Analyst: F-150's top crash rating validates Ford effort

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News
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Ford Motor Co.'s new aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup earned the highest possible score in its first government crash test safety rating, beating the score of last year's all-steel truck.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the 2015 truck's SuperCrew cab — its most-used type five stars in its New Car Assessment Program, thanks to features including a stronger frame, inflatable rear safety belts, lane control technology and advanced air bags.

The 2014 F-150 earned a four-star crash test safety rating. The 2015 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups both earned five-star ratings, while the Ram 1500 earned a four-star rating.

"The F-150's top crash rating validates the design and engineering effort Ford invested to ensure it wouldn't sacrifice safety when switching to a lighter aluminum body," Karl Brauer, senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said in a statement.

"Any sign of weakness with regard to crash protection would have raised concerns about the change in material, and it's likely Ford did extensive internal testing to ensure a 5-star rating. It also suggests we'll be seeing an increased use of aluminum in vehicles from Ford and across the industry."

About 70 percent of F-150 customers have purchased the SuperCrew cab. Last month, SuperCrew cabs represented 83 percent of all orders, Ford said.

NHTSA's results for Ford's other cab types should be posted in about a week, executives said.

The new truck includes 31 new safety innovations, including new technologies in the steel frame and aluminum body. Engineers added a extra crossmember in the frame and developed a 12-corner crush horn on the truck's steel frame that dissipates energy in the case of a front impact crash.

"The team had to invent new ways to manage crash energy, because advanced materials like high-strength steel behave differently," said Matt Niesluchowski, Ford's truck safety manager, in a statement. "We found that changing certain shapes led to a weight reduction, while also improving crash performance."

The 12-corner crush horn was developed after computer-testing thousands of different shapes and styles to find the safest configuration, said Nand Kochhar, chief engineer of global body safety. The feature allows the frame to collapse in a safer way for passengers when it's hit head-on.

Ford is seeking a patent on the technology.

When involved in head-on collisions used for the NHTSA tests, the truck's cab was barely affected. Ford said the new adhesion methods and rivets used to join the aluminum parts are stronger than the metal itself, giving the cab more strength and rigidity.

F-150 sales are off to a strong start. Last month, 28 percent of all F-150 sales were made up of the new truck, and this month, 45 percent of sales are for the 2015 model, executives said.

Doug Scott, the F-150's marketing manager, said the perfect rating was more meaningful for this model because of the switch to aluminum. The test takes some pressure off his marketing team, he said.

"For anyone that's still skeptical ... we don't need to say anything else," Scott said. "We can let these results speak for themselves."

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