The aluminum-based F-150 landed to strong reviews from the automotive press, but what really matters is how the public receives it. What’s the opinion so far? Based on both sales data and anecdotal vendor evidence, people are quite pleased with what aluminum can do. From Louisville Business First:
The company said retail sales of its F-Series pickup trucks were up 7 percent. It said the F-150, which features a standard new aluminum body this model year, was the fastest-turning vehicle on dealer lots.
To get some perspective on this, I had a conversation with Greg Howell, sales consultant at Carriage Ford in Clarksville. He said customers he’s spoke to about the aluminum truck are both knowledgeable and excited about them.
Many Carriage customers have owned Fords previously and are familiar with the changes to the body. He said if they do have questions, it’s usually about body work — as some are wondering whether getting an aluminum body will increase the cost of repairs. Ford has done a pretty good job with explaining to customers that the aluminum is more dent resistant, he said. He also said repairs do not cost more because Ford has sent plenty of military grade aluminum to dealerships and provided training on working with it.
Of course, sales data really only matters over the long haul but you’d definitely rather start strong to build buzz and word of mouth. It looks like the F-150 is doing its part there, and we’ll know more in a few months when Ford evaluates the first half of the fiscal year.
European automakers must be impressed with how durable the aluminum-based Ford F-150 is doing. Rolls-Royce, the legendary British luxury car company, is designing a new vehicle capable of handling any terrain. While they haven’t explicitly used the term SUV, you can kind of see where this is going. Most importantly, Rolls-Royce has already declared that it will have an aluminum body. From MLive.com:
Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is building the first SUV in the British luxury automotive company’s 111-year history, though the company is calling the forthcoming vehicle about everything but an SUV.
Company Chairman Peter Schwarzenbauer and CEO Torsten Mueller-Ortvoes said in an open letter Wednesday that the new model will be “a high-bodied car, with an all-new aluminium architecture” and one that “offers the luxury of a Rolls-Royce in a vehicle that can cross any terrain.”
It is not immediately clear when or where the company, a division of BMW Group, plans to give the public a first look at the yet-to-be-named off-roader. But the announcement that it plans to move forward with the new car comes shortly after rival luxury automaker Bentley announced a name for an SUV it too is building: the Bentley Bentayga.
Between the F-150 and Rolls-Royce’s not-quite-SUV vehicle, it’s clear that aluminum can handle even the most rugged of circumstances. And we’re pretty sure that Rolls-Royce won’t have to use buzzwords like Ford’s “military-grade aluminum” to sell this car.
Titanium is often regarded in the manufacturing industry for its strength and weight. However, cost is always an issue when it comes to titanium, so material scientists looked to aluminum for a comparable alternative. Their solution? An iron-aluminum alloy capable of performing just as well as titanium. The only difference is that this new alloy comes at just 10% of titanium’s cost. From Gizmodo:
A team from Pohang University of Science and Technology, in South Korea have manipulated the structure of an iron-aluminum alloy to create a new kind of material that could find application in everything from bicycles to airplanes.
Steel is renowned for its strength and low price, but is very heavy. To make use of it in scenarios that demand light weight—without resorting to buying titanium—material scientists often alloy it with aluminum, which is light and also mercifully cheap. The mixture of aluminum and steel also usually includes a sprinkling of manganese to make it less brittle, but even then, the material is still usually too brittle for use in vehicles.
Now, the team from South Korea has added nickel to the mixture. The addition of this metal brings about a reaction with some of the contained aluminum, forming what are known as B2 crystals. Sitting both within the grains of steel in the alloy and at their boundaries too, the crystals—just a few nanometres in size—resist shear forces in the material. Because, ultimately, all materials fail by shear, where one layer of atoms slides across the other, taking microscopic cracks with it, increasing the resistance to shear forces increases the strength and stops the material failing by cracking.
Enough, in fact, to provide the new alloy with the same strength as titanium. The mix of steel and aluminium also provides a density similarly to that of the more expensive metal, too. The raw materials and (proposed) processing techniques also mean that the material could, when made at scale, cost just a tenth of what titanium does, too.
This new material is beginning to see mass production. If its early tests hold up, it could be one of the biggest manufacturing revolutions the metal industry has seen. Stay tuned on this one…
Tesla pushed the use of aluminum in cars forward with its groundbreaking (and award-winning) Model-S. However, it still used traditional lithium-ion technology to power its batteries. Aluminum may pave the way for a new advancement in electric car technology, but this time it’s in the area of power, not structure. Can a mix of aluminum and water become the battery of the near-future? From Extreme Tech:
On the one hand, breakthroughs in Li-ion designs and construction are responsible for the Tesla Model S, new installations, green energy research, and the modern smartphone. On the other hand, lithium-ion limitations are the reason why most EVs have a range of 40-60 miles, the Model S costs upwards of $80,000, and why your smartphone can’t last all day on a single charge. For all its promise and capability, lithium-ion has limited long-term utility — which is why a new announcement from Fuji Pigment is so interesting. The company is claiming that its new aluminum-air batteries can run for up to two weeks and be refilled with normal water.
That said, there are question, too. The hydrated aluminum oxide solution produced during the battery’s normal operation would need to be recycled in some fashion, it’s not clear that fresh water is as effective an aqueous solution as saltwater (meaning there might be specific need for one particular kind of solution). The final price is also unknown, though previous estimations had put the cost of an Al-air system at roughly $1.1 per kg of aluminum anode. This was not given in precise terms relative to the cost of gasoline (and the weight of the aluminum anode in these batteries is unknown), but the team that performed that analysis noted that proper recycling would put Al-air in the same cost range as conventional internal combustion engines.
Fuji Pigment has stated that it intends to commercialize this technology as early as this year, which means we could see test demonstrations and proof of concepts by 2016. Whether auto manufacturers will jump for the technology remains to be seen — car companies tend to be conservative and Tesla has already thrown its weight behind the further use of lithium-ion technology.
For a deeper look at just how this battery works on a technical level, head over to Extreme Tech and read the full article.
It’s already well known that the Ford F-150’s body switched from steel to aluminum, but now further details are coming out regarding the actual manufacturing process. It turns out that Ford’s decided on a zero-waste system when it comes to aluminum thanks to the metal’s recycling capabilities. Not only does this result in a cost savings for the company, it helps minimize the amount of resources used and wasted during manufacturing. From the Wall Street Journal:
The 2015 F-150, perhaps the most important vehicle to hit Ford dealerships in decades, goes on sale this month. By the time a new truck exits the factory and heads for the showroom, it will have left behind $300 worth of scrap aluminum on the plant floor.
That scrap is collected, cleaned, and sent back to the aluminum plant on the same trucks that delivered it fresh—creating what Chief Executive Mark Fields calls a “closed loop” that helps offset the expense of building its best-selling vehicle with a material that is far pricier than steel.
“Every single scrap of aluminum is reused,” Mr. Fields said in an interview. “The more you can reuse or recycle, it makes it a more compelling business case.”
Every day, about 50 semi tractor-trailers drive out of Ford’s F-150 plant in Dearborn, Mich., with thousands of pounds of shredded aluminum, scrap that was stamped out of six-foot-wide aluminum rolls used to make F-150 body panels. Only 60% to 65% of a roll is actually used in the stamping process because many body panels have big holes, such as windows.
Because aluminum can be recycled almost endlessly without degradation, recycling has long played a major role in the production of everything from beer cans to jumbo jets. The twist is that Ford installed systems to separate the six different aluminum alloys it uses and return them to mills in Iowa or New York, to be turned back into aluminum sheet for delivery to its Dearborn stamping plant.
For more on the technology behind Ford’s recycling process, be sure to check out the full WSJ article.
It’s time to put all of the testing and speculation aside. Ford’s aluminum pride and joy, the 2015 F-150, has finally gone into full production, and the first vehicle off the assembly line got a rousing ovation at the Dearborn, Michigan facility. From the Detroit News:
Shortly before 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, Dearborn Truck plant manager Brad Huff and UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles drove the first 2015 F-150 pickup — painted cherry red — off the assembly line and into history.
Ford Motor Co.’s newest truck, made with an aluminum body and bed that saves up to 700 pounds, marks a significant milestone for the Dearborn automaker and is a potential game-changer for the industry. The launch completes years of research and development after Ford overhauled nearly every aspect of the building process from exterior painting to interior design.
The lightweight material is expected to increase gas mileage 5 percent to 20 percent, but is more costly to make and repair — a big gamble for Ford’s best-selling vehicle. The launch also marks a rebirth for the Dearborn Truck Plant, centerpiece of the venerable Rouge Center that was nearly shuttered before finding new life to build the truck. The plant underwent a multi-million dollar renovation this year.
“We’re here today to make history,” executive chairman Bill Ford said as hundreds of workers cheered. “The Rouge has always been at the heart of Ford to me and my family.”
Now that production is in full force, showrooms are expecting to get their inventory sometime within the next month. The early word in reviews and press has been positive, but the ultimate vote comes down to the consumer. With its increased gas mileage and signature durability, we’re guessing it will be a winner.
Ford knows that there are skeptics out there regarding the aluminum-built F-150 despite good numbers and strong buzz. To help get dealers ready for the big launch, the company is bringing the F-150 around the country to prepare dealers for questions and concerns from a curious public. From Fox Business:
Ford Motor Co. (F) is putting its new aluminum-bodied F-150 to the test.
FOX Business got an exclusive look at a demonstration event featuring the 2015 F-150, which is expected to go on sale later this year. Ford is visiting 26 cities to introduce the pickup truck to sales personnel.
The aluminum truck has been the talk of the auto industry since it was introduced at the Detroit auto show in January. Few production cars are made almost entirely of the lighter metal. The F-150 will be the first truck to use an aluminum body.
By switching from steel, Ford cut 700 pounds from the nation’s best-selling pickup. While the company has yet to release fuel economy estimates, analysts widely expect the 2015 F-150 to get better gas mileage than previous versions.
At the demonstration in Romeo, Mich., Ford pitted its F-150 against the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra from General Motors (GM), plus the Ram 1500 from Chrysler Group.
“We want our sales consultants to have confidence that this new truck is just as capable,” Eric Peterson, Ford’s F-150 marketing manager, told FBN’s Jeff Flock. “It’s got great performance and great capability just like the current truck. That’s what they get to experience firsthand.”
The F-150 is set for public launch later this year. Expect to see official numbers regarding MPG shortly before the launch.