Out with the old, in with the new. Out with steel, in with aluminum.
Last week, the last 2014 Ford F-150 light-duty pickup truck rolled off the company's Dearborn, Mich., assembly line.
Now begins the retooling of the plant for conversion to production of the 2015 model.
What makes this preparation for production of a new model different from the usual turnover retooling is that the 2015 Ford F-150 will receive a mostly aluminum alloy body, combined with some high-strength steel.
The need to install special tooling for aluminum body panels will make the process a massive project and a logistical challenge that must be executed with extreme care.
The decision to go with aluminum for major body panels was made in the interest of saving weight -- about 700 pounds -- and improving fuel economy while increasing the truck's hauling capabilities. It will also add considerably to the sticker price, about $3,000 on average. Its reduced weight/lower fuel consumption will help the F-150 meet U.S. fuel economy regulations through 2020.
Aluminum is expensive and not as easy as steel to deal with in production, which is why most carmakers reserve the metal for only premium vehicles, not mass production models.
Not only will the retooling cost Ford over $359 million, it will stop the assembly line for about eight weeks. Ford's Kansas City plant will continue to produce the 2014 model to keep dealer lots stocked with F-series Fords, America's best-selling light truck, with sales of nearly 60,000 per month. When the 2015 models roll out of the Dearborn plant, the Kansas City plant will shut down for their retooling process.
Still, even with a perfect transition process, the retooling at both plants will mean approximately 90,000 fewer vehicles available to the market. The company has already conceded that this will impact its earnings this year.
The transition will require the use of over 1,100 heavy tractors and trailers, the replacement of conveyor systems, robots, riveting machines and other equipment.
For Ford, making such a radical change to its bread-and-butter model is a bold move. There are even concerns that the traditional buyer of F-series trucks will take offense at driving an aluminum vehicle, although Ford will go to great pains to show off the new model's impressive strength, durability, carrying capacity and ruggedness.
Ford notes that the new F-150 incorporates over 100 new patents for new technology and production methods, more than any Ford truck in history.
"F-150 is well-known for being Built Ford Tough. Now, it is both tough and smart," said Mark Fields, Ford CEO. "The all-new F-150 redefines the future of trucks, and it is yet another example of our One Ford plan producing vehicles that serve customers with a commitment to the very best quality, fuel efficiency, safety, smart design and value."