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A tale of two trucks, a Chevy and a Ford, at the Detroit Auto Show

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Greg Peck
January 15, 2014

Chevrolet got a clean sweep at the Detroit Auto Show. The 2015 Silverado was named Truck of the Year, and the Corvette won Car of the Year. That will please generations of residents around here who spent years toiling at the Janesville General Motors plant and still favor GM brands.

However, the F-150 drew plenty of attention when Ford unveiled its big pickup clad in aluminum for the first time. That helps shed about 700 pounds from what otherwise would be a 5,000-pound truck. The Associated Press reported that no other vehicle on the market has this much aluminum.

The good news for potential buyers is that the frame is still made of high-strength steel. Still, the F-150 is a popular seller, and the AP says “it remains to be seen if customers will accept the change.”

I wondered what the hesitation might be. After all, aluminum won't rust. Ford says it's more resistant to dents. The reduced weight will improve gas mileage. While Ford didn't reveal a price, its marketing chief says the F-Series will stay in its current price range even though aluminum is more expensive.

I bounced this F-150 news off two buddies and former longtime GM plant workers, Dale Herion and Scott Breckling.

Dale buys, repairs and resells vehicles frequently. He was glad to hear Ford was keeping steel in the F-150's frames.

“They're the workhorse,” he told me. “They've got to be durable. If it's just (aluminum) body parts, who cares?”

Truck makers have done much to improve their products in recent years, Dale suggested. These include step bumpers on more models and tailgates that go down slowly and latch more easily. The F-150 was always heavy, so knocking off weight will be nice. Dents, however, are dents and need fixing whether it's aluminum or steel, Dale said.

Scott, who spent most of his GM years in quality and planning, sees no problems with the aluminum body. Besides being lighter, he figures it should prove durable and shouldn't cause paint problems.

GM has used aluminum—without problems—to save weight on lift gates, Scott told me. It proved more problematic with heat transfer on engine blocks. He thought GM was in a race to do more with aluminum, but added “It looks like Ford is ahead of GM on this one.”

Still, Scott said he recently checked out the new Silverado at a local dealer and was impressed, calling it a nice-looking vehicle.

As for Ford's aluminum-clad F-150, Scott said, “I don't see a downside, really, if they do it right and do it well. Still, they won't convert diehard Chevy fans.”

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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