Auto Aluminum Advances

Gary S. Vasilash

“Our objective was to find materials that allowed us to design the truck to be as tough – or tougher – than the current model, yet could help it be hundreds of pounds lighter for better capability and fuel economy. Out of all the materials we tested, we carefully selected only certain grades of aluminum that met our high performance standards in all of our tests, while allowing us to trim hundreds of pounds from the truck.” That’s Pete Friedman, manager, Ford manufacturing research, talking, of course, about the 2015 F-150, which is an aluminum-intensive vehicle.

F-150 Ford F-150 at 2014 NAIAS

Yes, there is a fully boxed high-strength steel frame under the skin, but the visible sheet metal on the truck is aluminum.

In 2013, Ford sold 763,402 F-Series vehicles in the U.S. (Making it the best-selling truck for 37 years running.) While not all of them have a “150” behind the hyphen, a considerable number do.

So when you’re going to take the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. for 32 years straight and make it out of a material that has primarily used for the bodies of low-volume vehicles (e.g., Audi A8, all recent Jaguars), then this means you’re going to be putting a considerable strain on capacity.

For the F-150 Ford is working with aluminum suppliers Alcoa, Aleris Rolled Products, Kaiser Aluminum, Novelis, and Sapa.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that one day after the January 13 world premiere of the F-150 at the North American International Auto Show, Alcoa announced the completion of a $300-million expansion of its automotive aluminum sheet product plant in Davenport, Iowa.

Alcoa plant picture Inside the Alcoa aluminum plant.

Alcoa is optimistic that there will increased aluminum use by other auto makers, anticipating that the amount of sheet content in North American vehicles to increase from 2012 levels10x by 2025.

That said, what’s the number-one market for aluminum right now? Packaging. As in cans, for example.