Car Companies Are Seeing the Light

Automakers are experimenting with lightweight bodies and new engines to meet ambitious fuel efficiency standards.

PilotGirl/Flickr

When anonymous Ford executives told the Wall Street Journal this summer that the company would be switching out the steel body of its iconic F-150 pickup for an all-aluminum one beginning in 2014, many brand loyalists at the Ford Truck Enthusiasts forum were somewhat skeptical. Price was a concern, given that aluminum can cost as much as four times as much as steel. Others noted that aluminum is harder to repair, given that fewer body shops equipped to work with the metal: “(I)t’s not like you can just have a dent service repair it when you get a door ding or worse.” And then there was the toughness factor, with many complaining that aluminum just doesn’t evoke that same masculine/cowboy/fulfilled-by-manual-labor aesthetic: “I like my old steel pickup, I like the feeling of having heavy protection rather then [sic] feeling like a soda can on wheels.”

Ford would later call the executives’ prediction “premature.” Still, it prompted the question: Why would America’s most popular pickup risk alienating its base? Because as the Ford execs noted, an aluminum body would shave 700 pounds off of the truck’s total weight—and the less weight the engine has to move, the less gas it will have to use. “Weight reduction,” Ford’s global chief of product development told the Wall Street Journal, “is going to be a big part of our strategy.”

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