By Amos Kwon
on 1.15.14

The Ford F-150′s design is new for 2015, but its overall shape is largely unchanged. A big silver 18-wheeler-style grille leads the face, something expected these days, while the interesting C-shaped headlamps dress things up a bit. As most truck and SUV interiors have gone all upscale in the past few years, departing from the acres of gray plastic and less-than-stellar seats, the F-150′s comfy cabin comes as no surprise. But the devilishly good detail is more than skin deep. In fact, it sits just below the no doubt soon-to-be scuffed paint job. You see, Ford has made its most daring move in decades by building their flagship truck’s body out of aluminum instead of tried-and-true steel. It’s move that’s both expected because of the environmental trend and pioneering due to the vehicle in which Ford has chosen to make the paradigm shift.

Use of aluminum for body panels isn’t something new in the automotive industry, but this is the first time the material has been used on a big production pickup truck. A number of manufacturers use aluminum to save weight and increase rigidity, but all-aluminum bodied cars are expensive to produce and are typically reserved for higher-end cars like the Aston Martin DB9 and the Audi A8.

The F-150′s whole weight savings amounts to more than 700 pounds. That’s half a cow.

So what does Ford do? They don’t build the new, high-profile Mustang out of aluminum, but instead make the bold move on their bread-and-butter vehicle. The F-150 isn’t just Ford’s best-selling vehicle: it’s been the best-selling vehicle in the world for 32 years. Building a rough-and-tumble, lumber-hauling, construction-site icon out of aluminum is like making Arnold Schwarzengger do HIIT workouts, drop 50 pounds and don a skinny suit for his next movie.

If you think Ford just happened upon this idea, you’re naive. Way back in 1993, when you were very possibly still soiling your diapers, they built a handful of Mercury Sables out of aluminum. Purely done as an experiment in strength, lightness and fuel economy, the project proved that extensive use of aluminum was a viable option. But none of the Sables were sold to the public 20 years ago. And today, Ford isn’t just doing small portions of the F-150 in aluminum. Virtually every exterior surface is made of the stuff, including the doors, side body panels, hood, truck bed, tailgate and even the inside of the engine compartment. Ford has also infused interior components like engine and suspension parts with aluminum — and the whole weight savings amounts to more than 700 pounds. That’s half a cow.

Ford’s roll of the die is all in the name of fuel economy.

Aluminum is also harder to work with because it’s less malleable than steel, making it more expensive for the manufacturer. Ford can’t just use the same plant equipment and change the materials. They had to re-engineer and re-tool everything for their biggest seller, their highest margin vehicle; they’ve spent billions to do so. It’s a roll of the die that cannot be overstated. And that roll is all in the name of fuel economy.

When aluminum showed up in exotics, it certainly wasn’t for the sake fuel economy but for lightness and strength lending to speed, acceleration and handling. For the the new F-150, the major payoff is a projected class-leading mpg of near 30 highway. That’s huge for a truck. Heck, that’s even impressive for a large sedan, making the F-150 would be the Alpha Male of big pickups in gas mileage by a healthy margin. The next best pickup will trail by nearly 5 mpg. Plus, aluminum makes the F-150 stronger, more dent- and corrosion-resistant and more durable than its older steel brothers. The decreased curb weight also allows Ford to use a 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 that has the power of a small block V8. Whatever ridicule comes the 2015 F-150′s way by dirt and concrete cowboys is wholly unwarranted.

We applaud this earth-shattering development by Ford. It’s the kind of thinking that causes positive ripples in the automotive pool. They didn’t stick a hybrid powertrain in the F-150, and they certainly didn’t do something so stupid as to make an all-electric version. Instead they executed a game-changing move, and the results are pleasing to just about everyone — the earth-minders, as well as the earth-movers, and likely Ford, themselves.

ADVENTURE IS ONE CLICK AWAY

Subscribe to GP for a daily dose of the best in gear, adventure, design, tech and culture. 5pm sharp.

FILED UNDER