2015 Ford F-150
Making a large, heavy vehicle like a pickup truck economical isn't the easiest of tasks.
You can drop in a more efficient engine, of course. But it'll struggle against poor aerodynamics and ample weight.
Ford has done both the first and the third of these, the latter handled by a new aluminum structure. And it's really caught the attention of other automakers.
Aluminum cars are nothing new in the auto industry, even if they aren't widely used.
It was long the preserve of limited-run sports cars, before both Honda and Audi experimented with mass-produced aluminum cars in the 1990s. From there it was adopted by Ferrari, Jaguar, Land Rover and more.
Of particular interest was its use in two late 20th-century fuel-efficient stars, appropriately built by pioneers Honda and Audi--the original Insight hybrid, and the Audi A2 subcompact. Each weighed considerably under a metric ton--getting rarer, at the time--and each is now considered way ahead of its time.
Using aluminum in pickup trucks is ahead of its time too, though perhaps something automakers should have considered a fair while back to combat stagnant economy ratings.
Now Ford has jumped on the light-weight bandwagon, reports The Detroit News, the industry is rushing to sign deals with aluminum suppliers.
Unfortunately for many of those automakers, early bird Ford has very much caught the worm--its high-selling F-150 has tied up much of the supply of automotive-grade aluminum.
Suppliers are ramping up production to cope with the new levels of demand, and should be ready to meet the market before aluminum bodies become a fully-fledged trend.
That could take as long as 30 months, according to Tom Boney at global supplier Novelis Inc--the timeframe for an automaker to redesign vehicles and install new tooling to work with the metal.
By 2025, demand for the metal could debut--handily helping automakers reach the government's 54.5 mpg fuel efficiency standards.
Both GM and Chrysler are said to be considering wider use of aluminum in their vehicles. Each already does, to an extent: The chassis of the Chevy Corvette, for example or the hood of the RAM 1500 pickup.
But wider use will be vital to reducing vehicle weight--and as Ford has shown with the F-150, it's an effective way of extracting useful extra miles from every gallon of gas. Just how economical can pickups and SUVs be made?