GM Looks to Copy Ford's Aluminum Bodied 2015 F-150, but Will It Be Too Late?

Ford's 2015 F-150 will face challenges, but the reward could be worth it. Source: Ford.

Make no mistake: For Detroit automakers, the full-size truck segment is hands down the most vital for their success. Ford's (NYSE: F  ) F-Series and General Motors' (NYSE: GM  ) Chevy Silverado are the top two selling vehicles in America, and analysts estimate the trucks bring in more than half of their respective profits. While Ford has had the sales edge lately, things are about to get completely shaken up with its risky and more revolutionary approach to its 2015 F-150. Ford made its decision to be the first to switch to an aluminum body and tossed the ball in GM's court; how would its cross-town rival respond? We now have our answer.

Copy cat!
As mentioned earlier, with the F-Series and Silverado being the No. 1 and No. 2 selling vehicles in the nation, it poses a unique problem for automakers that are required to improve the miles per gallon on over their entire fleet of vehicles. That makes the large, and less fuel-efficient, trucks even more important during their redesigns.

While GM's Chevy Silverado took a more evolutionary approach with its Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks, Ford opted to be a first mover and shake things up with an aluminum bodied F-150. It's a move that could cost the company dearly if it can't convince consumers to buy into the idea. Or if it executes on production and convinces consumers that the aluminum doesn't make it less of a truck, it will set the stage for even more dominating sales chart performances over the next few years. Now that Ford has taken the first step and has replaced as much as 700 pounds of its 2015 F-150 with aluminum instead of steel, GM has decided it will copy the move.

The Wall Street Journal reported that General Motors is now working on a largely aluminum-bodied pickup truck for late 2018. That means the next-generation design by General Motors will copy Ford's move to aluminum, and the company recently locked in aluminum supply contracts with Alcoa and Novelis, according to the WSJ.

For General Motors, one benefit in allowing Ford to take the first move is to learn from its crosstown rival's mistakes.

Mark Reuss, GM's product chief, spoke about his interest in Ford's aluminum-bodied F-150. "I want to get my hands on it," Reuss told reporters, according to Automotive News. "I'm going to be looking at how much aluminum is in it. 'What are the panels? ... How are they constructed?' I'm going to look at what they advertise as the weight savings from it. Then I'm going to go back and do some math."

Absolutely nobody in the automotive industry has worked with aluminum in a production volume this size, and the risks are enormous as the metal is more difficult to work with. The risks extend outside of Ford's factories as well. Currently less than 10% of more than 30,000 repair shops in the U.S. are certified to work with most aluminum auto body parts, according to Bloomberg. It will cost dealerships and independent body shops to purchase different tools to work with aluminum body parts. This could cause customers potential hassles when needing body repairs. Ford believes this won't be an issue by the time its 2015 F-150 hits the dealerships and expects body shops to jump on board quickly. 

The upshot
The good news for Ford's loyal truck buyers is that the company's CEO has worked with aluminum on large scales before, only it was in the aviation industry with Boeing. The folks at the Blue Oval feel confident enough they can pull execute this aluminum-bodied truck a full design ahead of its crosstown rivals -- and Ford might be well rewarded in accelerated sales for its risk.

Some are estimating the weight reduction could boost the next-generation F-150's fuel economy by as much as 20%. That's huge. If Ford can execute its launch of the 2015 F-150 and minimize the incremental costs of working with aluminum on the production line, it will be one of the best decisions the company has made in years.

It will have roughly four years of a head start on the next major full-size pickup with an aluminum design; that's a lot of time to market the improved fuel economy and the unchanged Ford tough performance to customers. If Ford's 2015 F-150 is a success, expect it to boost sales and send the Silverado to an even further distant second place.

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Read/Post Comments (9) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

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  • Report this Comment On February 22, 2014, at 12:38 PM, chevron wrote:

    come on GM why bother its a truck aluminum ? since when are trucks made out of aluminum? not practical fuel efficient ? maybe common sense not there gotta be a better way to gain a few mpg dont lean on my truck its aluminum ha ha

  • Report this Comment On February 22, 2014, at 1:18 PM, Number1FordFan wrote:

    From the story "Ford has had the sales edge lately"

    lately? Latley = Last 37 years (1977-2014)

    Aluminum Ford trucks will be good trucks. Ford doesn't know how to make truck any other way.

    As a mechanic I'll also say All the cabs on Over the road trucks (18 wheelers) have cabs built from aluminum for the last 50 years.

  • Report this Comment On February 22, 2014, at 2:00 PM, dmvrba wrote:

    Dosn't matter who copies who, in some point its going to happen and they all do it. When i was a kid i was told a truck isn't a truck if it dosent have a scratch,dents dings in it. Now its becoming to where they are just show pieces to park in the garage or drive on the weekends.

  • Report this Comment On February 22, 2014, at 6:34 PM, mustang6984 wrote:

    Ford...number ONE for the last 37+ years...

    number ONE today...

    number ONE tomorrow.

    GMC...oh well...

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 12:35 PM, bpainter wrote:

    Truck being made out of aluminum would not make me buy that truck.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 12:40 PM, jfelano wrote:

    Stupid article. As if GM needs to copy. Ford still can't produce anything that can compete wtih the Corvette even close to the same price range. Even the 650hp Shelby barely bets the 420hp Stingray in the quarter mile, like .3 seconds, because the vette is aluminum.

    The only reason Ford is going Aluminum, is cause they can't compete with GM in MPG using steel, GM's V8's get more MPG than Ford's Ecoboost V6 and has more hp to boot.

    All this will do is make the price of aluminum go up, everything from this new truck to aluminum foil, to beer can's to gutter, to evertything.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 12:42 PM, jfelano wrote:

    I wonder how much Ford payed for this article on FOOL.COM?

    Seriously the Corvette even uses an aluminum frame, when's Ford coming out with one of those??

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 3:57 PM, cmz wrote:

    Hey jfelano, GM copy's everything Ford does only very poorly or to late. Here's a few obvious attempts at trying to catch the Master.

    Ecotec vs Ecoboost

    Cheesy bumper step vs Ford tailgate step (next generation will be on the 2015 F-150).

    Copied dash cluster as on current F-150.

    Oh, buy the way The Ecotec3 is not anywhere superior to the V6 Ecoboost.

    Let me set you straight

    Ecotec3 355 Hp@5600 Torque 383lbs@4100rpm

    Ecoboost 365Hp@5000 Torque 420lbs@2500rpm

    This is a V8 vs a V6, GM uses antiquated cylinder shut down to get the mpg numbers the Ecoboost gets. If your traveling into a headwind all cylinders will fire bringing gas mileage back down to it's real average like the old V8's they just replaced. The Ecoboost delivers incredible low end touque where it's needed and great gas mileage.

    A 2011 Ford is light years ahead of 2014. GM hasn't changed the basic design to The Silverado since 2007 and made an attempt to catch Ford with the 2014 only now must play catch up again and that won't happen until 2018. The new aluminum F-150 will take sales away from GM,Ram and Toyota even attracting brand loyal GM buyers because GM is just to slow to react. They should put the same R&D into Silverado as they do Cadillac.By the time GM figures out a new design with Aluminum in 2018 Ford will be years ahead with a the next generation F-150 by then. I can understand your loyalty to GM But facts are facts, Ford is the industry leader here you are in denial on the subject. You would be better off comparing Cadillac to LIncoln this is wher Ford really need help and improvement.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 4:05 PM, cmz wrote:

    I get the feeling from reading everything on this site that most of the people commenting here must sell Silverado's for a living.

    Nice anti Ford site.

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Daniel Miller

As a Motley Fool Industrial Specialist, I use my marketing and business background in the automotive industry to evaluate major automakers and other large industrial corporations. Follow me on twitter for tweets about stocks, cars, sports, and anything I find amusing.

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