Can we have a sound, rational debate about the merits of aluminum versus steel? According to Chevrolet's latest marketing videos pitting the Silverado against the Ford F-150, the answer is no. The tone of all three ads is almost Orwellian: steel good, aluminum bad. Of course, this will all be a hilarious joke when an aluminum-bodied Silverado comes in 2018. That's an if, as a member of the General Motor public relations team has reminded me that any articles regarding future product are pure speculation. Until then Chevy needs to sell the current Silverado, with its body comprised chiefly of steel, against the Ford F-150's lightweight aluminum panels. Instead of touting the merits of the "most-dependable, longest lasting pickup," the strategy seems to center around negative propaganda towards the 13th element.
Of the three videos, the most fair is Silverado vs. F-150 Repair Costs and Time: Howie Long Head to Head. Basically: aluminum costs more than steel, it's more difficult to repair, and requires special equipment for body shops. In terms of Chevy versus Ford, the blue oval truck costs more and takes longer to repair - an average of $1,755 more and 34 more days in the shop, according to the ad. But why stop there when you can have pitchman Howie Long raising an eyebrow at random facts? When Silverado Chief Engineer Eric Stanczak says of the Ford, "It's manufactured in a way that combines aluminum, rivets, and adhesive in a process that's different than Silverado." Long responds, "Huh. Interesting." At the end of the video, Long says "I'd be interested to know what happens to insurance costs." Note he's not saying anything substantive. If Chevy's legal team could sign off on some facts about insurance rates, it would be in this ad. On our Autoblog Cost to Own calculator, there is no significant difference in projected insurance costs between the two trucks.
The tone of all three ads is almost Orwellian: steel good, aluminum bad.
But at least that ad has facts. The other two videos are pure hype. In Cages: High Stength Steel, real people are asked what they think of aluminum and steel in a room with two cages. Then a bear is released into the room, and the subjects scurry to the safety of the steel cage. No part of the ad compares the relative strength of steel versus aluminum, whether the aluminum cage is strong enough to prevent bear-related harm, or how a cage to protect you from bears has anything to do with pickup truck body panels.
Last, New Superhero: Almighty Aluminum Man brings a groups of comic-book enthusiasts into a room to crack jokes about a superhero with a silly costume. Again, none of this content has anything to do with pickup trucks or material science.
Chevy uses aluminum in the Silverado's engine as well as the hood. If aluminum sucks so bad, why doesn't GM make an all-steel pickup truck? Because science. Aluminum, like steel, plastic, and every other material, has specific properties that work in the right applications. There are plenty of reasons why aluminum might not be right, and other reasons to use steel. Every engineer working at GM knows this. Aside from the repair costs, none of those issues are addressed in Chevy's messaging. It reeks of insecurity, and distracts from the Silverado's strengths that could be used for positive advertising. But worst of all, these videos assumes the average consumer knows nothing.