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How General Motors Will Match the 2015 Ford F-150

The 2014 Chevy Silverado is an all-new design, but Ford's new F-150 will be hundreds of pounds lighter. Now, reports say GM will make the next Silverado out of aluminum in a bid to outdo Ford. Photo credit: General Motors.

When General Motors  (NYSE: GM  ) introduced its all-new Chevy Silverado pickup last year, it left some reviewers scratching their heads. It's a good truck, they said, a definite improvement on the old Silverado, and it should be pretty competitive. But it didn't seem like a big leap forward. GM had clearly chosen to take a conservative, evolutionary approach with its new pickup.

That didn't seem like a bad idea at the time, but it's starting to look like a mistake. Ford  (NYSE: F  )  in January shocked the industry with its all-new 2015 F-150, a pickup that looks evolutionary -- but turned out to have something revolutionary: high-tech aluminum body panels that made the new pickup hundreds of pounds lighter.

That weight savings is a big deal. All other things being equal, a lighter-weight pickup handles better, has more towing capacity, and gets better gas mileage -- a consideration that is going to be critical in the years to come as tighter fuel-economy rules come into play. If Ford's new aluminum F-150s turn out to be durable -- and it's a safe bet that they will -- the new trucks from the Blue Oval will be hard to match.

So what will GM do? Reports are emerging that the General is already reserving big supplies of aluminum for its next all-new Silverado, which might arrive sooner than you'd expect. In this video, Fool contributor John Rosevear explains why Ford is so confident in its aluminum technology and looks at how GM plans to get a step ahead of the new F-150.

A transcript of the video is below.

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John Rosevear: Hey Fools, it's John Rosevear. People in my business like to use the term "game changer"; you see it in headlines all the time, and it really is way overused. At least in the auto business, the game doesn't actually change all that often.

But it's starting to become clear that Ford's all-new F-150 pickup really might be a game changer, with its lightweight aluminum construction it really is kind of in the forefront of looking at how full-sized pickups can remain viable products in an era when fuel-economy regulations are going to get a lot tighter.

The Wall Street Journal reported the other day that General Motors has locked in supply contracts with Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) and Novelis to get aluminum alloy sheet metal for its pickups. You have to do this several years in advance, apparently. According to the Journal report, GM's next-generation pickups will debut in late 2018 and they'll have aluminum bodies. Now, we can say this is just one report, but I should point out that these reporters at The Wall Street Journal are the same ones who broke the story of Ford's move to aluminum for its pickups way back before anyone else, so this is a report that we should pay attention to.

But I wonder if GM is really prepared for the challenges of mass-producing aluminum vehicles: the technology of working with aluminum is just different from working with steel or fiberglass body panels. This was actually a question I asked Ford's Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields when I talked to him last month, and I wish we'd had a camera rolling when he answered because his answer was really interesting.

He pointed out that Ford used to own the Jaguar and Aston Martin brands, and both of those brands started working with aluminum body construction over a decade ago. Now, that kind of construction involves "bonding," which is basically precision, high-tech gluing of the aluminum panels. It's different, and it's complicated. What Mark Fields said was that Ford as a company learned a lot from the experience of making Aston Martins and Jaguars out of high-tech aluminum, and even though Ford has since sold those companies, they retained a lot of that expertise within the company and they've applied it to the production processes for the new F-150.

Now, according to this Wall Street Journal report, GM thinks that they've got some advanced welding techniques, in fact they have a patent on this, that will let them make aluminum-bodied pickups that are lighter and stronger and easier to assemble than Ford's. They're using this patented process to make aluminum body panels already; there's a Cadillac hood that's aluminum and a few other pieces here and there. They haven't yet made a whole vehicle using it, but they're clearly setting out on that path.

Thanks for watching, and Fool on.

Read/Post Comments (8) | Recommend This Article (4)

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 March 02, 2014, at 9:11 PM, dwduke wrote:

    Ford will beat GM again with Fords tough frame and suspension. GM has aluminum hoods on its new pickups now, but GM's trucks have no soul like Fords trucks do.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 10:05 PM, AcuraT wrote:

    "GM thinks that they've got some advanced welding techniques, in fact they have a patent on this, that will let them make aluminum-bodied pickups that are lighter and stronger and easier to assemble than Ford's."

    If this is true, why did GM not get aggressive and instead cede the market to Ford while they got kicked in the --- again? GM has huge 120 day inventories on their "new" truck and few buyers (at least, not enough for current production levels). It appears that management at GM may have changed recently, but they are making the same mistakes their predecessors made years ago and forced the company to go bankrupt. One mistake will not cause them to go under again, but if there are a string of them put together including jeopardizing their new-found quality, they will head in the wrong direction faster than anyone's head will spin.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 10:08 PM, RickJWag wrote:

    GM must be conceding the truck market to Ford.

    Their latest ad campaigns are all left-leaning, in such a way that they are guaranteed to turn off red-state pickup buyers. Lefties spend money, too-- but not very often on pickups and usually not on domestic cars, either.

    Must be quid-pro-quo for the government bailout. But it seems like a losing strategy to me.

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 10:18 PM, ban566 wrote:

    Ford in January shocked the industry with its all-new 2015 F-150,


    i have known ford was building this truck for 2 years now

    how was it a surprise to any one

    ford announced years ago they where going to build a truck with

    a aluminum body and other parts

    Chevy's big problem that no one wants to admit and hopes every one forgetting is the government bail out of a failed business

    i know allot of people that will tell you today they will never buy another Government motor car or truck and sorry but that is just the facts

    even the volt has never sold making a profit

  • Report this Comment On March 02, 2014, at 11:59 PM, CrankyOldGuy wrote:

    GM has a couple of aces up their sleeve:

    -- a diesel that doesn't have frequent uber-expensive repairs like the lousy PowerStrokes

    -- small-block gas V8's that are exceptional, vs. Ford's mediocre offerings

    Engines sell this segment, with styling a close second. Ford may have the construction industry accounts sewed up, for low-profit bare-bones trucks, but GM has the suburban handyman market with high-dollar options.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 5:25 AM, roxander wrote:

    the only way for gm to beat ford is for another 50 billion dollar giveaway from the corrupt politicians.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 3:34 PM, Jason87467 wrote:

    I see a lot of brainwashed Ford fans here. First let clear the real facts. Ford took money and is just being hypocritical about it.

    Now if you take that money and add it, you will find Ford got over 20 billion dollars from our Government. The bottom line is the Government lost 10 billions with GM. But with Ford they lost over 20 billion dollars. So who got more money? Ford.

    Another reason I will never buy a Fords is because their quality is next to the bottom.

  • Report this Comment On April 12, 2014, at 2:20 PM, Trojan123 wrote:

    Yeah like the new gm is different. Tell that to cavalier owners and the people that were involved in car accidents that died because gm refused to fix something they new would fail and put peoples lives in danger. By the way, as of this year GM has 26 billion in cash .... Why didn't they pay back the whole amount in the same good faith the people bailed them out? I am a Ford fan, and if Ford motor still owes money that it never paid back, they should also pay this!

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John Rosevear

John Rosevear is the Fool's Senior Auto Specialist. John has been writing about the auto business and investing for over 20 years, and for The Motley Fool since 2007.

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