There are beer cans, and then there are Humvees. Ford Motor Co. will take pains to show its new, aluminum F-150 pickup has more in common with combat vehicles.
Ford will introduce an aluminum F-series — its anticipated and high-stakes redesign of the top-selling pickup in history — at next month’s Detroit auto show, according to people familiar with Ford’s plans.
The automaker has asked Alcoa Inc., which makes aluminum blast shields for battlefield-bound vehicles, to lend some of its military-grade metal for the automaker’s display, said one of those people, who asked not to be identified because the plans are secret.
Ford’s sales job will be considerable: The company is eager to demonstrate the toughness of aluminum, which is lighter than steel, to pickup buyers who’ve made F-150 the bedrock of its business.
Any snafus would weigh on earnings that Ford already is projecting will decline next year and add to the challenges facing Mark Fields, likely the company’s next chief executive officer.
At last year’s Detroit show, he pledged that Ford would take as much as 750 pounds out of its next- generation trucks to meet tightening fuel-economy regulations.
“This is already the most significant debut at the auto show,” said Joe Langley, a production analyst for researcher IHS Automotive. “Everybody’s going to be dissecting that thing for a long time, especially since Ford will be taking such a big gamble.”
The new F-150 represents a profound reimagining of a cornerstone for Ford and American auto making since the company began building F-series trucks in the late 1940s.
By January, the pickup line will become America’s best-selling truck for 37 years and its best-selling vehicle, period, for 32.
The rollout isn’t expected to be easy. Manufacturing experts and steel-industry advocates say that moving to aluminum will require fundamental changes to how Ford truck bodies make their way down the assembly line.
Ford is adding thousands of salaried workers including technical engineers to support new-product introductions and assigned Fields, 52, the task of honing its processes after recent bungled rollouts have cost the company lost sales and expensive recalls.
The complicated switch to aluminum from steel in the F-150’s body contributes to IHS Automotives estimate that Ford will need to take about six weeks of downtime at each of its truck plants to retool and swap out robots and machinery.