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How GM Will Fight Back Against Ford's Radical 2015 F-150

Ford's new 2015 F-150 will make extensive use of aluminum to reduce weight. Now, GM is accelerating development of its own lighter-weight pickups. Source: Ford Motor Co.

Last year, General Motors (NYSE: GM  ) released all-new versions of its full-sized Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.

Those new pickups were definitely improvements over the outgoing models, and they've sold fairly well. But it was clear that GM took an incremental approach to its new pickups, choosing to refine what it had rather than to make dramatic changes.

That seemed like a good idea at the time.

But now, Ford (NYSE: F  ) is gearing up to launch its all-new pickup. And while the new F-150 doesn't look all that different, it's actually a radical step forward -- thanks to its aluminum-alloy body.

The new and much lighter F-150 is expected to give Ford's pickup line a nice boost in fuel economy. That could translate into a big step up on Ford's rivals, particularly in sales to cost-conscious businesses. 

So, how will GM respond? By rushing its next all-new pickups to market earlier than scheduled, apparently.

Worried by Ford, GM moves to rush a redo
GM's current pickups are just a year old, but Reuters reported this week that GM is already accelerating the timetable for their successors. According to the report, GM has pulled forward the launch of its next-generation Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra by about nine months, to the fall of 2018.

Redesigned versions of GM's big SUVs, which are closely related to the pickups, are likely to follow about a year later, according to the report.

The current Chevrolet Silverado is barely a year old, but already GM is rushing to develop its successor, according to a Reuters report. Source: General Motors Co.

Those new GM pickups are expected to follow Ford's lead, making extensive use of aluminum to reduce weight. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that GM has agreed to contracts with aluminum heavyweights Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) and Novelis to supply aluminum sheet metal for the next-generation pickups.

The advantages of lighter weight are significant: All other things equal, a lighter vehicle will have better acceleration, fuel economy, handling, and towing capacity than a heavier counterpart.

But even with the timetable stepped up, GM will be very late to the party.

GM's current pickups are lighter, but not light enough
To be fair, GM did take some steps to reduce the weight of its current pickups. The trucks' engine blocks and some structural sections make use of aluminum and other lighter-weight materials -- enough to give the Silverado and Sierra a weight advantage over the current F-150s.

According to GM, a 2014 Silverado with 4.3-liter V6, regular cab, and six-and-a-half-foot box has a curb weight of 4,387 pounds, an advantage of almost 300 pounds over a comparably equipped 2014 Ford F-150.

The 2015 F-150 will be substantially lighter, of course. But GM hasn't made a lot of marketing hay out of its weight advantage so far, while Ford has trumpeted its move to aluminum body panels. Even if the new Fords aren't a lot lighter than the current Silverado and Sierra, Ford seems likely to have a significant marketing advantage that should pay benefits for a few years.

Chrysler is taking a different approach, improving its pickups' fuel economy with high-tech engines and transmissions. A new diesel option for the Ram 1500 is said to be selling briskly. Source: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

It'll also have a marketing advantage over the other big contender in the full-size pickup wars, Fiat Chrysler's (NASDAQOTH: FIATY  ) Ram. Rather than focusing on weight reduction, Chrysler has looked to technology to improve the Ram's fuel economy, with a high-tech, eight-speed transmission, changes to its engine lineup, and an efficient diesel option.

That has helped the Ram's sales numbers, but as with GM, Chrysler's moves lack the "big leap" marketing impact of Ford's new aluminum trucks.

The upshot: Ford looks to be leading -- again
All of the global automakers are experimenting with different ways to improve fuel economy and emissions, looking to find advantages that will be readily accepted by customers.

While Ford has yet to ship a single aluminum F-150, initial reactions suggest that the new trucks are likely to be strong sellers. Clearly, GM's management believes Ford has found a winning path -- but how much ground will the General lose while it plays catch-up? 

What do you think? Is GM really late to this party, or is Ford's weight reduction likely to be less of an advantage than it seems? Scroll down to leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (5)

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 July 31, 2014, at 5:48 AM, Cyberfool178 wrote:

    Yah, just bought a 2013 Suburban to replace my aging 2000 model, but I am disappointed that they removed the lightweight aluminium rear gate - a step backward isn't it? Even though my new one is 100% loaded with options I still feel short changed; GM took out my remote rear gate door lock switch, secondary windshield visors, upper windshield tinting, console divider, console lock....just too many to mention. It looks like I am keeping the new Suburban for a long, long time this time. Mmmmmmmm Tesla is looking more beautiful each day :-)

  • Report this Comment On July 31, 2014, at 8:45 AM, Jason87467 wrote:

    I believe GM is already offering an 8 speed auto transmission. Why not mention that?

    I think all that media hype about Ford's aluminum will wear off when customers finds out that it will cost much more to repair and that will raise the insurance.

    Many may not know that GM's V8 gets better gas mileage then the much touted Ford's V6 Ecoboost.

    I'll stick with the durable GM trucks.

  • Report this Comment On July 31, 2014, at 3:54 PM, joeg9100 wrote:

    I think I can agree with your assessment. However I think it could be much worse for GM than you think. Aluminum is a necessary evil and GM is 3 years behind. The other big thing not mentioned is Engine technology GM is way behind here. Both these engines are large displacement. Yes the engineers did a good job with new direct injection but they won't meet future economy requirements.

    Ford on the other hand as been using turbocharging as a way of getting large power in a small package with good economy. Yes the ecoboost may not get the same mileage as curret Chevy, but face it it has gobs more low end torque than the 5.3L. It has a clear towing advantage. It will hold up its power in the high altitudes too. Going forward smaller turbo engines will have more power that 4.3L and produce better Mileage in the process. Ford has paid a price for the new technology the learning curve of the real world is never easy. GM has yet to do so.

  • Report this Comment On July 31, 2014, at 3:59 PM, ksahs17 wrote:

    The GM 8 speed trans is nothing Ford and GM are currently working together on a 9 speed trans. As for the media hype about Ford's aluminum truck I do not believe it will wear off anytime soon! There is a reason why no other manufacturer as downplayed the Aluminum truck, and that answer is because they know how good it really is. Ford has had aluminum trucks in the field since 2008 they know the dependability of this truck! Stick with the more durable gm truck that comment makes me laugh! When you talk trucks it's Ford and then everyone else Ford is trucks period! last year alone add the total number of GM, Chevy, and Dodge trucks and Ford sold 100,000 more! the GM V8 may get better gas mileage than the Ecoboost but has no where near the same HP or Torque! The Ecoboost is the best truck motor in its class! By the time GM comes up with anything to compete Ford will already have the next best truck out again!

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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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