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Ford's move to aluminum in top selling vehicle puts pressure on competitors to find their own aluminum supply

Ford has made a serious move to reduce the weight of its incredibly popular F-150 truck through the use of aluminum. The 2015 F-150 uses so much aluminum that it has shed 700 pounds, and 95% of its body is now made from the lightweight material.
Not only does lighter weight mean better fuel economy, but it will also mean better performance and greater towing capacity as well.
“There’s a very simple reason for it [weight reduction]: CAFE,” said General Motors Co. spokesman Klaus-Peter Martin, referring to the U.S. government’s tough new fuel economy standards. “Every gram you can take out of the vehicle, it helps with fuel efficiency.”

2015 Ford F-150
With Ford making such a huge move with its top selling F-150, its competitors are now left rushing to sign their own agreements with aluminum suppliers. Since the F-Series trucks sell in such huge numbers, Ford’s appetite for aluminum in the industry will be unmatched (and it has already locked up much of the automotive-grade aluminum sheets available on the market for the F-150).
Tom Boney, head of North American automotive business for Novelis Inc., also noted that every automaker was forced to look at Ford's plans for the new F-150 and adjust their plans accordingly.
Aluminum maker Alcoa is also boosting production with new plants in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to prepare for the increased adoption of aluminum in the automotive world.
Competitors are going to be significantly behind Ford in moving their [volume] trucks and cars to aluminum. They will not only have to redesign their vehicles but will also need to secure an adequate supply of aluminum and invest in retooling factories to make the body panels from the aluminum sheets. 

Source: Detroit News

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RE: Hmmm
By DFranch on 2/12/2014 10:46:56 AM , Rating: 2
That will work for the body panels, but not the frame. Unless the frame is still made of steel?

RE: Hmmm
By Rukkian on 2/12/2014 10:58:08 AM , Rating: 2
At this point, the F-150 will use high strength steel in the frame. Aluminum is not really a good material for the frame.

Not saying that won't change in the future, but at least for trucks, I don't think we will see it any time soon.

As for the other materials, you may see some of that, but most formulations of carbon fiber, while good for weight reduction, don't do well in crash tests, as they tend to shatter instead of absorb all of the energy. Once you add in that it is expensive to make at this point, it will probably be awhile before we see many mass productions vehicles using carbon fiber en masse imo.

RE: Hmmm
By gookpwr on 2/12/2014 11:28:35 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah I wouldn't go all crazy thinking our pop/beer cans are going to have a higher deposit rate all of a sudden in EVERY state trying to scrounge as much aluminum back into the supply chain as possible.

Many other manufacturers could use hydro-form extruded aluminum for the frames and make the body panels out of dent resistant recyclable plastic like Saturn did.

That combination is probably more economical, better weight saving, and just as environmentally friendly if not more so.

RE: Hmmm
By TheEquatorialSky on 2/12/2014 11:41:12 AM , Rating: 2
High strength steel will still heavily be used. Most cars of the near-term future will likely be a composite of materials.

I think VW is being the most innovative/practical in developing new technology. The Lupo 3L is a great example of optimizing conventional construction methods. The conventional steel unibody was selectively strengthened with high strength steel while non-structural panels and some parts were made in aluminum and magnesium. The Up Lite! concept car will be the "three box sedan" of the future. It's built like the Lupo, but with greater use of high strength steel and carbon fiber composites.

Cars will get more advanced, but they'll also get more expensive. An increasingly lower percentage of the population in Western societies will drive as time goes on. It's called "progress."

RE: Hmmm
By Jeffk464 on 2/15/2014 5:26:08 PM , Rating: 2
Uh, cars are already a composite of materials. Nobody uses steel engine blocks or transmission housings anymore. Many cars use also use aluminum in suspension parts because dropping unsprung weight is key to ride quality. Aluminum wheels are pretty much standard on most models of cars and the interior is all light weight plastic. What they really need is a scratch resistant material to replace glass.

RE: Hmmm
By TheEquatorialSky on 2/12/2014 11:30:28 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, the F150 was probably chosen as the testbed because it is body-on-frame.

Aluminum works fine as a structural material, but it is difficult to fasten without destroying its strength. Lotus builds aluminum unibody frames by gluing extruded members together. Honda built its NSX and Insight using a structural monocoque frame composed of extruded aluminum members joined at cast aluminum interconnects. The non-structural body panels (fenders, door skins, rear quarter panel, etc.) were then attached through welding, which significantly reduces the yield strength.

Aluminum is also more expensive, more difficult to stamp and hard to streamline into conventional manufacturing lines. Carbon fiber composites won't become commonplace until better mass-production techniques become available. The current pre-preg / autoclave method its too labor intensive.

RE: Hmmm
By ianweck on 2/12/2014 12:09:27 PM , Rating: 2
You sound like you know what you're talking about. What business are you in?

RE: Hmmm
By Spuke on 2/12/2014 1:01:36 PM , Rating: 2
The current pre-preg / autoclave method its too labor intensive.
Isn't BMW using a different process for it's CF EV's?

RE: Hmmm
By TheEquatorialSky on 2/12/2014 2:49:44 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, the industry has been moving to resin transfer molding (RTM). A few high performance cars use carbon fiber in the roof panels (e.g. BMW M6, Chevy Z06) and manufacturers are replacing more panels/parts as they gain confidence.

Outside of super cars, the only production vehicle I know of to use significant amounts of carbon fiber in the frame is the VW XL1. It's really just an expensive technology demonstrator for energy efficiency. That is, a different type of super car...

RE: Hmmm
By Spuke on 2/12/2014 5:14:37 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah, the industry has been moving to resin transfer molding (RTM).
Thanks for the reply.

RE: Hmmm
By aliasfox on 2/12/2014 12:05:23 PM , Rating: 2
A lot of what you said about carbon fiber can be applied to aluminum as well. Light and strong, but doesn't hold up well to impacts and difficult (if not impossible) to repair.

Steel has very good fatigue characteristics - it can be flexed back and forth without losing much of its strength, which is good for frames, springs, collision damage, etc. Aluminum weakens significantly after it's been deformed, which means one probably doesn't want to ride in a pre-crashed aluminum chassis car.

For the forseeable future, I see aluminum and CF mostly as body pieces. I hope to see passenger compartments out of CF in the near future though. While CF shatters on impact, it takes a lot more to shatter it than it would to compress steel, thus making it safer for the passenger cage - everything else can deform right up until the passenger compartment, but that needs to stay intact.

RE: Hmmm
By FITCamaro on 2/12/2014 1:13:06 PM , Rating: 2
We'll get to enjoy higher insurance premiums as a result.

RE: Hmmm
By TheEquatorialSky on 2/12/2014 3:01:55 PM , Rating: 2
Good comment, but I wouldn't want to ride in a pre-crashed anything...

RE: Hmmm
By Jeffk464 on 2/15/2014 5:35:40 PM , Rating: 2
Didn't the Mclarin use a carbon front end to absorb the impact of collisions? They had a block that crumbled as it hit something absorbing the impact if I remember correctly.

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