Steel is pretty tough. So tough in fact that just about every truck out there since trucks started to exist is made of the stuff. While steel is strong, durable, and fairly easy to work with, it has one major downfall: it’s heavy. For manufacturers to keep putting trucks out with increased scrutiny on fuel economy, there are three ways to increase MPGs effectively while keeping the power that’s needed. The first is to work on making engines more efficient at using fuel, the second is to make the truck more aerodynamic, and the third is to make the truck lighter. Technology has brought fuel economy just about as far as possible with our current engines and fuels, you can only make a truck so aerodynamic while still keeping standard functionality, which means to stay strong while burning less fuel, our trucks need to go on a diet and lose some weight. So how do you cut weight from a truck without interfering with functionality or strength? Well, if you’re Ford you make the truck bed for your new F-150
out of aluminum, cutting 700 pounds in a single shot. With the powertrain left mostly untouched, the truck can now achieve better power to weight ratios as well as better fuel economy. While this seems fine on paper, how strong is aluminum actually? Can it stand up to the constant abuse a truck bed receives? Surprisingly the answer is a resounding yes, as the US Military has long since used aluminum bodies on Humvees, and Peterbilt has made their big rig bodies from the soda can material as well. All this was still not enough for Ford and their bed switch however, so they got a little sneaky to test it out.
The Sneak Test
So, how could Ford test their aluminum bed in the real world without letting the secret out that this is what they were testing? Ford actually released a fleet of trucks with aluminum beds into the wild by giving them to some of their largest fleet clients a few at a time and asked them to test the trucks out as they would any other truck they use. Mostly sent to construction accounts, these trucks were put through their paces
and tested better than any lab ever could. In the end there were only two signs that something with the beds was off. First, when surveyors used the trucks and tried to attach their magnetic tripod stands to the bed, they noticed the magnets wouldn’t stick. Second, people began to notice the beds didn’t gain the telltale rust marks from where the paint has been scratched away. Other than these two, the new lighter beds worked the same as steel beds for the entire year they were tested.
Is Aluminum Stronger Than Steel?
The short answer to this is yes, sometimes. Depending on how you treat the aluminum during the fabrication process you can create alloys that are as strong as steel at nearly 1/3rd the weight. While cracking has been a problem with aluminum in the past, new heat treating technologies have made it far less susceptible to such damage. Speaking of damage, with aluminum’s weight advantage, it can be made slightly thicker than steel, giving it much better ding and dent resistance. By heat treating aluminum and making it thicker, it can be made as strong as steel
, if not more so.
The All-Aluminum Truck
So, will your next truck be all aluminum? Probably not, but with the technology advancing at a faster pace in recent years, the idea that the entire body of a truck could be aluminum isn’t as far-fetched as it was just a few years ago. By saving huge amounts of weight, we’ll soon see better fuel economy as well as higher load capacity thanks to the weight savings. The future is aluminum and it’s a bright one at that.