Trucks Turning To Aluminum Instead Of Steel

Posted: Apr 12 2017, 1:53pm CDT | by , Updated: Apr 12 2017, 1:55pm CDT, in News | Cars & Vehicles

Trucks Turning to Aluminum Instead of Steel
Image: NBC

Despite what Chevy ads may say, trucks are starting to put their trust in lighter aluminum instead of the traditional steel.

Aluminum is a great material for building with, it sees extensive use in the aerospace industry, underpins high-performance sports cars from brands including Porsche, Honda and even Chevrolet in the smash-hit 2016 Camaro. There is one market segment where the jury is still out on aluminum — the pickup truck segment.

Ford made the decision to switch to an aluminum body for the current F-150, and they weren’t bashful in letting the world know about it. As the blue oval brand’s best-selling model bar-none, the F-150 isn’t a platform where Ford can afford to make mistakes, but is aluminum really the right material for the job?

Catching Flak From Chevy

Not content to sit idly by as Ford released what they claimed to be “the truck of the future,” Chevrolet launched a series of ads to bash the new truck nearly the same day it launched. Chevy found no shortage of things to pick on the new Ford for, but they haven’t set themselves up very well for future use of the material in their own vehicles.

This might explain why there weren’t any attacks on aluminum made by the folks at Ram Trucks, the third member of America’s “big three” truck makers. Ram Trucks already featured aluminum components, like their hoods, as far back as 2013.

Getting With the Times

Given the industry trend towards the use of lighter materials, you won’t be surprised to hear that a couple years after the F-150 controversy — which saw no decline whatsoever in truck sales for Ford — Chevy has turned the corner and is ready to talk about a new “mixed materials” approach to vehicle construction.

In simplified terms, that means Chevy is going to build an aluminum truck. They’ve already transitioned to the use of lightweight steel and aluminum hoods, but we’re betting that, down the road, you’ll see a more broad use of aluminum in places like door skins and other body panels.

Cause for Concern?

Is that something truck users should be worried about? No. Chevy’s ads attacked the concept of an entirely aluminum bed, but the example they used, dropping a heavy, sharp object into the truck’s bed from a significant height, isn’t an application most truck owners have to plan for.

In fact, Fords’ tweaks have demonstrable results. The initial aluminum F-150 dropped around 700 pounds compared to the earlier generation truck, which resulted in significant fuel economy gains and considerably improved the truck’s on-road behavior. No, it’s not a sports car, but there’s a noticeable change in body roll that makes driving the F-150 every day more enjoyable.

Only a Matter of Time

It seems Chevy is banking on people having a short memory — to launch that smack-talking ad campaign back in 2015 seems counterintuitive. They must have known there was going to be an aluminum Chevy truck coming in the future.

We’ll likely continue to hear the rhetoric of “mixed materials” vs. aluminum from the bow-tie brand. That’s just the nature of competition. Chevy isn’t going to admit they were behind in employing the latest technology, but that’s exactly what we’re seeing here. The General Motors brand is playing catch-up and Ford is setting the pace.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/56" rel="author">Scott Huntington</a>
Scott Huntington is a writer and journalist from Harrisburg PA who covered movies, tech, cars, and more. Check out his blog Off The Throttle or follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington.




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