“We're a learning organization… we’ll take feedback from wherever it comes,” said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Company’s Chief Operating Officer, during a roundtable discussion at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show. So in this context, we asked Fields, marketing chief Jim Farley, and head of product development Raj Nair, what Ford learned from the launch of the aluminum 2015 F-150 in the two months since its debut at the 2014 North American International Autoshow.

Mark Fields, Chief Operating Officer: This Was Not A Risky Bet

“Well the first thing we learned is people really like it… not only the response at the show, but obviously in looking at the blogs, in looking at the comments. I think people love the design, because it’s very progressive.

They’re very curious around… tell me more… tell me more about the payload, towing, fuel economy, things of that nature. So it’s been a lot of learning around that, which is really helpful for us as we look at our go to market strategy. So we’re very pleased with the response we’ve had so far.

“To put it into perspective how we felt about this, one of the questions we got was you guys took a big bet on going all aluminum. And as you know, we don’t just sit around a table one day and go, ‘let’s bet it all on black’, just take the family jewels and just risk it.

“We went through a process when we started developing this program in 2009. We first talked to customers, because you know it starts with customers. We’ve been talking to customers on the truck side for decades. They told us two things; they told us they wanted better fuel economy and they didn’t want to compromise on the capability of the truck. So we looked at that and any good organization will look at what a customer is telling you… their stated needs and what their unstated needs are.

And we took the point of view that said, listen customers are telling us they want good fuel economy; our point of view was they’re going to want great fuel economy. Because our point of view is that the price of oil is going to continue to go up and operating costs are an important part of the customers’ purchasing decision, particularly those who use the truck for work.

And we used that and we could have taken three approaches: one is just kinda incrementally make some changes to the vehicle. The other is do more aluminum closures. And the other was let’s do a ground-breaking new high-strength steel frame and the aluminum body, the high-strength, high-grade aluminum body. And we went with that after 15, 16 months of 8-9 work streams. Working everything from manufacturability, scalability, serviceability, procurement, who we were going to work with from a supplier standpoint, so by the time we made the decision, it was the right decision, and it wasn’t a huge bet because we had done the homework. Now we’re into the execution phase and that’s the exciting part. That’s kind of the whole process for us.”

Jim Farley, Executive Vice President, Global Marketing, Sales, Service and Lincoln: About The Repair Training Program

“I think we learned a lot to be honest. There was a lot more questions about repairability, so we’ve suddenly had to take our service engineering team primetime with the media now.

“We are about halfway into signing up the number of dealers that we need for the repairability. You know about 20% of the repairs for full size trucks are done by dealers, about 80% are independent repair body shops. We signed up about 400 dealers now – I think it’s just shy of 500 dealers – and so we’re about halfway to our goal. And we’ll have that training done by the third quarter, and all the equipment installed, the rivet guns, the MIG welders, all the containment [gear]…

“[All of the training of] the independent shops is going to be done by a separate company for us. But their business is to repair vehicles, so they’re kind of even more incentivized than our own dealers in terms of getting the equipment. Many of them already know a lot about aluminum repair but now it’s just a question of getting to a higher scale. And frankly, getting more familiar with the vehicle itself. The vehicle is very different in how it was engineered for repairability. You can section the B-pillar, the floor pan, the roof, the A-pillar… the whole front structure is modular now where it wasn’t before. So we have to do a lot of training to educate them. So I think we’re on track so far in the repairability.

“The aluminumness of the vehicle itself, in terms of the strength or whatever has been pretty much of a non-issue. More people… it’s more of an industry watch about the manufacturability -- those are more of the questions we’re getting.

“On the consumer side, we haven’t really seen any marked change in the demand for the old F-150. If anything the demand continues to accelerate. There is a group of customers who really love buying the last vehicle in the last year because they know they’re going to get a really good deal. And there is another group that kinda waits for the new one, so that will play out this year in the market place.

“Certainly we’ve seen some new dynamics by the competitors in terms of their incentive activity and we’re going to have to stay competitive. We have certainly noticed over the last 45 days a much more aggressive transaction price approach to the market. And each manufacturer is in a very different situation. Think about it; Tundra is new and they have their loyal customers. Dodge is relatively new and they have their loyal customers and they’ve made tremendous progress on the product. And the Chevy is dramatically new. So us and Titan, we are really the only ones who are selling in our last year. Normally you don’t see people getting into third and fourth year incentives until the third and fourth year, and we’re seeing an acceleration in the normal incentive levels on new products.

Raj Nair, group vice president, global product development: Surprised At Repair Questions

“The customer response has actually been really positive. People get aluminum as a material and are quite confident that as long as we deliver it to Ford Built Tough truck standards that isn’t a concern. And they really appreciate that we invested a lot in the capability of the truck. So a lot of the feedback we’ve been getting has been around the capability, the durability, all of the technology we’ve added and the 2.7 ecoboost [engine] and the efficiency that people are going to be expecting from that. I think it went about as well as we could have hoped.”

Serviceability?

“I think that the focus on the serviceability was maybe a little bit of a surprise - not that we hadn’t done a lot of work around that, particularly around engineering the actual material change. Really focusing on the engineering of the serviceability, the time to change panels, the replaceability without having to cut into panels, all of that - overall service costs should be pretty close - we had spent a lot of time on that on the engineering side, but were surprised that it was part of the whole show discussion. Yeah, I think that area was a surprise as far as the reaction, but not a surprise as far as what we were engineering to.”

Ford will be bringing the F-150 to market later this year, so stay tuned for updates.