Dollars & Sense

Claycomo-built F-150 debuts next week at Detroit auto show

Updated: 2014-01-10T22:30:07Z

Bloomberg News

Ford Motor Co.’s plan for F-Series pickups to lose as much as 750 pounds seemed like a long shot when the company said it was putting its entire lineup on a diet in 2011. But the version of its best-selling truck that’s debuting next week should weigh in close to the goal.

Under chief executive officer Alan Mulally, trained as an aeronautical engineer, Ford designers have mirrored planemakers in using aluminum components to take an estimated 700 pounds out of the four-door, crew-cab F-150, according to consultant Ducker Worldwide. The truck is built at Ford’s Claycomo assembly plant.

Aluminum will represent about 20 percent of the pickup’s weight, up from about 5 to 6 percent today, said Richard Schultz, a Ducker managing director.

“It looked like a tough putt three years ago, but they’re getting pretty close,” said Schultz. “Everything you can see when you look at the truck, with the exception of the front and rear bumper, is aluminum.”

The lean F-150 will be unveiled at next week’s Detroit auto show, industry sources said, as Ford prepares for one of the biggest challenges in its 110-year history, making sweeping factory-level changes to produce its most profitable line and the industry’s best-selling pickup. The introduction will also serve as a bookend to Mulally’s career at the company, which he plans to leave as soon as 2015, the next-generation truck’s first full year on the market.

The F-150 “will become the poster child for what can go right” when automakers switch to aluminum to meet tougher miles-per-gallon regulations, Schultz said, “and also a learning experience on maybe what needs to be fine-tuned.”

The second largest U.S. automaker has asked Alcoa, which makes aluminum blast shields for battlefield-bound vehicles, to lend some of its military-grade metal for its display at the North American International Auto Show to demonstrate the material’s toughness, a person familiar with the request said last month.

Alcoa and Novelis, which both have recently expanded capacity in U.S. aluminum factories, are the major suppliers to Ford’s F-150, Schultz said.

Nexteer Automotive Corp., the Chinese-owned maker of the current F-150’s steering column, was scheduled to begin production of its Rack Assist Electric Power Steering system for the redesigned pickup in April of this year, according to a presentation to its direct material suppliers in September 2013. Production of the steering column for the redesigned pickup is set to begin in July, according to slides from the meeting.

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