Geez, Ford announces that they’ll build the 2015 Ford F-150 out of aluminum, and the world goes haywire. Motor Trend dissed it for Truck of the Year, despite beating every competitor in almost every measurable category, in part because of concerns over repair issues. More than one person opined when I had it, “It must sound tinny.” Let’s set some things straight, shall we?
Aluminum is the most abundant metal on earth, and the third most abundant element behind oxygen and silicon. The first crude aluminum alloy was produced in 1825 in Denmark. In July of 1886, Charles Martin Hall in the United States and Paul Héroult in France independently discovered the process that made large-scale aluminum production possible.
Two years later, the Hall–Héroult process was the backbone of Hall’s company, which eventually became Alcoa. It’s where all of the sheet alloy for the F-150 comes from. It’s also where most of the alloy for the entire aircraft industry comes from. It’s amazing that in 2015, we’re still questioning whether aluminum is a viable alloy for automotive production, when we’re making cars out of fiberglass, balsa wood and carbon fiber.
The major reason for the switch to aluminum was weight. Steel is typically two and a half times more dense than aluminum. Built to the same specifications, aluminum can be 45 percent lighter than steel. Steel has the edge in strength, but according to Michael Kasten at Kasten Marine Design, who prefers to build boats from aluminum rather than steel, “If high strength is of the highest priority, the alloy boat can be built to the same structural weight as the steel vessel, and then be considerably stronger.” So Ford chose the middle ground, providing a truck with the same strength as steel, but with a weight that contributes to the truck’s 700 pound overall weight loss.
Put simply, dump truck manufacturers have been building dump bodies out of aluminum for decades. I’m pretty confident that you can throw your trash barrels in the back of an F-150 without an issue.
It’s a decision that more and more automakers are going to be wrestling with in the very near future. 2025 is just around the corner. If automakers are expected to hit a corporate average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon, the vehicle you sell the most of is going to have to provide a hell of a lot better fuel economy than it does right now. If we’re going to continue driving trucks of this size — we’ll get to that in a minute — they HAVE to be lighter. Ram already considered aluminum. Sergio Marchionne already suggested that the next Jeep Wrangler might be aluminum. Drive the truck for six minutes and you won’t know the difference.
The other method of reaching 54.5 miles per gallon is smaller displacement, augmented by turbocharging. The 2015 Ford F-150 features — in the version we drove — a 3.5-liter EcoBoost turbocharged V-6, good for 365hp and 420-lb.ft. of torque. It’s a complete beast of an engine. You’ll never miss driving a V-8 with that kind of low-end torque. It comes on at 2,500RPM, making acceleration a snap. Like the aluminum body, if you’re unconvinced of its capability, get yourself to a Ford store and drive it. If in 10 minutes you haven’t been completely won over, I’m not sure what you’re looking for out of a V-8. Research the specs and drive it yourself. It’ll haul anything you need it to, even at the base level.
Does it work as a truck? I emailed with Tim Esterdahl, who is a regular contributor with PickupTrucks.com. Tim went to Detroit this week to put the F-150 through its paces with a plow hanging off the front end. “Behind the wheel of the Boss Snowplow equipped 2015 F-150 with the V8 engine, it easily handled the foot and a half of snow on the parking lot,” he wrote in an email.
“The HTX plow was easy to use with the handheld controller and the float mode did a great job keeping contact with the surface. For the occasional snowplow user, the F-150 is quite capable. We did meet some slippage and power issues with thick, compacted snow. This type of snow was still able to be moved, it just took multiple passes.”
On top of that, the cabin is ridiculously comfortable and equipped with all the connectivity options you’d expect out of a Lexus. The dash is a video game you’ll spend hours with to configure exactly the way you want it. The overall design is pleasing if you like angles.
So, yes, what the the body is made out of should be irrelevant. The EcoBoost V-6 is a terrific engine that a large chunk of the millions of people who buy trucks every year should love. It is equipped to a level that should mortify a luxury car manufacturer. It’ll handle a plow. So what’s not to like?
It’s a problem endemic with ALL full-size trucks today: They’re behemoths, with a price tag to match.
Even with the 700 pound weight reduction, a regular cab F-150 in 4×4 trim and a six-foot bed weighs 4,309 pounds. That’s 200 pounds heavier than trucks Ford was building out of sheet steel, with cast-iron engine blocks in 1995. In 20 years, pickups have grown in every conceivable direction. With standard mirrors, the F-150 is more than eight feet wide. The 1995 F-150 — not a small truck, with a cargo box width suited for a 4×8 sheet of plywood between the wheel wells — was 6.7 feet wide with the standard mirrors.
The truck I drove was a tick under 228 inches long, besting the Electra Deuce and a Quarters of the 1960s by three inches. It rides on a 141 inch wheelbase, making it all but unmaneuverable in anything but a straight line. Forget parking this thing in a garage. You’ll have trouble parking it anywhere.
How’s this for a comparison: The turning circle on the SuperCrew is 51.1 feet. A Catepillar 996M front loader turns around in HALF that diameter. So does the CAT 730 dump truck it’s pouring crushed stone into. Maybe full-size trucks of the future should be articulated.
Granted, you need to make a truck longer to have a comfortable rear seat, but the only reason they’re this tall is for aesthetics. To fit those cool 20-inch wheels in the wheelwells, the top rail of the bed is too high to throw anything heavy over. It’s 36.5 inches from the open tailgate to the ground. Try loading a motorcycle in there by yourself, which is kind of a basic requirement for a truck that I’m going to be using. Trucks this ginormous aren’t built for the kind of work that trucks are supposed to be doing.
And then, there’s the price. Doug Demuro from Jalopnik wrote about it extensively in a great story last year. The truck he was driving cost $40,000. LOL. That’s cute. In the middle trim — the F-150 Lariat SuperCrew 4×4 — STARTS at $45,665 before you purchase a single comfort and convenience option. Equip it the way our tested truck was and you’re really quickly into $55,000. FIFTY FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS.
Going back to 1995 again, the most expensive truck that Ford — an F-150 Styleside 4×4 Super Cab — was $19,294.
The argument, of course, is that yes, modern vehicles are more expensive than their counterparts from the 1990s, because of safety equipment, etc. etc. But $20,000 was almost exactly what the most expensive non-SHO Ford Taurus sold for in 1995. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $35,000, which is EXACTLY what the most expensive non-SHO Ford Taurus costs in 2015.
The price of Ford’s most expensive car hasn’t changed a bit, in other words, but the price of a similar truck has increased by a factor of 2.36. I’m not sure there is a durable good in existence that has increased in price the way a truck has in the last 20 years.
Again, this isn’t a problem only with Ford. But Ford’s solution at this point is for you to buy a truck from somebody else. Chevrolet, GMC, Toyota and Nissan all offer trucks that not only fit in the garage, but fit in a less-breathtaking budget.
So where’s the Ford Ranger? When the Ranger disappeared in 2011, Ford suggested that people would be just fine buying the F-150, or if they were budget-conscious, they’d drive a Transit Connect. Our guess is that a modern Ranger is coming, because people who can’t afford an F-150 certainly aren’t buying Transit Connects.
(Image Courtesy: Ford Motor Company)
2015 Ford F-150 SuperCrew XLT 4X4
Base Price: $45,665
Price as Tested: $53,275
Destination Charge: $1,195
Phenomenal EcoBoost V-6
Luxury car interior
Plenty of capability
Ludicrous price of entry
Lack of a Ford Ranger