Ford's Aluminum F-150: Game-Changer or Gamble?

Nov 11, 2014 01:50 PM EST | Jordan Ecarma

Production of the new aluminum Ford F-150 pickup is expected to kick off today, marking an important milestone for the American automaker.

Long the industry leader in pickup sales, Ford is betting big with the 2015 F-150, which should be available in U.S. dealerships next month, the Associated Press reported. The pickup model will be the first high-volume vehicle to have an entire body of aluminum.

F-Series pickups are serious business for Ford; sales of the trucks are estimated to make up 90 percent of the company's profit worldwide, according to Morgan Stanley. Ford trucks have been No. 1 among U.S. vehicles sales for 37 years in a row, and the automaker last year manufactured 647,697 F-150 pickups at its two facilities in the U.S, which comes to one truck every 49 seconds.

As such a high-volume lineup, the new aluminum pickups are in danger of getting bogged down in quality or production issues and slowing down sales. Retrofitting Ford's Dearborn, Mich., plant and Claycomo, Miss., facility to produce the new pickup line is costing the company $1 billion.

"Were we recognizing that it was a risk? Sure," CEO Mark Fields told the AP. "But it was a very calculated and informed risk that gave us the confidence that we were going to get this done."

While Ford has been promising improved fuel economy for the new pickup, numbers won't be released until later this month; however, the automaker has placed the 2015 version at up to 20 percent better fuel economy compared with its predecessor.

Improved fuel economy has become less urgent for consumers since the price of gas has hit a four-year low. But Fields says it's still what people are asking for.

"These vehicles are not just vehicles to our customers. They're tools to help them do their job," Fields told the AP. "This thing has to deliver."

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