There’s been a lot of noise made and a lot of dust kicked up about Ford’s (NYSE:F) high-profile decision to swap out the conventional steel for aluminum in its new F-150 pickup, which in turn should cut out about 700 pounds off of the vehicle in the right trim, leading to better handling, performance, and fuel economy. While that sounds like a winning formula from an engineering perspective (which Ford is betting that it is), there are some repercussions associated with the decision that Ford has to deal with — and it starts in its own dealership shops.
As it turns out, aluminum is a very different material in comparison to steel — from a fabricating and repair point of view. Aluminum requires different tools and processes than steel, and since there is a minimal amount of aluminum being used in auto manufacturing currently, Ford’s network of dealers are not equipped or trained to work on aluminum components. What’s more, the needed tools and training is estimated to cost $20,000 to $50,000 to outfit a dealer the needed supplies.
Nonetheless, Ford is confident that the F-150′s new body will be easier and cheaper to repair than the outgoing model, thus helping keep customer’s insurance premiums in check after concerns were raised that the unique material would boost insurance rates on the vehicle. The new truck’s body is reportedly 95 percent made of a military grade aluminum alloy that is used in Humvees, Reuters notes.
Further, Ford will be giving a financial hand to dealers to help them deck out their shops with aluminum-specific work stations. The company will be offering a 20 percent discount on equipment, which could be as much as $10,000 off the expenses of the new tools; dealers have until October 31st to take advantage of the offer, as the truck is slated to go on sale in the fourth-quarter.
In addition to being made of new materials, the 2015 F-150 is built in a modular fashion that should allow repair shops to cut hours off of repair times. Jim Farley, Ford’s global marketing chief, explained to Reuters that the biggest changes are illustrated by the front structure that holds the fender; instead of being welded on, it can be simply taken off the truck, cutting six to seven hours from average repair time on that part, Reuters reported.
“You’ll see the dramatic changes we made that will really help save a lot of labor costs in the repairability of the vehicle,” Farley told the publication. The truck’s B pillar can now be replaced entirely, without causing disturbances to the roof. The A pillar and the roof rails can also be “sectioned off” so technicians can make repairs to those parts alone, Reuters said.