The gutsiest decision in the auto industry is beginning to pay off.
Three people, two dogs, a pile of gear, and a 3,000-pound boat. That’s how we tested the all-new aluminum Ford F-150. The result? Mileage ticked down from 21 miles per gallon to 13, as you’d expect, and the floor mats collected a layer of Labrador fur.
Ford’s famous pickup, the best-selling vehicle in America since the Reagan administration, has still got it. Even after Ford swapped out almost every steel body panel for a lightweight aluminum alloy. Even after it added a cute, sedan-size 2.7-liter engine.
Even after Chevrolet and a legion of gravel-throated truck fans deemed it wimpy and precious and expensive to fix. “It seems like a big change initially, but when people see the difference, they’ll ask ‘Why didn’t they do this sooner?’” said Michael Levine, the company’s truck talker.
It’s difficult to overstate how critical this vehicle is to Ford’s finances. It’s a rainmaker, a Michigan1 full-employment act, and what seems like a lion’s share of NFL advertising revenue. One of every three vehicles Ford sold in the U.S. last year was a version of the prized pickup, and Morgan Stanley analysts estimate it accounts for around 90 percent of the company’s global profit. Changing the thing at all is pretty gutsy.
It’s not like the old F-Series was broken. In 2014, U.S. drivers bought one every 42 seconds or so. A full-frontal switch to aluminum was a massive gamble, and an expensive one. Ford essentially rebuilt two of its biggest factories to crank out the new trucks, shuttering them for 13 weeks at the opportunity cost of all the F-150s it could have made in that time—more than 90,000 vehicles in all.
The change, however, is palpable. At Ford, they call it “the 50-foot test”—you can tell in 50 feet of driving the difference all that aluminum makes. Specifically, the 2015 trucks are about 700 pounds lighter, which makes them far more peppy and eager.
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