Ford's Lightweight F-150 Can Save Americans How Much in Fuel Costs!?!

Remember that time when tough new Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards ran big trucks out of the auto market? Me neither.

That was a concern when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued the new standards in summer 2012, however. Many derided the ambitious targets, which call for the average automaker's fleet to achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, as unrealistic or impossible to meet. After the 2014 North American International Auto Show, you have to wonder if executives and engineers at Ford (NYSE: F  ) were laughing to themselves as they developed the lightweight 2015 Ford F-150.

Don't take the background in this advertisement for the new 2015 Ford F-150 for granted. Image source: Ford.

Among other enhancements, such as 360 degree-view cameras and LED box lights, the latest F150 will sport a military-grade aluminum body to drop its curb weight by 500-700 pounds. It is the first pickup truck to feature an exclusively aluminum design. Dropping a few pant sizes alone would lead to better fuel economy, but the lower weight also allows Ford to swap out its familiar 6.2-liter V8 for a smaller, more efficient 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 engine without sacrificing much power.

Aluminum designs are trending throughout the industry -- and they can deliver spectacular improvements in efficiency and fuel economy -- but the new Ford F-150 just cranked up the heat on the competition when it comes to meeting the new CAFE standards. Let's take a look at how the truck could decrease American fuel consumption and take a peek at next-generation auto designs being pursued by Ford, General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) , and Magna International (NYSE: MGA  ) .

The only CAFE that makes you lose weight
Gasoline consumption has been on the decline since peaking in 2007, thanks to a slew of compounding factors, including the painful spike in commodities in 2008, the recession, shifting transportation habits, and increased use of ethanol blendstocks. Now it is largely up to improving fuel economy -- and America's best-selling vehicle -- to continue the trend.

Source: EIA.gov.

How can the 2015 F-150 do its part? The EPA states that each 100 pounds of weight in your car reduces fuel economy by 1%-2%, which means the new truck line will gain an extra 1-3 mpg, depending on model (see below). That equates to a maximum increase of more than 20%! Meanwhile, the option to include a 3.5-liter V6 or 2.7-liter V6 EcoBoost engine over the 5-liter V8 or 3.5-liter V6 would lead to further gains.

While EcoBoost engines can lead to a 20% boost in fuel economy, the variety of buyer options for the pickup makes it difficult to quantify effectively. Additionally, we can assume the biggest advantages would be felt with the least efficient models and that some models, well, just shouldn't get an EcoBoost engine. Nonetheless, let's conservatively assume efficient engines double the advantages from dropping weight to settle at an overall average improvement in fuel economy of 2-6 mpg.

With that in mind, how does the improved efficiency stack up across the lineup?

F-150 Model(s)

2014 MPG

2015 MPG

XL, STX, XLT

17 City, 23 Hwy

19-23 City, 25-29 Hwy

LARIAT, FX2, King Ranch, Platinum

15 City, 21 Hwy

17-21 City, 23-27 Hwy

FX4

14 City, 19 Hwy

16-20 City, 21-25 Hwy

SVT Raptor

11 City, 16 Hwy

13-17 City, 21-25 Hwy

Limited

16 City, 22 Hwy

18-22 City, 24-28 Hwy

Source: Ford for 2014 model fuel economy, author calculations.

What would that mean for your bank account? Assuming you drive 15,000 miles annually and gasoline costs $3.50 per gallon, each new model would save you about $175-$525 every year compared to 2014 models. That's an extra $875-$2,625 in your pocket over the first five years of ownership.

What does improving fuel economy for the nation's best-selling vehicle mean for American gasoline consumption? Assuming annual domestic sales reach 700,000 vehicles and owners achieve an average fuel economy of 21 mpg, or an average improvement of 4 mpg compared to the 2014 lineup, each annual batch of new F-150's would lower American gasoline consumption by more than 115 million gallons and save consumers nearly $500 million in fuel costs. That amounts to one-tenth of a percent of the entire country's fuel consumption -- from just one pickup series!

That's impressive, but we shouldn't assume the automaker or its peers are stopping at aluminum bodies.

What comes next?
Ford and other automakers have invested heavily in next-generation technology and have wisely spread their research and development eggs across many baskets. For instance, the Blue Oval has teamed up with a consortium of universities to develop an economical process for producing large amounts of carbon fiber. Meanwhile, General Motors has partnered with Teijin for its own carbon fiber production efforts, in addition to introducing natural gas-powered models such as the 2015 Chevy Impala. Similarly, most, if not all, major automakers are pursuing hydrogen-fuel cell technologies that could be widely commercialized within the next few years.

Automakers aren't the only ones looking to cash in on aggressive CAFE standards. Global automotive supplier Magna International partnered with carbon fiber leader Zoltek several years back to provide high-volume composite parts for a wide range of interior and exterior vehicle systems. The partnership got a major boost from economies of scale when Zoltek was acquired by Japanese chemical giant Toray, the world's largest carbon fiber producer, at the end of 2013. It should only be a matter of time before a major automaker releases a wholly carbon fiber auto design in a major model, which could lead to further improvements in weight and fuel efficiency compared to aluminum designs.

Foolish final take
Investors and consumers should applaud Ford for taking the initiative to transform its best-selling pickup line from a potential anchor for meeting the new CAFE standards into a catalyst. Reaching an average fuel economy of 54.5 mpg will require a host of innovations and next-generation technologies, from hydrogen vehicles to those with aluminum designs, and every improvement counts. Ford's new pickup trucks will deliver savings to consumers and value to investors, while taking previous excuses for reaching tough fuel economy targets off the table for other pickup manufacturers. When the CAFE standard bell tolls for automakers, Ford and its shareholders will be in a comfortable position.

This expense is eating your MPG gains. Fight back now. 
Improving fuel economy will help you save plenty of cash over the lifetime of your vehicle, but it won't amount to much if you pay too much buying it. You don't know it yet, but you probably spent $1000's more than you should have on your vehicle. In fact, the auto industry can be such a dangerous place for consumers that our top auto experts are determined to even the playing field. That's why they created a a brand new free report on The Car Buying Secrets You Must Know. The advice inside could save you thousands of dollars on your next car, so be sure to read this report while it lasts. Your conscience, and your wallet, will thank you. Click here now for instant access.


Read/Post Comments (10) | Recommend This Article (6)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 19, 2014, at 8:18 PM, kymintjulep wrote:

    Just imagine what the MPG would be if a diesel motor was available like what Ram (Dodge) is offering now...

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 9:42 AM, jfelano wrote:

    Might save a few bucks in gas but your insurance premiums are going to go up because aluminum is a lot more expensive to replace than steel. Besides the Silverado's more powerful V8 get's 1mpg better than Fords Ecoboost V6.

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 9:58 AM, PS75425 wrote:

    Yeah but ... you could save a lot more by not even buying one ...

  • Report this Comment On January 20, 2014, at 11:42 AM, NEWinter wrote:

    Going to aluminum is a great idea that many in the rust belt will appreciate. Insurance premiums may increase slight due to increased repair costs but due to labor costs I don't think anyone fixes sheet metal anymore so it will likely only be slight cost increase of the material for repairs. The upside being that the trucks should last longer and will definitely maintain crash safety for considerably longer (at least in regions where rust is a problem). Considering weight (at normal highway speeds and less) is one of the biggest hindrances to fuel economy I think this will bode well for the F150. Unless the torque is absolutely needed I do not believe diesel is even a good option considering the required initial investment and increased fuel costs, at current you would have to drive a Ram diesel for 120k miles to break even. "JFELANO" - The new chevy 5.3 has 10 less HP than the Ecoboost and 40 less lbft of torque with only a gain of 1 mpg hwy which is about .5mpg increase average. If you look at the torque curves the ecoboost delivers nearly 100 lbft more torque a the low end than the chevy making it a much better choice for towing while only losing .5 mpg average.

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2014, at 12:04 AM, CrazyDocAl wrote:

    Why is it fanboys are allowed to write for the fool? Ford has said that they are hoping to see 3mpg. Ford, like any mfg, is going to be optimistic. What that means is the weight reduction will give a 2mpg advantage over a steel body.

    Next is the added cost. Aluminum is not cheap. From what I'm reading it's going to be about a $6k jump in base price. If so then saving $150 a year is never going to offset the upfront cost. Plus you have added cost of insurance. The ROI just doesn't look like it'll make this a worthwhile change.

    I had a Range Rover in Vermont, after 3 years the corrosion was ruining it. Anyone who thinks that aluminum doesn't rust so there's not going to be an issue has never lived in the salt belt. Steel rusts, aluminum corrodes. Any place the two touch it's accelerated. Open the hood on any 10 year old vehicle and anything that's aluminum looks like cr^p. That's thick aluminum pieces, not thin panels.

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2014, at 8:44 AM, cityperson wrote:

    Interesting how all these people want us to cut tback and save money on fules, water another things. But the companies that produce or make these things for us will raise prices or keep the prices high any way in order to keep their investors happy and in money. Here in CA we had a water price inmcrease and high fule costs because we cut back too much. So, now all we have to do is wait and watch if these companies will reduce the fuel prices. Ha!

  • Report this Comment On January 21, 2014, at 2:34 PM, Albert0Knox wrote:

    these savings assume $3.50 gas. Who realistically thinks gas will stay that low over the long term. As the economy continues to rebound, and you know it eventually will, consumption will go up right along with prices..

    global competition for fuel and growing markets in the 'developing countries' should keep us focused on efficient vehicles. Anyone who doesn't understand why should research the oil shocks of the '70s and '80s.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 1:29 PM, mogulman wrote:

    The auto industry needs to meet the CAFE requirements. They are going to do things that don't always make economic sense. For example lighter weight vehicles might result in higher cost and may not make sense for individuals driving 15,000 miles/year. Diesel does give you higher MPGs but the cost savings are elusive. Diesel has about 14% more energy per gallon than gas (129,500 BTUs vs 114,000 BTUs). It also has about a 15-17% price premium per gallon. It also gets about 10-15% higher MPGs. The kicker is the cars have a 20%+ price premium. So it helps auto makers meet CAFE requirements but does nothing to help average consumers lower transportation costs. CNG is a much better solution to lower transportation cost. CNG is about 50% cheaper. OK has it for around a $1.35/GGE. But CNG also has issues. There is a hefty price premium for the vehicle (20-30%). CNG tanks cost a lot. There are few factory built vehicles to choose from. There are less than 600 public CNG stations. More are added each week. You can convert your vehicle to run on CNG but certified conversions are generally over $10,000. Also, CNG's 130 octane fuel does not run efficiently in a car designed for 87 octane. Hydrogen may eventually play a role in transportation but not anytime soon. Hydrogen uses so much energy to produce. It is at best 20-30% efficient.

  • Report this Comment On January 23, 2014, at 1:29 PM, mogulman wrote:

    The auto industry needs to meet the CAFE requirements. They are going to do things that don't always make economic sense. For example lighter weight vehicles might result in higher cost and may not make sense for individuals driving 15,000 miles/year. Diesel does give you higher MPGs but the cost savings are elusive. Diesel has about 14% more energy per gallon than gas (129,500 BTUs vs 114,000 BTUs). It also has about a 15-17% price premium per gallon. It also gets about 10-15% higher MPGs. The kicker is the cars have a 20%+ price premium. So it helps auto makers meet CAFE requirements but does nothing to help average consumers lower transportation costs. CNG is a much better solution to lower transportation cost. CNG is about 50% cheaper. OK has it for around a $1.35/GGE. But CNG also has issues. There is a hefty price premium for the vehicle (20-30%). CNG tanks cost a lot. There are few factory built vehicles to choose from. There are less than 600 public CNG stations. More are added each week. You can convert your vehicle to run on CNG but certified conversions are generally over $10,000. Also, CNG's 130 octane fuel does not run efficiently in a car designed for 87 octane. Hydrogen may eventually play a role in transportation but not anytime soon. Hydrogen uses so much energy to produce. It is at best 20-30% efficient.

  • Report this Comment On February 28, 2014, at 8:01 PM, RobTAK wrote:

    Why not plastic body parts with lightweight steel supports like the old Fiero and some Saturns. Weight savings should be better without electrolysis issues.

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