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Why Ford Is Getting Body Shops Ready for the 2015 F-150

By John Rosevear – Mar 9, 2014 at 8:02AM

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It'll be the first mass-market pickup made out of aluminum. Fixing it won't be simple.

The all-new 2015 F-150 was unveiled in Detroit in January. Ford is now working to get body shops ready to repair the new truck's aluminum panels. Photo credit: Ford.

Talk to Ford (F 0.17%) executives about the all-new 2015 F-150 pickup, and you get the sense that they're determined to leave nothing to chance with the truck. 

That's no surprise. The F-150 (and its Super Duty siblings) isn't just Ford's best-seller, it's among the world's best-selling -- and most profitable -- vehicles. Ford sells lots of different vehicles in markets all over the world, but none is more important to the company's bottom line than this pickup. They have to get it right, and they know it.

Ford knew that the new F-150's aluminum body panels would raise a lot of questions. That's why it put the new truck through extensive durability testing, and why the automaker spent years getting its factories and suppliers ready to work with the new panels. It's one thing to build a low-volume sports car or luxury sedan out of aluminum, but another thing entirely to do it with America's best-selling truck.

Now comes word of another set of steps Ford is taking to get the world ready for its new F-150. As Fool contributor John Rosevear explains in this video, Ford has rolled out a new program to get America's body shops up to speed on working with the new trucks -- before the first 2015 F-150s hit the streets.

A transcript of the video is below.

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John Rosevear: Hey Fools, it's John Rosevear. So the world continues to ponder the implications of Ford's bold move to make the all-new F-150 pickup out of aluminum. The new F-150 was revealed in January, we covered it right here at The Motley Fool, in fact I was right there when it happened, and the big news was that the truck has aluminum body panels that save hundreds of pounds.

Now, that raised big questions about the truck's durability, as we all know that aluminum is softer than steel, but Ford emphasized that they'd chosen military-grade alloys for the new truck and had put it through extensive testing to insure that it was as durable as Ford truck buyers have come to expect. But the truth is, no matter how durable a truck is, accidents happen, and that means that body shops are going to have to figure out how to repair these things.

Now here's an interesting behind the scenes kind of thing that we don't normally hear about. It turns out that Ford is on the case here, they've created something called the Ford National Body Shop Network, this is a new thing, it's Ford's effort to build a network of body shops that can deal with large structural repairs on these new trucks. Ford is helping them get the right equipment and training, and in exchange Ford will see that they get insurance company repair referrals when one of these new F-150s needs major work after an accident.

Some of these shops are affiliated with Ford dealers, and some are independent. These tend to be big shops, and Ford dealers who are seriously in the body shop business, it won't be a big deal to just repair or replace a dinged fender on one of these trucks, but the bigger structural repairs can be more complicated. That's because these aluminum panels are bonded, it's high-tech glue, it needs some special training and equipment to work with, and there are other issues, like that aluminum and steel corrode when they touch, so you need to keep the aluminum dust off of exposed steel parts.

But trade publication Automotive News reported this week that the costs for dealers and shops to get ramped up on this stuff to Ford's satisfaction isn't going to be cheap. They quoted one Michigan Ford dealer as saying that was going to cost him between $50,000 and $100,000 to get set up to handle the new trucks. He said he probably wouldn't recoup the investment for five to seven years, but he figured he had to do it, it's going to be necessary to keep handling this business. 

Now, Ford says it won't cost quite that much to set up a single repair bay, to handle one truck at a time, more like $30,000-$50,000. And they are making a big push to make sure these shops do it right, because it's in Ford's best interest to have a big network of shops all set to handle these new trucks before they start rolling out later this year. But everybody agrees that the bigger shops will have to spend more.

But let me tell you this: they're going to do it. They're going to do it because the current Ford F-Series is the best-selling pickup in America and has been for years and years, and chances are really good that this new aluminum truck will continue Ford's leadership in this segment, and Ford sells anywhere from 50,000-80,000 pickups every single month, so there are going to be an awful lot of these aluminum trucks out there in a few years, and any major body shop is going to want to be ready for them, especially if they're affiliated with a Ford dealer.

And I can also tell you this: it's a safe bet that there are going to be a lot more aluminum-bodied Fords in the future, I won't be surprised if their next-generation cars and SUVs start to migrate to aluminum body panels. Ford has spent years as a company gearing up with this technology and they look to be ready to roll it out in a big way. So long story short, Ford is working now to make sure that when your 2015 Ford F-150 gets in a fender bender, there will be a shop near you that can take care of it. It's all part of making Ford's customers comfortable with these new trucks. Thanks for watching, and Fool on.

John Rosevear owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. We Fools may not 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.

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