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Ford to use more aluminum alloy in F-150 pickup truck in deal with Alcoa

| Monday, Sept. 14, 2015, 10:27 p.m.
A worker prepares a chassis to receive an engine on a 2015 Ford F-150 truck that uses Alcoa aluminum on March 13, 2015, in Ford’s Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Mo.

Ford Motor Co. will use a new aluminum alloy in its F-150 pickup starting later this year under a deal with Alcoa Inc. that gives the lightweight-metal producer a bigger foothold in the automotive industry.

Ford, which uses conventional aluminum sheet for the body of its best-selling truck, said it will begin using the alloy technology made by Alcoa for other parts of the 2016 F-150, including inside door panels and fenders. The Detroit automaker also will work with Alcoa to develop aluminum alloy components for other Ford vehicles.

The deal helps Ford improve the fuel economy of its vehicles by lowering their weight, and it benefits Alcoa by diversifying the company's sales beyond raw material production to higher-value parts manufacturing. It could put pressure on steel producers, which have traditionally supplied most of the metal for cars and trucks, said John Tumazos, an analyst and owner of Tumazos Very Independent Research in Holmdel, N.J.

“It's not a good thing if you're AK Steel or ArcelorMittal or U.S. Steel,” Tumazos said. “If Alcoa can make the aluminum cheaply, and they lower their price at some point, aluminum will gain more penetration versus steel.”

Alcoa first announced the aluminum alloy technology, known as Micromill technology, in December, saying that it was working with an unidentified automotive company on the alloy that was 30 percent lighter and twice as malleable as high-strength steel typically used in vehicles, meaning it could be more easily molded into a particular shape.

“Alcoa's breakthrough Micromill technology offers highly differentiated automotive material with strength, weight, formability and surface quality combinations previously impossible,” Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld said in a statement Monday. “This high-tech aluminum will give Ford a true material edge enabling greater design flexibility and better vehicle performance, making the concept cars of tomorrow a reality.”

New York-based Alcoa employs about 2,000 in the Pittsburgh area — at a corporate operations center on the North Shore, a technical center in Upper Burrell, and Traco Co., a window manufacturer in Cranberry.

Ford will begin using Micromill material in F-150 production in the fourth quarter this year. The automaker plans to increase its use during the next several years on a range of vehicle components and future vehicles. Ford said its use of the material will more than double from 2016 to 2017.

“Light-weighting enables us to design vehicles with great customer attributes, like the F-150, which can tow more, haul more, accelerate quicker and stop faster than the previous F-150, and is more fuel-efficient than ever,” Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, said in a statement. “This collaboration supports our continued drive for innovation, as we research automotive applications for even greater light-weighting.”

Automakers are turning to lighter-weight materials, such as aluminum, as they gear up to meet the government's target for cars to get 54.5 miles per gallon of fuel by 2025.

Ford began using Alcoa aluminum sheet for the body of the 2015 F-150, and cut 700 pounds from truck because of its aluminum content. The pickup has more than 1,000 pounds of aluminum content, or about a quarter of its total weight, according to the Aluminum Association, an Arlington, Va., trade group.

Alcoa has said it expects automotive sales will increase from 9 percent of its rolled aluminum business in 2013 to 16 percent in 2016.

Alex Nixon is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7928.

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