By now, all (or most) of us have gotten over the initial shock about the 2015 F-150's all-aluminum body. Plenty of questions remain, and while Ford has been adept at framing and publicizing the positive talking points while downplaying the potential negatives, there's still no mistaking this is an extremely brave and audacious move by Dearborn.
But the ripple effects from the 2015 F-150 will likely be felt far beyond Ford headquarters. First off, due to the sheer volume of F-150 production, industrial use of aluminum will skyrocket, potentially boding well for companies such as Alcoa, and its shareholders. As has been covered by many news articles, as well as our own analysis, the new F-150 will likely drag body shops kicking and screaming into the 21st century by forcing them to familiarize themselves with aluminum body repair. With millions of these trucks potentially on the road over the next decade, they simply will not have a choice.
Now that Ford has "crossed the Rubicon" so to speak, expect other manufacturers to follow. Sure, there have been aluminum-bodied vehicles before, but none as large, significant, or high-volume as the F-150. If Ford can prove the durability, reparability, affordability, and customer acceptance of aluminum, you can bet it will be employed on other mass-market vehicles -- possibly other trucks or SUVs, but more widely in passenger cars as well. Just as the early flat-screen TVs were $10,000-plus, and they're now $800 or less at Wal-Mart, this once-exotic material only used on luxury vehicles costing $100,000 is about to burst into the mainstream in a major way, potentially bringing down costs for the entire industry.
The full-size truck segment has traditionally been one of the most conservative and resistant to change. But over the last five years, we've seen a rapid transformation of the segment, with innovation happening at nearly every automaker, but especially Chrysler and Ford. Ram led the way on suspension and drivetrain advancements with adoption of rear coils, and eight-speed transmissions, and now light-duty diesels. Ford likewise stuck its neck out with EcoBoost, which has paid off handsomely for the company. General Motors was (and remains) the first to have an all direct-injected engine lineup. Toyota, and Nissan's full-size entries looked a little neglected until the announcement of an optional Cummins turbodiesel V-8 in the 2015 Titan, as well as a much broader selection of cab, bed, and powertrain configurations for the next-generation truck.
Change can often be upsetting or scary, especially for individuals or businesses with a deeply entrenched interest in the status quo. But change is an inevitable part of human history, and will continue to be. The full-size truck of 2065 will probably look nothing like today's trucks, just as today's trucks look nothing like the trucks from 1960, aside from a cargo bed. By then, even aluminum could seem antiquated. But I applaud Ford for taking the first bold step in breaking from the nearly half-century old convention, and courageously embracing the future.