The 2015 Ford F-150 full-size pickup truck won't be unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show until tomorrow morning, but some details of its innovations to boost gas mileage have emerged already.
Ford apparently gave exclusive details to The New York Times, which reports that the new truck will use an aluminum body and pickup bed, cutting 450 pounds or more from their weight.
The aluminum body components will ride on a traditional steel ladder frame, though its weight too is reduced by approximately 80 pounds through more use of high-strength steel.
2014 Ford F-150 2WD SuperCrew 145
Cutting 750 pounds
The lightest all-steel F-150 this year has a curb weight of more than 5,000 pounds; according to the article, Ford engineers feel they can cut about 15 percent from that total, or roughly 750 pounds.
With a 10-percent cut in weight translating to a boost in fuel efficiency of 6 to 7 percent, according to a widely used rule of thumb, that reduction could take Ford's new pickups from their current 18-mpg best combined rating to 20 mpg and above.
Add to that the use of a smaller engine, in this case a 2.7-liter turbocharged EcoBoost V-6, and the gas mileage will rise again.
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Ford hopes to achieve a highway fuel-economy rating of "close to" 30 mpg, which would be the highest of any gasoline-engined full-size pickup to date.
That rating, in fact, could equal or better the highway mileage of 28 mpg obtained by a 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, the only light-duty pickup sold with a diesel engine this year, in a recent road test.
Building the body and bed out of aluminum in a full-sized pickup represents a huge risk for Ford, one that is likely costing it $1 billion or more in new tooling.
Total use of aluminum in the new 2015 F-150, beyond the body and bed alone, could total much as 1,000 pounds of the metal.
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While engine and transmission components and smaller structural parts have long been made of aluminum, only a handful of passenger vehicles have fully aluminum structures.
Those include the Audi A8, Jaguar XJ, Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, and the Tesla Model S--all of them at prices above $50,000.
2014 Ford Expedition
SUVs to follow
But Ford has ambitious plans over the next three years to use aluminum not only for the F-150 line, but also the Heavy Duty F-Series trucks--and also the sport-utility vehicles derived from the F-150, the Ford Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator.
All three vehicles share some underpinnings, designs, and manufacturing processes.
And given the importance of the F-150 to Ford--it's the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. and contributes an outsize portion of Ford's profits--it's a bold gamble that will pay off only as fuel-economy standards continue to tighten over the course of the truck's life.
It will likely run from the 2015 model year through 2020 or thereabouts, only five years from the year when corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) levels are slated to reach 54.5 mpg (which translates to about 42 mpg on the EPA window sticker).