How Ford Slimmed Down the F-150 for the Future

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For all the power and intensity Ford (NYSE:F) F-Series trucks represent, the automaker has acknowledged the call of a lighter, more efficient future. According to a Bloomberg report, the automaker has pulled off the F-150 weight drop and come close to realizing its goals of slimming down the pickup by some 700 pounds, mainly through the use of aluminum. It will likely lead to a revolution among Detroit automakers producing the country’s best-selling vehicles.

Considering F-Series trucks have led the U.S. auto industry in sales for 32 straight years, skeptics might wonder why Ford would mess with such a good thing. (In 2013, Ford F-Series trucks beat the second-place challenger by 283,000 vehicles.) But the automaker has undertaken ambitious goals under CEO Alan Mulally, and the total revamp of the company’s signature truck may represent the last great piece of the chief executive’s legacy.

Bloomberg reports the goal of cutting the F-150′s weight by 750 pounds is nearly reached in the truck Ford will display at Detroit’s auto show in mid-January. The 2015 Ford F-150 may contain as much as 20 percent aluminum in order to achieve the low weight, auto consultants told Bloomberg,  while a 2.7-liter EcoBoost engine will make the truck even lighter. Ford is acknowledging the pressure of increased fuel efficiency standards in the slim down.

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Automakers will have to push fleet efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon within the next decade. With some F-Series models maxing out below 20 miles per gallon, Ford will be unable to meet those lofty goals without a total overhaul of its industry-leading pickups. To narrow the gap, sources told Bloomberg that some models of the new F-150 will be able to get 30 miles per gallon on the highway.

Indeed, that achievement would amount to a revolution in the pickup industry, which accounted for three of the top five vehicles in U.S. sales for 2013. Ford’s imposing sales total of 763,402 F-Series trucks was more than the entire Hyundai (HYMLF.PK) brand — or more than all BMW (BMAXY.PK), Cadillac (NYSE:GM), and Buick sales combined.

Changing gears and rebooting Ford plants to handle the new aluminum parts will slow production of the F-150 and require a significant investment. However, bold moves of this nature will be necessary to deliver a redesigned pickup worthy of 2015 and beyond. Once investor jitters over this shift in culture settle, Ford appears poised to steer its fleet toward a bright future.

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