Monday, May 19, 2014

Tin Cans

Here's the thing -

Starting in the next model year, the Ford F-150 is going to be 700 lbs. lighter thanks to a liberal application of aluminum. It's a good thing in many regards. In fact, all facets of performance will be enhanced, braking, handling, and speed. And yet some people are concerned about the changes. It's mostly because that aluminum is still semi-costly and not perceived to be rugged enough for every day truck duty.

Ford doesn't feel as though it's a problem. In fact, they've been working for over a year to make sure that the support systems are in place to take care of any future F-150 customers are taken care of. However they could be doing more. What is that more, you ask? Well, it's a little thing called economy of scales. Right now, as the F-150 is waiting for launch, Ford is undoubtedly designing the next Focus, Fiesta, and Fusion. And if those designs do not incorporate the same troublesome material, then Ford is wasting their time and their dealers'.

It's called economy of scales, and it's a production trick as old as time. Basically it means the more you use a material, design, or process in the production of your product line, the cheaper it becomes. This is due to things like buying in bulk, process standardization, and the ability to use the same tools for multiple different jobs. There's no reason why the aluminum materials and production processes that have made such a big to-do out of the next F-150 shouldn't be applied to the whole line. Even if it's not as thorough of an inclusion as they have in the US's best selling vehicle, there's no reason why essential pieces such as the hood, roof, or trunks of these cars shouldn't be made from the stuff.

I know what you're saying though: "Shawn, that will cause the price of these cars to skyrocket!" But this is not true. That's where the economy of scales comes in. Case in point, the Fiesta currenly has 3 different engine choices here in the States. Instead of offering both the naturally aspirated 1.6, and the 1.0 turbo 3-cylinder, simply offer the smaller turbo engine. After all, it's not found in any other Ford product. This would greatly reduce the cost of the vehicle across the line, certainly enough to cover the cost of the upgraded body panels. It would also give the Fiesta class-leading braking, handling, and speed.

There's no reason that we, in today's modern society, should only concern ourselves with the advancement of engine technology. It's time for body and frame technology to take their next steps forward as well. If Ford is willing to stick its neck out and take a risk on more than just their best seller, there's bound to be a huge return, and at the same time a huge savings. Now that's a weighty proposition.

And that, that's the thing.


1 comment:

  1. Aluminum is an odd material. At roughly 3x the cost of steel per unit of volume for standard mass produced stock using it will invariably demand a premium. Thankfully there is enough margin in truck sales to offset this cost. But it won't take long before the accounting departments take over and start cheaping out elsewhere.

    Also, your economies of scale justification is a little out of whack. If Ferarri made a steel bodied super car it would not be cheap(er) it would still be hella expensive since they are not produced in mass. Similarily, yes mass producing a truck out of aluminum won't yield six figure trucks, but the chassis portion of the truck will still cost about 3x as much. Simply because economies of scale apply to steel construction as well.