There are rumors that Ford's (NYSE:F) next generation F-150 could have an aluminum body. The move could shave up to 700 pounds, or 15%, off the truck's massive frame, which would go a long way to improving its fuel economy.
However, aluminum might not be the only ingredient fueling the next-generation Ford truck to greatness. That's because Ford's F-150 will soon also be available to have a natural gas engine installed. Combine the two, and the end result could be a real breakthrough for the industry.
Built for performance
Aluminum has always been an important material for the automotive industry. It's already used to make engines and wheels, but today's advanced aluminum alloys are increasingly being considered for other areas such as the hood, trunk, and doors. In fact, Tesla's (NASDAQ:TSLA) groundbreaking and award-winning Model S credits its all-aluminum body for its remarkable performance.
Ford is rumored to be on the verge of joining Tesla in taking its truck to the next level of performance by replacing its steel body with aluminum. The bold move would not only cut its weight to improve its gas mileage, but it would also improve the truck's overall performance. That's because lighter-weight aluminum enables vehicles to brake and accelerate more quickly -- all with better handling.
Fuel of the future
Ford's innovations don't end with aluminum. The company recently announced that its F-150 will soon be available with a natural gas engine designed by Westport Innovations (NASDAQ:WPRT). While it won't be available until the first quarter of next year, the addition of the Westport WiNG Power System to its fleet will make it the only full-size pickup that can come prepped from the factory for natural gas. The move really boosts the options for customers, as they will soon have the opportunity to purchase a new truck that's powered by a next-generation fuel.
Not only is natural gas 50% to 80% cheaper than regular gasoline, but it's also up to 90% cleaner. That's a true win-win situation for both customers and the environment. Finally, while electric vehicles such as Tesla's are clearly the future, given the performance requirements of most F-150 customers, the industry has a long way to go before it can offer customers a comparable truck powered by electricity, meaning natural gas is the only real option for the medium term.
What this means for both consumers and investors
The potential of combining the performance gains from aluminum with the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas could truly be a game-changing move by Ford. These moves could make the F-150 the gold standard when it comes to owning an environmentally responsible truck. When looking at that potential, Ford truly could be building the greatest truck of our generation. That means Ford's stock could prove to be quite a rewarding long-term investment.
Fool contributor Matt DiLallo owns shares of Westport Innovations and has long January 2014 $10 calls and short January 2014 $10 puts on Ford. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Ford, Tesla Motors, and Westport Innovations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.