Ford Motor Co. will introduce the "reinvention" of its F-150 pickup truck at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Monday.
The automaker is gambling with its 2015 model year redesign of the truck – for decades America's top-selling vehicle – eschewing the traditional steel for lightweight aluminum alloys.
The aluminum body – doors, hood, engine compartment, bed and tailgate – will be a first for full-size trucks and a rarity in the automotive world.
The switch to an aluminum body is a complicated and expensive undertaking for Ford, but shaves 700 pounds off the weight of the truck - with a big payoff in performance and efficiency.
"They are trying to leapfrog the competition on fuel economy," said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst at IHS Automotive. "As we get closer and closer to the stricter government regulations, this is something all automakers have to deal with."
Some consumers are likely to be skeptical that an aluminum truck is as tough as one made from conventional steel, Brinley said, making it incumbent on Ford to run a strong marketing program to assuage any fears.
Ford should be able to pull it off, said Larry Dominique, president of the ALG car valuation company and former vice president of product planning for Nissan North America.
"If this was 10 or 15 years ago, this was much harder," Dominique said. "But Alcoa and other have developed some great tooling and welding processes for aluminum. There have been a lot of technological improvements."
Ford can't afford to make any mistakes with the truck, which serves as the automaker's cash cow.
Each truck sale earns Ford about $11,000 e compared to $5,000 for a car, said Brian Johnson, an analyst with Barclays Capital.
Last year, the automaker sold 763,000 trucks in the U.S. That's more sales than many major brands generate from their entire vehicle line-ups, including Dodge, Hyundai, GMC, Jeep and Kia.
Other analysts said the wholesale change in the pickup's architecture was a risky but important move for the automaker.
"The new F150 will be the most important reveal in Detroit this year, not only because of its volume and market impact, but because it will establish a new standard for advanced design in the full-size truck segment," said Karl Brauer of Kelley Blue Book, the auto information company.
He believes the new truck design will foreshadow other technological advances that will become commonplace in the automotive industry in the coming years.
That's what Ford expects.
"The all-new F-150 redefines the future of trucks," said Mark Fields, Ford Motor Company chief operating officer.
The changes in the new model include a second, smaller turbocharged V-6 engine. This new 2.7-liter V-6 engine is from the same "EcoBoost" family as the turbocharged four-cylinder that Ford recently dropped in its all-new Mustang and Lincoln's MKC crossover.
The 2.7-liter unit inside the F-150 will also likely see use in other large Ford and Lincoln vehicles in the future. Ford has yet to release power figures for this, or any of the engines in the new F-150.
Meanwhile the 3.5-liter EcoBoost remains the top-dog in the F-150 lineup. Power will be similar to the outgoing model, which now has 365 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque.
Also available will be a base 3.5-liter V-6 engine, and a workhorse 5.0-liter V-8.
Other improvements include all-LED lighting on the outside of the truck; dampening on the tailgate hinges that slow its descent; and spotlights on the mirrors that can be targeted to light the trucks surroundings. New safety features include a 360-degree viewpoint that can be displayed on the dashboard monitor, a forward collision alert and a blind spot monitor to make lane changes easier.
The truck offers easier access to the second row of seats on the SuperCab model via a rear door that opens 170 degrees toward the back of the truck. There's no central pillar separating the front and back doors.
Ford's strategy is "a smart move" said Thilo Koslowski, an analyst at Gartner Inc. "This is the most strategically important vehicle for Ford. They need to make sure that it remains the most important vehicle going forward."