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Ford looks to lighten its pickup trucks

The body of a Ford F-150 Raptor truck is lifted off its chassis during the 2012 North American International Auto Show January 10, 2012 in Detroit, Mich. Ford reportedly plans to swap aluminum for much of the steel in its F-150 pickup truck. Will the gamble for fuel efficiency fly with customers?

Tess Vigeland: How much can a company futz with its top money-maker before it alienates loyal customers? That's the question facing Ford as it scrambles to improve fuel efficiency. The Wall Street Journal reported today that Ford will use mainly aluminum -- instead of steel -- on its best-selling F-150 pickup truck starting in 2014.

Marketplace's Mark Garrison reports on whether that might shift the definition of "Ford Tough."


Mark Garrison: "Built Ford Tough" is the truck's slogan. The logo looks like it's cut from gleaming steel. And just to make sure you get the message, it does this in commercials:

 

The logo slams into a block of stone, or something, and crushes it. Aluminum is strong enough for fighter jets. But it doesn't sound tough. It reminds you of the Sprite can you can squish under your feet.

Kevin Kasch of Oregon says he wouldn't trade his current Ford truck for one with an aluminum frame.

Kevin Kasch: I think it'd be more flimsy, it'd take away from what a pickup truck is supposed to be. It's a tool. You don't want to buy a flimsy tool.

Jay Baron runs the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. He doesn't think aluminum will be a tougher sell.

Jay Baron: I don't think there will be any marketing challenge. In fact, I think it'll be an asset to indicate that it's got an aluminum structure. For the most part, you can't tell steel versus aluminum unless you put a magnet to it.

David Champion evaluates trucks for Consumer Reports and spoke to me from their testing center in Connecticut. He says there's already lots of aluminum in cars and more on the way because carmakers are under pressure to meet tighter fuel-economy standards.

David Champion: I see many more cars going to greater use of aluminum in their body frames, etc., just to try to reduce the mass to improve fuel economy.

Ford won't confirm how much aluminum will go into the upcoming truck. But if it's a lot, it'll be a test for the whole industry as to just how tough aluminum can be.

In New York, I'm Mark Garrison for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.

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