That Ford should begin production of its all-new F-150 on Veterans Day has to be more than coincidence; in both World Wars Ford Motor Company did much to establish the United States as the arsenal of democracy. And just as Veterans Day marks the end of what was the first conflict with global import, production of the new F-150 marks the very real beginning of Ford’s mass-market war on waste. An aluminum-bodied American pickup is a game changer, and that game is now being played in Dearborn, Michigan.
This isn’t, of course, the first time an aluminum alloy has been applied in the design and manufacture of a car or truck. Henry Ford was what we’d now call a metals geek, given his interest in the use of advanced alloys. C. Harold Wills, one of Henry’s design chiefs, was instrumental in the incorporation of steel alloys in the production of the early Model T. Later, Wills left Ford – with $1.5 million – to begin production of the Wills St. Claire, a luxury auto known for its early and aggressive application of advanced metallurgy.
Having passed away in 1940, Mr. Wills had nothing to do with the aluminum-bodied F-150, but he would have easily understood the benefits of reducing weight (up to 700 pounds in crew cab models) and increasing capability. Of course, all-new cabs and beds require an all-new manufacturing process. And for that, Ford tapped the historic Rouge plant in Dearborn. As Ford notes in its press materials, the Rouge has long “represented Henry Ford’s vision for lean, flexible and sustainable manufacturing. The 2015 Ford F-150…stands for the future of trucks, and brings the latest in smart technologies and state-of-the-art build processes.”
That an automotive manufacturing facility can incorporate ‘state of the art’ in 2014 would seem amazing, unless you’ve been paying attention to the increasingly complex systems operating today’s automotive factories. And while Audi and Jaguar have built unit bodies out of aluminum for some time, nothing quite signals successful adaptation of a technology than some 500,000 F-Series going out Ford’s door and into consumer driveways each and every year.
With 850 new workers (added to the 4,000 employees already at the Rouge), and a paint shop now featuring dirt detection(!), the plant is a ‘go’. And based on early interest – along with just a tad of debate – it would seem F-Series loyalists (you know, the guys with just a pinch between the cheek and gum) and newbies (the guys with still-pinched cheeks) are ready to write their checks.