The 2015 Ford F-150 may be a lightweight, but the automaker has gone to extremes to ensure the aluminum-bodied successor is more durable than the steel-bodied pickup it will replace.
When the all-new 2015 model goes on sale in the fourth quarter, it will continue to have a steel frame, but the entire body will be made of lighter-weight aluminum and the truck sheds 700 pounds, which will contribute to better fuel economy.
General Motors Co. has been stressing its steel-bodied trucks in advertising since Ford revealed in January its plans to switch to aluminum. "We've noticed," said Doug Scott, Ford truck group marketing manager. Ford will step up marketing later in the year when the new truck goes on sale and the ads will highlight aluminum as a game-changer, he said. "We won't be shy about it."
This week, Ford engineers offered a behind-the-curtain look at the development and testing since the 2009 decision to incorporate advanced materials never before used in a pickup.
The truck was put through torturous paces, said Raj Nair, global product development chief. Engineers built 11 prototypes and increased durability testing to withstand 10 million cumulative miles.
"Engineers tried to break it in testing," Nair said. One prototype competed in the grueling Baja off-road race. The race team did not know their truck had an aluminum body or a prototype of the new 2.7-liter turbocharged EcoBoost engine under the hood. They did note the engine was quieter than usual and installed lights in the cabin to signal when to shift gears. Some prototypes were put in the field, where mining, construction and utility companies unwittingly tested them.
"They abused the truck," said engineer Bruno Barthelemy. "It's kind of sad when you're the engineer. But we wanted a tough truck, so we developed special tests so it performs better than the truck today."
Engineer Pete Friedman said the team has worked on better materials and processes for years to troubleshoot possible problems.
For example, though aluminum does not rust, areas where aluminum is bonded to steel are very susceptible to rust. Rob Starbowski, corrosion protection supervisor, worked on an adhesive bonding agent to prevent corrosion on joints where aluminum parts attach to the steel frame. Materials specialist Glen Weber tested fastener finishes and found the solution in a painted adhesive with flakes of aluminum or zinc to prevent corrosion.
John Caris worked on taking weight out of the frame. The current frame is 40 percent high-strength steels, while the new truck boosts that to 77 percent. Some parts were designed to be smaller and lighter, side rails incorporate thinner gauges of steel in portions and there are now aluminum cross members. It amounts to a 60-pound weight loss.
But 70 percent of weight reduction is from greater use of aluminum, said Mark Keller.
Other engineers simulated fingertip smudges on interior surfaces and redid some graphics to make sure they would not rub off over time. Artificial light simulated fading of fabrics, leather and plastics because of sunlight. A group of 10 burly men wearing dusty jeans climbed in and out of seats 10,000 times to test the fabric, said chief engineer Peter Reyes.
For 2015, Ford adds a new EcoBoost engine to the lineup: the 2.7-liter turbocharged engine that is more compact and weighs about 370 pounds.
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