Ford is testing its customer loyalty as it rolls out its first aluminum F-150 pickup truck, reports Tudor Van Hampton in The New York Times (2/16/14). The first, most obvious hurdle is convincing hard-working users of heavy-duty trucks that aluminum is tough enough to endure the kind of punishment they typically inflict. "They are taking a stab at doing something that no one else has really had the guts to do, and yet they are changing the very virtue of what the pickup is perceived to be," say Paul Lacy of IHS Automotive. Ford needs to win over tough guys like Bob Renner, a farmer "and Ford truck loyalist."
Striking a not-me-first stance, Bob says: "If a farmer got one out here, absolutely loved it and didn’t have any problems with it, I’d be really interested." Better gas mileage – owing to the truck’s lighter weight – is part of the Ford promise. Ford also says the aluminum F-150 "will be able to haul more, accelerate faster and stop shorter than the outgoing model." Aluminum is also said to be more dent- and ding-resistant than steel, and more rust-resistant as well. Questions remain, however, as to the ease and cost of repairing and otherwise maintaining the F-150’s aluminum panels.
It may also be difficult for owners to find a shop with the equipment and training to fix any damage. According to Darrell Amberson of the Automotive Service Association, "less than 10 percent and probably more like five percent" of independent body shops "are ready to repair" aluminum vehicles. Ford hopes to address this by offering incentives to its dealers to purchase the requisite repair equipment as well as train service technicians, however "fewer than half of new-vehicle dealerships have body shops." The 2015 aluminum Ford F-150 is set to unfurl this fall.