Yesterday on November 11, the first production version of the all-new aluminium-bodied 2015 Ford F-150 rolled out the production line at the Dearborn Truck Plant near Detroit. The Detroit Bureau says Ford is taking what many observers have called its biggest risk in decades switching from a traditional, steel-bodied pickup to one that uses an “aluminium-intensive” design. The F-150 is the first truly high-volume product in the industry to go with an aluminum-intensive design. According to Ford, the benefits are numerous: better fuel economy, improved towing and larger payload capacity.
Ford produced 647,697 of the trucks last year. The entire F-Series line-up – including heavy-duty duty versions such as the F-250 and F-350 – has been the nation’s top-selling truck for 37 years running, and the country’s best-selling overall vehicle for the past 32 consecutive years! The F-Series is generally considered the top contributor to Ford’s bottom line, and CEO Mark Fields said he didn’t expect that to change. But not everyone is convinced. Some analysts have warned of a slow ramp-up of production, and they have warned that the higher cost of aluminum could drive up production costs.
To prepare for the new F-150, Ford had to make major changes to its big truck plant in the Detroit suburbs – and it is now converting operations at its second F-Series plant near Kansas City. Ford’s competitors have used the transition to close the sales gap with the Ford F-Series, with the General Motors duo of full-size pickup trucks, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra, outselling the F-Series for the past 3 months in a row. Ford has said it will put a focus on quality, rather than quantity, as it launches the F-150, Fields noting “We’ll be at full speed in terms of production (only by) the end of Q2 2015.” Even then, not everyone is convinced Ford will be able to maintain sales at the traditional flat-out pace that saw its two plants rolling out a new F-150 at the rate of one every 49 seconds. The 2015 F-150 will hit North American dealerships in December.
Ford says it expects buyers to be drawn in by the new truck’s improved fuel economy. While official EPA-certified numbers won’t be revealed until later this month, CEO Fields suggested that compared to the old F-150, the new truck should get “between 5 and 20% better mileage…depending on engine.” The timing of the launch, however, comes as fuel costs slip to their lowest level in at least four years, an estimated 30 states now averaging below $3 a gallon for regular unleaded, according to various tracking services. Longer-term, however, Fields stressed that fuel costs are likely to rise again, and even now, fuel economy is a major factor for truck buyers, so are the improved towing and payload numbers that come from trimming about 750 pounds off the weight of some new F-150 models.
Ford has already confirmed the heavier F-Series Super Duty lines will go aluminium-intensive. The new F-Series is “important, with a capital ‘I,’”said Fields, if anything an understatement. Ford has only rarely taken such a big risk on a single product. If it succeeds it would likely cement its leadership in the profitable full-size segment. Anything less could pose serious problems for Detroit’s second-largest automaker.
Source: The Detroit Bureau