By Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT, Jan 13 Ford Motor Co could
incorporate more aluminum into its sport utility vehicles and
other models in the future, executives said on Monday, following
the debut of the lightweight version of Ford's popular F-150
The body of the revamped F-150 is 95 percent military-grade
aluminum alloy - the same kind used in Humvees - and weighs up
to 700 pounds less than current truck. Using aluminum rather
than steel is a key part of Ford's strategy to cut between 250
and 750 pounds from each model in its lineup.
"Obviously this is our first shot (at using aluminum in) a
big-volume vehicle and there's absolutely no reason why we
couldn't think about taking it elsewhere," Executive Chairman
Bill Ford told reporters at the Detroit auto show.
"It is a lightweight, high-strength material and 700 pounds
out of a vehicle like this - that's a big deal," he added.
Ford's gamble that aluminum will give the company a greater
edge over rivals stands in contrast to the approach of General
Motors Co, which launched its latest trucks last year,
and which this week unveiled its Canyon midsize truck.
Ford no longer serves the U.S.
midsize truck market.
"If anybody says the certainty of the next 10 years is that
formula, I would say, 'Show me data-wise,'" Mark Reuss, GM's
incoming product development chief, said of Ford's bet on the
Ford formally kicked off its F-150 project in 2010 around
the same time the company began development on its new Fusion
midsize sedan and revamping its strategy in Asia.
Consumer tastes and more stringent U.S. fuel economy
regulations in the future - known as corporate average fuel
economy (CAFE) standards - spurred the No. 2 U.S. automaker to
rethink the F-150, the top-selling vehicle in the United States.
"We made a strategic decision to change the game as the
leader," said Joe Hinrichs, Ford's head of North and South
American operations. "We felt that with our volume and our scale
we could work with aluminum providers to launch the F-150."
The redesign makes the new F-150 "CAFE-positive" for the
first time, meaning the truck will help Ford meet those
standards instead of lowering the average gasoline mileage of
its lineup, Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields said.
At Monday's news conference, Ford also emphasized that the
lightweight metal would be tougher than steel and more resistant
to dents than today's model. Hinrichs said models may be made
with the alloy where it makes the most sense.
"You have to look at where you get the most attribute
benefits for that weight and where do customers pay for that
technology. And where fuel economy can make a big difference in
the market place."
As part of its testing, the truck towed a heavy trailer
across the United States in both desert and high-altitude
terrains and in temperatures ranging from 20 degrees below
Fahrenheit to 120 degrees above.
The new truck reflects how Ford, under Chief Executive Alan
Mulally who came on board in 2006, has been willing to take
bolder, educated risks, Deloitte consultant Joe Vitale said.
The F-150's design has allowed Ford to "bridge the gap"
between heavy truck users and casual buyers. "You can see it in
the parking lot of a Neiman Marcus," he said.
Production of the new F-150 would begin in the fourth
quarter in Dearborn, Michigan, and in early 2015 in Kansas City,
Missouri. The truck will be in U.S. showrooms by the end of
Bill Ford, the company's executive chairman, and Mulally
both said they were pleased that the speculation that Mulally
would leave to run Microsoft Corp was now behind them.
Mulally declined to answer any questions about why he is no
longer in the running for the job.
"It was time to get that distraction off the table," Bill
Ford said in a later interview with Reuters Insider, adding that
Ford has a great team "that brought us back from the dark days
of '07 and '08."