Ford exec: Don’t expect more aluminum cars

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Joe Hinrichs, Ford Motor Co.’s president of the Americas, said Wednesday he doesn’t envision a run on all-aluminum cars if Ford’s aluminum-bodied F-150 is successful.

Speaking at the Automotive News World Congress, Hinrichs said the launch of the new truck — which on Monday won the North American Truck of the Year award — is going “pretty well,” but that Ford will likely keep the aluminum bodies on its truck side.

“One of the big benefits you get from light-weighting ... you can tow more and haul more,” he said. “You don’t get those same benefits to a customer on the car side. Truck buyers will pay for more capability, car buyers will pay for better fuel economy, but there’s other ways to get fuel economy in a car without the need to provide more capability.

“I don’t think we’ll see a dramatic increase in all-aluminum cars.”

Ford on Monday unveiled a new off-road F-150 Raptor that uses an aluminum body to save up to 500 pounds, and the automaker has said its next-generation Super Duty trucks will be made with an aluminum body. Parts of other Ford cars, like the hoods on its new Mustang, are made with aluminum.

“Light-weighting overtime — and it doesn’t have to be all aluminum — will be an important part of the equation for us and our competitors,” Hinrichs said.

Ford is experimenting with a number of technologies, including carbon fiber, to help shed weight on its vehicles in light of stringent federal fuel economy regulations. CEO Mark Fields said earlier this week Ford wants “to put our vehicles on a Jenny Craig diet.”

Akshay Anand, analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said the comments by Hinrichs “make sense — for now.”

“There’s a lot of costs associated with aluminum,” he said in an interview. “But if the industry can find ways to reduce costs then there’s a point in the future where we’ll see more aluminum in more standard vehicles.”

Hinrichs said the new F-150, which started to be delivered to dealer lots late last year and is prominently displayed at Ford’s auto show stand, is a new experience for workers at its Dearborn Truck Plant. The plant recently underwent four weeks of downtime as all new equipment was installed to build the truck.

“We’re learning on the fly,” he said. “With all this new equipment and technology, rivet guns and everything else, we’re having new kinds of failures in our equipment.”

But he said the truck “builds well” and the workers appreciate a cleaner, roomier and quieter body shop floor.

“The manufacturing system can build it without going through hoops,” he said. “The system just kind of flows in an easier manner.”

One big question that remains concerns the new truck’s insurance costs. Some have speculated they would be higher, but insurance analysts have recently said it’s still too early to tell. Hinrichs said Ford’s internal studies say costs won’t be much higher than they were for the previous-generation model.

“We expect costs to be very much in line with the previous-generation truck,” he said.

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