Could Ford's aluminum F-150 reshape truck market?

Ford F-150 trucks are seen on the sales lot at AutoNation Ford Miami in North Miami, Florida.

Ford is thinking about making some changes to its biggest moneymaker: F-Series pickup trucks. Ford plans to unveil a truck made out of aluminum, not steel, Bloomberg reports.

According to Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst with Edmunds.com, transitioning to aluminum has its challenges.

“Attaching it, you can’t just use normal welds, like you do on steel,” she explains. “Aluminum has some issues around the noise that you hear; so, you have to add deadening materials.”

That means there would have to be changes to the assembly line. Ford would do this, Krebs says, because aluminum is a lot lighter than steel, and that would make it easier to hit new fuel standards that are scheduled to take effect in 2016.

“I think this is a threat for steel makers,” says Andrew Lane, an equity analyst with Morningstar who covers metals companies. “Particularly those that are highly leveraged to the automotive markets.”

But steelmakers know they have the edge on price.

“There is a significant cost difference between steel and aluminum,” says Dave Sullivan, an analyst with AutoPacific.

Sullivan says using aluminum would affect Ford’s profit margins on the F-Series, but steelmakers know any transition like this would take time. Ford makes hundreds of thousands of F-Series trucks every year, and these changes couldn’t happen quickly.

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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