With the release of something new, people tend to freak out. The same thing is playing out with the new F-150 with fears of actual fuel savings, rising insurance premiums and repair concerns. Are those fears real or imagined?
When the aluminum-based 2015 Ford F-150 was revealed in Detroit, it ended months of speculation about whether or not Ford was going to use the new metal. This new metal is actually an aluminum alloy much like the type used in airplanes. Never fear, Ford said, this new metal is just as strong as steel plus it has significant weight savings. You’ll like the fuel savings and so will your wallet, Ford says. Yet, new concerns about how much weight will actually be saved, questions about increased insurance costs and further concerns about the amount of repair facilities are now dominating the conversation.
The big reason Ford switched to aluminum was to cut weight and improve fuel economy. The truth is that Ford has always built a “heavy” truck and while the EcoBoost engine has helped some with fuel economy, weight is still the big issue. Ford estimates that the new aluminum panels will cut up to 700 lbs off the old truck. Yet, that difference will largely be seen in the smaller, regular cab, 2wd models. The larger crew cab pickups are estimated by most to have significantly less weight savings more in the 100-200 range. That weight loss will effectively put the curb weight of the Ford F-150 on par with other full-size trucks. It will also mean that fuel savings will be minimal.
Ford has come out and said that it designed the new truck to be easier to work on. The engineers designed the body panels to be replaced without much hassle and Ford says this will keep insurance costs “competitive” among the other truck makers. However, it is up to insurance companies to ultimately decide if they believe Ford’s story. The fact is that insurance companies know the general public is aware of the increased costs associated with aluminum. They could simply decide to charge more initially, gouge the initial customers until enough repair data is available. Ford says their estimates are that insurance premiums could rise as high as 10 percent. Yet, Ford says, the fuel savings will offset this increase. The customer then won’t really see any benefit from the aluminum truck.
Another big question that has popped up is how will the truck be repaired? Ford has said it wants to certify body shops to repair the truck. The cost of doing so is between $30-50k when you add in the certification, training time and new repair tools. Ford says it will help offset those costs by as much as $10k. However, this leads many to believe that dealers will be the first to jump on board and independent shops may lag. Ultimately that would be a net increase to the consumer since dealers prices are often higher than independent shops. For those customers who like to use independent shops and save a buck or two, they will be forced to use a dealer for some time until the independent shops get certified.
The big, overarching question remains, will consumers opt for the new truck? That is a big question with the future of Ford hanging in the balance. Ford undoubtedly has a long battle ahead to convince truck buyers that its long heritage of building great trucks is still intact and this aluminum model is just another version. If it succeeds, then Ford is well ahead of its competition. If it doesn’t, well, there will be dark days ahead.
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