Around and around and around we go -- who's right? Nobody knows.
That pretty much sums up the debate between those who believe Ford Motor Company's (NYSE:F) 2015 aluminum-bodied F-150 will end up costing consumers extra funds out of their wallets for repairs, and those who don't. Ford's crosstown rival General Motors has already unleashed a slew of commercials knocking the F-150 for more expensive repairs and the fact that aluminum products are perceived as less durable than their steel counterparts. Months ago, Edmunds.com also released a report after they took a sledgehammer to the truck, sent it off for repairs, and then received a staggeringly expensive bill.
On top of all that, just last week, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS, reported that after a crash test, it cost 26% more to repair the new aluminum-bodied F-150 than it did for its steel-bodied predecessor. Despite all of these unfavorable arguments for the aluminum-bodied F-150, there's a flip side.
On the other hand
Despite these unfavorable results, insurance companies have yet to raise the insurance rates of the 2015 F-150.
"Rates for the aluminum version of the new F-150 won't change unless enough actual claims data indicates a need for an adjustment," a State Farm Insurance spokeswoman told Automotive News.
Even more recently, there is evidence suggesting the 2015 F-150 might actually cost consumers less in repair bills.
Assured Performance, an independent body shop certification company that works with leading auto manufacturers, provided some interesting statistics at the end of July. It found the average cost of repairing the 2015 F-150 within the certified Ford national body shop program to be $869.04 less than that for the steel-bodied 2014 F-150. Here's how the statistics broke down:
2015 aluminum-bodied F-150:
337 repairs, average repair: $1,476.93
2014 steel-bodied F-150:
1,238 repairs, average repair: $2,345.97
While there will be endless debate about whether or not the aluminum-bodied F-150 will cost consumers more for repairs, the truth is, if the repairs are more expensive currently, it will only get cheaper for consumers as time goes on. That's because many times, more of a vehicle's repair expense comes from the labor cost rather than the parts used for repair. Because fewer shops work with aluminum-based vehicle repairs, there will be more up-front expenses for specialty tools and new processes. That expense will continue to decline as more vehicles are produced with aluminum body panels and the up-front costs are absorbed over the years -- plus, Ford will likely have a program in place to help dealerships offset part of the initial investment so increased costs aren't then passed down to consumers' repair bills. And yes, despite General Motors slandering Ford's aluminum bodied F-150, Detroit's largest automaker is already planning its own aluminum-bodied truck to hit the streets by 2020, which will mean more repair shops will be tooling up for these types of repairs.
Furthermore, we're not giving Ford enough credit as the lone Detroit automaker to make it through the Great Recession on its own dime -- the company knows what it's doing. That point was exemplified when Eric Lyman, vice president of industry insights at TrueCar, spoke to Automotive News on the topic:
Ford had to have done their due diligence. This is the goose that lays the golden egg, their bread-and-butter vehicle, the key to their profitability. I would expect that they were not foolish to bring this vehicle to market without fully understanding what those repair costs would be and how that would affect residual values and ownership costs.
I'd also like to emphasize that as Ford's production of the 2015 F-150 has finally hit full speed, sales are moving higher. Just last month, sales of the F-Series were up 5% overall, and retail sales -- those from dealerships to consumers rather than Ford to dealerships -- were up 13%. Furthermore, each F-Series truck being driven off the lot by consumers had a price tag $3,200 higher in July than it did a year ago -- record-high average transaction prices for the F-150.
It seems the consumer has spoken, and it appears to me that despite all the noise about the F-150's potential for higher repair bills, people still want America's best-selling truck.