Risky Business: Ford’s New 2015 F-150

15FordF150_02Ford has had pretty good success with its most recent new cars.  The redesigned Escape, Focus and Fusion have all gotten off to pretty good starts, with only a few recalls and issues to deal with.  Not bad considering that all three were new from the ground up, including the engines.  This year, Ford is releasing its new Mustang and F-150, both of which promise to raise the bars in their respective segments.  While the new Mustang’s styling and independent rear suspension may turn off some loyal Mustang buyers, the new aluminum F-150 is Ford’s gamble with what has been the top truck in America for almost 40 years and contributes to up to 30% of Ford’s profits year after year.  Continue reading to see why I think it’s a risky move, and what Ford has done to mitigate that risk.

People of all ages will always love Mustangs, much in the same way that people stick to Camaros and Challengers.  Rental car companies will continue to stock them as an upgrade for their clientele.  However, the new F-150 may be too much change for some fleets and individuals.  In the last couple of years, it’s been America’s best selling vehicle, and ford wants to keep it that way.  When replacing the F-150’s body with aluminum, has Ford gone too far?

15FordF150_18The last redesign of the F-150 was for the 2009 model year, and it introduced a level of luxury almost unheard of in the truck world.  Outside of a GMC Sierra Denali, you couldn’t get things like heated AND cooled front seats in a pickup truck.  Heck, there were only a handful of cars equipped as such for less than $50,000.  They also added the controversial (but almost universally loved – if you have one) “man step” in the tail gate.  Ford made great strides to produce a good-looking truck that could do hard work for fleets of construction and landscaping crews, while at the same time enticing weekend warriors (me included) to park one in their driveways.

To maximize profit, Ford loaded up the F-150 with Lariat, Limited, and Platinum trim levels, giving the latter group all the creature comforts that their family sedans had, but with a bed on the back.  In my neighborhood, there’s my fairly well-loaded Lariat, as well as an EcoBoost-equipped regular cab, long bed, max tow, max payload, base XL model F-150.  Whereas my truck is used occasionally for hauling stuff, that other truck is used for work.  And they share the same wheelbase, engine, 4WD setup, and half the other bits on it.  His truck just doesn’t have all the comfort options like mine did, and Ford asked $10,000 more for mine.  I go through all this to make a simple point:  I hope Ford thought ahead, because it needs to keep its core customer (the hard worker) happy, while retaining its newest conquest buyers (me), with the new truck.  At least aluminum isn’t exactly new to the automotive marketplace.

Audi has been the king of mainstream aluminum vehicles, but even then it’s only selling around a quarter of how many F-150s Ford sells in a given year.  Sure, there’s the 700lb weight loss and sure-to-be-improved fuel economy out of the new F-150, but how can Ford ensure that buyers will still opt for its truck over the steel-bodied (read: traditional) RAM 1500 and the Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra cousins?

V2-140139941.jpg&MaxW=622&cci_ts=20140204111256Well, in that regard, they’ve designed the body of the new truck in such a way that damaged body panels can be removed and new ones riveted and bonded back in, saving on labor costs to make up for an increase in parts costs.  Hopefully this assuages both buyers and insurers, as insurance prices are already expected to rise on the 2015 F-150, depending on who you ask.

Further, they’ve got the right man for the job: Alan Mulally.  A former Boeing executive, he worked on everything from the 727 to the 777, ending up as President of Boeing Commercial Airplanes before being tapped by Ford for the President and CEO position.  Having worked with literally tons of aluminum in airplanes, I believe Mulally’s got what it takes to make sure the F-150 retains its durable, reliable reputation.

15FordF150_17Let’s just hope that the suppliers can keep up with the demand of the assembly lines, as Ford builds around a half million F-150s in a single year.  It’s already been reported that the new truck is delayed because of aluminum supplies.  Luckily, Alcoa Aluminum in Ohio is one of the world’s largest aluminum companies, making wheels for cars all over the world, just to name one aspect of their business.  Let’s also hope that the uptick in costs doesn’t send too many of Ford’s customers across the street.  Truck buyers are traditionally a stodgy group.  They like V8-powered steel trucks with cloth or vinyl seats and an 8-foot bed.  That attitude has begun shifting, starting about a decade or so ago.  More “urban cowboys” wanted trucks, so extended and crew cabs have become the norm, the beds have gotten shorter, the seats are wrapped in leather, and there’s more options than you can shake a stick at, all adding to increased profits for automakers.  But with the new truck on the horizon, Ford has already warned that it expects the profits for 2014 to be cut, as much as a third.  But Ford has been practicing with aluminum for a decade.  In 2004, they replaced the steel hood on F-150s with an aluminum one, and while it was still more expensive, they ate some of the cost so the average consumer wouldn’t notice.  Now that aluminum usage in cars has become more and more popular, the prices have really fallen, so I hope Ford can keep their prices in check.

15FordF150_05If the new F-150 continues its frenetic sales pace where the 2014 is leaving off, I believe two things are going to happen.  First, we’ll see increased use of aluminum in more mainstream vehicles, which is good for consumers because of increased fuel economy.  Second, Ford’s competition will have to go back to the drawing board to try and recreate the F-150’s success (and duplicate its fuel economy, which industry analysts – and myself – expect to creep towards the 30MPG highway mark).  GM’s recently-introduced 2014 Silverado/Sierra trucks started using aluminum hoods, among other weight-saving techniques, whereas Ford’s F-150 started using the lightweight hoods in 2004.

My prediction?  As has been the case for going on four decades, Ford will continue to reign supreme in the light-duty truck market, but mostly on the backs (and wallets) of early adopters and those loyal to the F-150.  If there’s any truth to the rhetoric found on F-150 forums, there are quite a few guys and gals waiting to see how things settle, and to see if the design grows on them.  However, if Ford encounters any serious hiccups in the launch, fleet managers will look elsewhere, and it may be years before they consider a Ford again.

by John Suit

Image/News Sources: Automotive News, Ford


0 Responses to “Risky Business: Ford’s New 2015 F-150”

Comments are currently closed.

Get Adobe Flash player