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Ford to Debut Lighter, Stronger F-150

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By: Martin Blanc
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The Ford Motor Company (F) is putting the finishing touches to its new F-150 truck that will be showcased at the Detroit Auto Show, scheduled for January 2014. America’s favorite pickup truck will go aluminum next year, with Ford reportedly teaming up with Alcoa Inc. (AA) to develop high-grade aluminum components for the latest iteration of the bestselling vehicle in the US.

The new pickup will be Ford’s first full redesign of the F-Series since 2009, and will feature a lighter and stronger chassis as a result of a reinforced aluminum body frame. Alcoa, which manufactures aluminum blast shields for military vehicles, has agreed to lend its expertise to develop the strong military-grade metal for Ford’s flagship model.

The news was first reported by Bloomberg on December 23, following which Ford’s stock price inched up 0.26%. On the other hand, Alcoa’s stock price shot up 2.3% on December 24. However, shares of Ford are down 10% from a month ago, after the management announced the company would miss estimates for earnings growth in 2014. It cited higher research and development costs and capital expenditures due to its record number of model releases slated for next year. Ford also said in the same announcement that it was ramping up production in 2014 and would hire around 11,000 new workers; around 6,000 of those jobs are to be added in the US.

The new F-Series will shed almost 750 lbs. which will improve its fuel economy. The current entry-level F-150 model has a fuel economy of around 23 miles per gallon (mpg). The new model is expected to give almost 30 mpg, making the truck much more appealing to both businesses and households.

The thirteenth generation F-150 will also come with a smaller 2.7 liter EcoBoost engine that will replace the current entry-level 3.5 liter engine, also leading to gains in fuel economy.

With such technological initiatives, Ford is working towards meeting the increasingly stringent domestic fuel-economy standards. The government stipulates that by 2025, US automakers’ average fleet-wide fuel economy should be 54.5 mpg.

Ford is essentially trying to give its iconic F-Series a refreshed image amid increasing competition from General Motors (GM) and Chrysler Group in the truck segment.

Although there’s a lot to cheer about, some analysts are highlighting the challenges that could arise from introducing a record 23 new vehicles in 2014, including the redesigned F-Series. For starters, the new models would require modifications to the company’s production line and manufacturing processes. It is estimated that retooling factories for the refreshed models would lead to a downtime of almost six weeks.

Secondly, new model launches usually come with their own set of problems. Ford saw this with the new Escape crossover, when thousands of vehicle recalls led to write-downs of around $300 million in 2013. The F-Series has been Ford’s bestselling model for over 30 years, and is the largest contributor to the company’s revenues.

The latest model from Ford is already being compared to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner debacle that led to the fleet being grounded until issues regarding its battery technology were solved. The 787, was developed when current Ford chief Alan Mulally, was in charge of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division. It also used lighter material and advanced components but was met with skepticism after multiple incidents involving battery fires this year. There are some analysts who believe the F-series truck could face similar issues.

America’s premier auto show kicks off on January 13, and Bidness Etc will be bringing you the latest and greatest from that event, as its happens. Keep checking back for our full coverage on the Detroit auto show.

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