of dirt or other things onto the hood or trunk of an evo to test it's strength.
          metric91
          • 6 Months Ago
          @graphikzking
          So what you meant to say was that Mitsubishi was late to the game. Still, kudos to them for implementing alternative materials but Ford has been doing so for quite some time. A good example is the Lincoln LS, which uses a thorough amount of aluminum...... hood, fenders, trunk, front and rear suspension dating back to 1999.
        Devon
        • 6 Months Ago
        @AcidTonic
        What does this have to with anything??? The purpose of this article was never to say Ford was first. It was to describe their testing procedures. You do realize that manufactures used aluminum even before Mitsubishi right?
        Devon
        • 6 Months Ago
        @AcidTonic
        What does this have to with anything??? The purpose of this article was never to say Ford was first. It was to describe their testing procedures. You do realize that manufactures used aluminum even before Mitsubishi right?
        EXP Jawa
        • 6 Months Ago
        @AcidTonic
        Acid, give it a rest. Ford was doing aluminum body panels back then too - in fact, I'll give you one better. The Ranger 2WD gained an aluminum hood in 2001. That really isn't the point. Mitsubishi is no more relevant to the discussion than your EVO is to every other discussion, despite your efforts to the contrary. Everyone has been been using aluminum for bolt-on panels for a while. Using it extensively for major structures, on a work truck that sees usage far beyond what you're hopped-up economy car will ever see, is what why this is a big deal. Come back when Mitsubishi does something similarly impressive, in the full size truck market...
        EXP Jawa
        • 6 Months Ago
        @AcidTonic
        Acid, give it a rest. Ford was doing aluminum body panels back then too - in fact, I'll give you one better. The Ranger 2WD gained an aluminum hood in 2001. That really isn't the point. Mitsubishi is no more relevant to the discussion than your EVO is to every other discussion, despite your efforts to the contrary. Everyone has been been using aluminum for bolt-on panels for a while. Using it extensively for major structures, on a work truck that sees usage far beyond what you're hopped-up economy car will ever see, is what why this is a big deal. Come back when Mitsubishi does something similarly impressive, in the full size truck market...
        graphikzking
        • 6 Months Ago
        @AcidTonic
        They put aluminum in certain performance vehicles for lighter weight etc. Ford put aluminum in HEAVY DUTY (sometimes) used vehicles and many of the people in that segment are resistant to change, especially when Aluminum doesn't conjure up thoughts of "strength and rugged". An Evo owner is looking for "lightweight". Also, F150 is #1 selling vehicle on the planet. The Evo doesn't sell as many worldwide as Ford sells F150's in 1 month. So economies of scale are MUCH MUCH larger to undertake. A much riskier investment to be honest. BMW has been in engines for MANY years when they switched from Iron blocks, so yes aluminum has been used extensively throughout the years. You aren't throwing 1500 lbs of dirt or other things onto the hood or trunk of an evo to test it's strength.
      That Guy
      • 6 Months Ago
      And despite this rather poor form of product testing, it will still be a problem riddled POS and an insult to the real trucks on the road. But hey, at least it will have a couple gas guzzling V6s....Because that's the Ford way. Overpromise, and under deliver.
        That Guy
        • 6 Months Ago
        @That Guy
        You are 100 percent right. GM really biffed that one. And where are you getting that I support GM? I currently own a Ford powered vehicle. Looks like you're wrong.....yet again
        Tariff The Imports
        • 6 Months Ago
        @That Guy
        That's the new GM trucks that are POS. Two fire recalls, electrical issues galor, tie rods that become unseated, TSB's almost daily... But keep on supporting the lying and deceitful, murderous GM you blind shill
        Tariff The Imports
        • 6 Months Ago
        @That Guy
        That's the new GM trucks that are POS. Two fire recalls, electrical issues galor, tie rods that become unseated, TSB's almost daily... But keep on supporting the lying and deceitful, murderous GM you blind shill
      That Guy
      • 6 Months Ago
      And yet it will still be a problem riddled POS and a complete insult to actual trucks on the road. Because that's how Ford rolls.
      • 6 Months Ago
      Found On Roadside Dead . -Nate
      Mr. Ron
      • 6 Months Ago
      I can't believe anyone with a bit of savey wouldn't know the difference between aluminum and steel. If you knock on steel and aluminum, the sound is completely different. In fact it is a dead give-a-way. These people were chosen to test the Ford because Ford knew they didn't know the difference. If I had that truck, the first thing I would do would be to check it all over; inside/outside/underneath. Since I can tell the difference between aluminum and steel, it wouldn't be long before I discovered it. This is not a criticism of Ford. I think they make a good truck. All car/truck manufacturers are going with more aluminum in their designs. The weight savings are obvious.
      PlanB
      • 6 Months Ago
      That was a great way to torture test without anyone knowing.
      BlackDog
      • 6 Months Ago
      Ummm... It activity that is truck is from 2014 not 2015? Hmmm....
        mitytitywhitey
        • 6 Months Ago
        @BlackDog
        What?
        artso06
        • 6 Months Ago
        @BlackDog
        Try reading, it's what articles are written for..."Ford built six examples of the then-current F-150 generation, using aluminum for the most-abused part of the truck, the cargo box"
        Matt
        • 6 Months Ago
        @BlackDog
        They never said it was a 2015. They said wanted to test the durability of the aluminum construction that is going to be used by the 2015 by building aluminum 2014 trucks and seeing how that goes.
          Jesse Gurr
          • 6 Months Ago
          @Matt
          Except that they built 2011-2012 model year trucks, not 2014 trucks. They were built back in 2011, from the article.
        artso06
        • 6 Months Ago
        @BlackDog
        Try reading, it's what articles are written for..."Ford built six examples of the then-current F-150 generation, using aluminum for the most-abused part of the truck, the cargo box"
        artso06
        • 6 Months Ago
        @BlackDog
        Try reading, it's what articles are written for..."Ford built six examples of the then-current F-150 generation, using aluminum for the most-abused part of the truck, the cargo box"
        Matt
        • 6 Months Ago
        @BlackDog
        They never said it was a 2015. They said wanted to test the durability of the aluminum construction that is going to be used by the 2015 by building aluminum 2014 and seeing how that goes.
        artso06
        • 6 Months Ago
        @BlackDog
        Try reading, it's what articles are written for..."Ford built six examples of the then-current F-150 generation, using aluminum for the most-abused part of the truck, the cargo box"
        artso06
        • 6 Months Ago
        @BlackDog
        Try reading, it's what articles are written for..."Ford built six examples of the then-current F-150 generation, using aluminum for the most-abused part of the truck, the cargo box"
        artso06
        • 6 Months Ago
        @BlackDog
        Try reading, it's what articles are written for..."Ford built six examples of the then-current F-150 generation, using aluminum for the most-abused part of the truck, the cargo box"
        artso06
        • 6 Months Ago
        @BlackDog
        Try reading, it's what articles are written for..."Ford built six examples of the then-current F-150 generation, using aluminum for the most-abused part of the truck, the cargo box"
    • Load More Comments