Ford’s F-150 pickups go ‘lite’: good news for Alcoa? «

    Ford’s F-150 pickups go ‘lite’: good news for Alcoa?

    It’s a new year. Time to lose weight. How about shedding 700 pounds?

    That’s what Ford Motor Co. /quotes/zigman/264304/delayed /quotes/nls/f F has done with its 2015 F-150 pickup truck, which made its public debut Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

    While the company clearly embraces the makeover, the question is whether the public will.

    So how did Ford knock down the weight equivalent of two really big linebackers? Simple. The new pickup’s sheet metal isn’t rolled steel. It’s rolled aluminum — engine compartment, hood, doors, bed, even the tailgate.

    Other components have also been lightened. But the big difference is getting down the weight of the body panels, which means other systems in the vehicle can also be slimmed down. Brakes, for example, can be downsized since it takes less power to stop a lighter vehicle.

    At the same time, Joseph Hinrichs, Ford president of the Americas, tells MarketWatch they are keeping some of the “old” F-series drive-train components, which translates to better performance because they’re pushing fewer pounds down the road.

    Hinrichs makes clear this was just the beginning of a much larger a strategic redesign. Ford aims eventually to drop 250 to 750 pounds from all of its new vehicle platforms. Doing it first on the F-series pickups is key because it targets a loyal customer base. Through 2013, Ford F-series trucks have been the top-selling vehicle in the United States for 37 consecutive years. If, as Ford expects, the extensive use of aluminum doesn’t dent its “Built Ford Tough” image, swaying perceptions among the rest of the public should be easy.

    As for the skeptics, Ford can point to plenty of advantages, especially enhanced mileage. Since most F-150s are driven commercially, better fuel economy is a strong selling point. And lest anyone confuse heavy-gauge aluminum body panels with that flimsy, shiny stuff we wrap around our burritos, all Ford has to do is point under the hood or into the sky. If we accept using aluminum in high-compression engines or to fly us safely at 40,000 feet, shouldn’t it be good enough for everyday road use? Ford is betting the public will figure out that one without much persuasion.

    Meanwhile, no one could be more delighted about Ford’s bold conversion than Alcoa /quotes/zigman/246295/delayed /quotes/nls/aa AA , United Co. Rusal Plc, /quotes/zigman/48089/realtime HK:486 /quotes/zigman/582859/realtime FR:RUSAL , Rio Tinto /quotes/zigman/182541/delayed /quotes/nls/rio RIO /quotes/zigman/155899/realtime UK:RIO /quotes/zigman/176317/realtime AU:RIO , Norsk Hydro /quotes/zigman/175465/realtime NO:NHY /quotes/zigman/175489/delayed /quotes/nls/nhydy NHYDY /quotes/zigman/175451/delayed /quotes/nls/nhykf NHYKF and other producers desperate for a game-changer powerful enough to pull aluminum prices out of a three-year slump. And this should help.