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Ford goes Aluminum

Jul 09, 2021 - 6 minute read

Ford goes Aluminum

For most of us this is old news, however some buyers are new to the market since Ford led the transition to the aluminum body in 2015. What does this switch mean for increased long term cost like body work, Ford's new models and our environment?  Since the assembly line, Ford has taken pride in its leadership for the marketplace.


"Motor Biscuit" compiled sources we also found in "The Drive" and "Car and Driver" and summarized the move, "Trucks symbolized hard-working strength, and steel was considered an integral part of that image. Then Ford decided to switch everything up. At the time, there were worries that Ford would lose sales and loyal customers. But several years later, and Ford’s competitors have started taking up aluminum, too." 


Ford spent over two decades researching aluminum manufacturing. The automaker uses a blend of alloys that have been extensively used in many industries, including military and aerospace. 


Which Ford model trucks are aluminum? Since 2015, the Ford F-150 has had an aluminum body. In 2017, the F-Series Super-Duty trucks also gained aluminum bodies. Both were the first pickups in their class to get bodies made out of the lighter-weight material. At the moment, the Ford F-150 and F-Series Super Duty are the only trucks that have both aluminum bodies and aluminum beds and frames made of high-strength steel. 


Does aluminum body shop repair cost more? Because Ford invested in proper technician training, and designed the pickup with a modular structure, the average aluminum truck repair cost $2000 less than a steel repair would when damaged in a Texas hail storm that tested the aluminum vs steel body repairs. Not only did this reduce the labor hours needed to fix the trucks, some aluminum parts were actually cheaper than their steel counterparts. This is partially due to aluminum’s recyclable nature: Ford could melt down left-over metal for more parts. This lends itself to an important note, ensure your vehicle repair is handled by a aluminum certified technician, which we proudly have at J.C. Lewis Ford. 


We too were able to find that even Consumer Reports agrees that, "Consumer Reports finds that the price to fix the aluminum body of the new pickup is similar to what it costs to repair the steel-bodied version. The important thing to remember is to take it to a shop certified by the automaker in aluminum repair." Consumer Report supports the decision for aluminum and found it a smart decision for "your family and our environment." If you take your vehicle to a non certified aluminum technician you may have more cost associated with that visit due to their lack of expertise adding time to your repair as well as more detailed attention due to lack of experience. They also reminded the consumer a lighter vehicle made with aluminum would increase fuel efficiency, decreasing your out of pocket cost. 


The 2021 F-150 truck aluminum body 


The first batch of 2021 F-150 pickups arrived at dealers in November. While it retains the aluminum body of its predecessor—a revolutionary design for pickup trucks that cost Ford billions—the frame and most key parts under the vehicle are steel or high-strength steel. 


Ford describes the 2021 F-150, "From its bold, high-strength, military-grade, aluminum-alloy body to its torture-tested high-strength steel frame, the 2021 F-150 is tough to its core. This all-new F-150 delivers the same proven dependability that has helped make the Ford F-Series the best-selling truck for 43 consecutive years. And for 2021, it's equipped with all-new styling, including new grilles, new materials, new wheels, new accents and more."


Working with aluminum alloy allows a increase in thickness where needed to achieve strength without increasing weight. The lighter aluminum allow allows for a higher power-to weight ratio, plus maximum payload. The F-150 has toughness in its bones, built with a fully boxed frame made of hight strength steel and large cross sections. 


The light aluminum body leads to record success with the all new, electric Ford Lightning. The 1800-pound-plus battery and both motors live between the rails of a strengthened ladder frame, and above that is the aluminum body. Ford engineers point out that starting lighter with the aluminum body really helped with developing the Lightning and that it's about 1000 pounds heavier than the gas equivalent, or about 6500 pounds at the curb. But even off-road, on a two-track, there is little sense that the Lightning is dragging around that much heft. 


How does aluminum affect the environment? In 2016 it was first announced that Ford recycles as much as 20 million pounds of aluminum stamping scrap per month using the closed-loop system at Dearborn Stamping Plant, which provides parts to build F-150 at Ford’s Dearborn Truck and Kansas City Assembly Plants.Opting for aluminum over steel in new automobile construction is the best way to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, according to Oak Ridge National Lab.Recycled aluminum avoids 95 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with primary aluminum production. It uses significantly less energy and water – another reason Ford F-150 leads the full-size truck pack in terms of lifetime carbon footprint, according to Automotive Science Group.    


Ford’s approach to the circular economy is not limited to just parts inside the vehicle. While building the F-Series, the company uses a closed loop recycling system to recover up to 20 million pounds of high-strength, military-grade, aluminum alloy per month, enough to build either 51 commercial jetliners or more than 37,000 F-Series truck bodies per month. Aluminum recycling is an integral part in Ford's commitment to sustainability.   Deriving value from waste material, or “up-cycling,” has been a strong focus for Ford for more than a decade. Supporting the circular economy was front and center when the company announced a collaboration with McDonald’s USA in 2019 to turn coffee chaff, a waste byproduct from McDonald’s coffee production, into vehicle parts. The sustainable innovation will not only reduce use of petroleum to make such components but lower the weight of those part by 20 percent and require up to 25 percent less energy during the molding process.Ford research teams have been redirecting waste streams into biomaterials for vehicle parts for years. Starting in 2007, Ford introduced soy foam as an alternative to petroleum-based seat foam in the Mustang. Since then, the company has expanded application of soy foam to every one of its product lines in North America – more than 25 million vehicles, to date – preventing hundreds of millions of pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.


If you still have any doubt about the effectiveness of the aluminum frame we had some fun in our research and found this wet concrete test, which of course the Ford passed with flying colors. 


Contact J.C. Lewis Ford, the Ford expert, for more of your questions, 912.210.5676 or visit www.jclewisford.com.