In a big surprise to many critics, the repair costs for the aluminum Ford F-150 came in much lower than expected. The reality is they are actually cheaper than steel pickup repair costs.
Nearly 5 years ago, Ford shocked the automotive world by unveiling a new aluminum F150. This pickup uses more aluminum at a greater scale than ever thought imaginable. While the “beer can” jokes were plentiful, it truly does look like the joke is on them.
According to a story from AutoNews.com, the Highway Loss Data Institute, an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, released collision claim coverage data with surprising results. The story says:
Collision claim severity for aluminum F-150s is roughly 7 percent lower than on the steel predecessor, in part because of cheaper repairs. But the frequency of collision claims has risen about 7 percent, resulting in an unchanged overall loss.
This goes against the grain when considering aluminum vehicles from the past and concurs with what insurance companies suspected would happen when the pickup was introduced.
“Given the fact it was aluminum intensive, and prior aluminum vehicles indicated collision claim severities increased, there was concern the same would occur with the F-150,” Matt Moore, senior vice president of the Highway Loss Data Institute, told Automotive News. “Simply put, when we look at the overall losses relative to the other pickup trucks, there’s not a change, which was not consistent with expectations.”
This means insurance companies, like Statefarm which was quoted in the article, haven’t raised rates for the new aluminum pickup and the pickup is right inline with the past expections for repairability costs from the steel F150.
How can this be? A part of this reason has to do with the changing auto body repair world. The truth is more body shops than ever are simply swapping out body panels instead of spending hours of manual labor banging the metal back into shape. This is better for consumers as well since they are really just paying for the labor to swap out body panels, the paint and the finish work on the new panel.
The change to swapping out panels is perfectly in line with the new F-150 since it was literally designed to be able to swap out body panels. Engineers developed the truck with repairability in mind, since aluminum isn’t so easy to bang back into shape, and the panels are more of a plug and play variety.
For example, repairing the prior generation front apron tubes, steel frame below the hood, used to involve taking apart the A-Pillar (metal pillar rising above the dash) and removing the dash. It can now be swapped out much easier like the front fenders which the Highway Loss Data Institute says cut replacement time by six or seven hours.
In order to design this way, it takes a lot of forward planning and expenditure.
“The key thing was that we had the involvement from the early engineering meetings,” Gerry Bonanni, a Ford senior engineer told AutoNews. “The designers were able to engineer it around those specific points.”
All of this forethought works great as well as the price of aluminum doesn’t skyrocket versus steel. Historically, steel ore has been cheap than aluminum which has slowed many automakers from making extensive use of it except for luxury car makers like Jaguar. Yet, again, Ford thought that one through.
Ford takes leftover scrap from the production of the F-150 body panels and recycles them into new parts. This allows them a bigger bang for the buck for the price of ore and helps keep costs down. The recycling of aluminum is actually a pretty big deal and nearly 75 percent of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today according to The Aluminum Association.
Recycling the alumimum as well as pricing parts cheaper both add significantly to keeping the repair costs down. The HLDI found the total parts cost for 2015-16 aluminum F-150s were 16 percent less than the 2014 steel pickups.
Finally, Ford spent an extensive amount of time training dealers, working with suppliers and dreaming up new ways to keep the price of aluminum down all in search of weight savings and fuel economy for its best selling vehicle. All of this work seems to be paying off with Ford F-Series sales continuing to be top dog in the pickup world and fears over repair costs not living up to reality.
Ultimately, it looks like Ford is having the last laugh with its gamble paying off handsomely.