DETROIT -- Ford (IW 500/8) took a big gamble Monday with its best-selling F-150 pickup truck, radically re-dressing the workhorse with lightweight aluminum body panels to cut weight and save fuel.
After decades of marketing the F-150's steel body as the key to its strength, Ford Motor Co. said it was swapping out many parts of its shell with "military grade" aluminum alloy that officials insisted did not sacrifice any of the truck's strength.
Unveiling the new truck at the annual Detroit auto show, Ford said it had gone through "10 million miles of torture testing" to be sure the aluminum parts were as sturdy as steel.
At the same time, company officials assured that the truck's box frame remains high-grade steel.
The aluminum panels remove up to 700 pounds from the truck's weight, an important savings given pickups' high level of fuel consumption.
"For our customers, gasoline is a cost. This is a work truck. Fuel costs are a very important part of their overall equation," said Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford, the great-grandson of legendary company founder Henry Ford.
Even so, the move has its risks. Ford's F series trucks, and the F-150 in particular, have been the top U.S. trucks for decades.
Last year, Ford sold more than 763,000 of the F-150, commanding a 40% market share in the category.
But Bill Ford said they were confident customers would like the aluminum version. "It is a lightweight high-strength material. Seven hundred pounds out of a vehicle like this, that's a big deal."
He said there was "absolutely no reason" they could not make use of aluminum in other vehicles, once the company sees how it works in the F-150.
"We know aluminum well. When we used to own Jaguar, we had great familiarity with aluminum."
Ford's competitors in the pickup truck market -- the largest chunk of the U.S. auto industry -- were keeping their eyes on the experiment.
General Motors executive Mark Reuss said late Sunday he was waiting to see how pickup customers react to the change, but would not say if GM was mulling the same move for its GMC and Chevrolet trucks.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014