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At the 2014 North American International Auto Show, we saw the future of Ford’s pickup design – aluminum and a lot of it. Through various displays, Ford showed how the truck could handle a beating and still deliver great fuel economy. One question that didn’t get addressed is: what about the Global Ford Ranger? Wouldn’t it benefit from the weight savings and improved fuel economy of aluminum design?
Ford launched the Global Ranger in 2011 as a compact, diesel-powered truck that left many then- U.S. Ranger owners salivating. The truck is being offered in more than 180 countries and is not available in the U.S. Basically, Ford figured that many U.S. Ranger customers would simply step up to the F-150. That hasn’t exactly happened and Ford has taken its share of criticism from automotive writers/experts and its own fans for not offering the Ranger in the U.S.
With the new F-150 being launched with a smaller Ecoboost engine it is mostly assured that Ford is still not considering bringing back the Ranger. (It may consider offering a small F-100 variant although that remains to seen). Ford says that the mid-size truck market in North America doesn’t make sense for them and don’t see a feasible way to build a Ford Ranger that would fit into its product portfolio.
In other countries like Australia, the “ute” pickups are quite popular. In fact, the used car market in Australia for the Global Ranger is quite strong . These utilitarian pickups don’t have the full-size competitors that are made in North America and thus, the business plan to build them for those markets is much stronger.
This begs the question though, if the aluminum-based design of the new F-150 is so superior, could it benefit the Global Ranger? The answer is undoubtedly yes. Will Ford build it? Most likely not.
The reality is that the compact Ranger with the diesel engine already gets adequate fuel economy ratings versus its competitors. By implementing aluminum throughout the truck, the weight savings would NOT be as large as the reported 700 lbs that the F-150 is speculated to have. It would probably be more in the 100-200 lbs range. This drop wouldn’t have the fuel economy improvement in order to make it feasible.
Plus, there is no EPA mandated fuel economy target that Ford needs to hit in those markets. They really have no large incentive to improve fuel economy.
Also, the profit margin in these trucks is much smaller than the full-size ones in North America. The big question for the F-150 is what the sale price will be with the more expensive metal. While Ford may swallow some of this cost and reduce their rebates to turn a profit, they can’t do the same with a smaller, less profitable truck. Somewhere Ford has to draw the line.
Lastly, the very real problems with aluminum of finding enough producers and certifying enough body shops to repair it are magnified worldwide. Right now, Alcoa, the large American aluminum manufacture working with Ford is having trouble building enough body panels that meet specifications. Adding more demand to their already booked schedule would likely result in additional quality concerns as Alcoa would be forced to produce beyond their capacity. Plus, you have the problem of who is going to repair the aluminum truck when it gets in an accident. In the U.S., there is a serious drought of certified body shops and Ford is currently working overtime to increase this number. With 180 countries carrying the Global Ranger, this problem becomes magnified.
In the end, the Ford F-150 is quite the engineering achievement with all its use of aluminum. It will be the manufacturing achievement of the year if Ford can bring this truck to market without major delay. And it will be the automotive achievement of the decade if Ford can defy critics, convince customers that aluminum is just as good as steel and turn a profit on this truck. Sorry, Global Ranger, Ford has their hands full. You are going to be steel for quite a while.