BMW April 2022

Ford’s extraordinary effort to train dealers, educate insurers and design the F-150 to be as repair-friendly as possible helped make it ultimately cheaper to fix and replace than the steel-bodied previous generation.

Bob Tomes was among the Ford Motor Co. dealers who sank thousands of dollars into new equipment and training to repair the automaker’s aluminium F150 pickup when it debuted in late 2014.

Mother Nature showed him that it was the right call. Back-to-back Texas hailstorms in the spring of 2017 filled his eponymous dealership’s service bays in McKinney with dented and damaged pickups. But the F-150’s modular architecture and extensive training given to his nine certified technicians resulted in speedy repairs that cost as much as $2 000 less than similarly damaged steel-bodied vehicles, Tomes said. “We were called upon to make that investment, and you have to step up,” Tomes said.  “I think we’re very pleased with how it turned out.”

So is Ford, whose big bet on aluminium for its hugely profitable F-series franchise prompted persistent questions – and relentless attacks from rivals – about whether the pickup would cost more to repair and insure. But insurance data shows that an extraordinary effort to train dealers, educate insurers and design the vehicle to be as repair-friendly as possible helped make it ultimately cheaper to fix and replace than the previous generation, a goal to which Ford engineers aspired from the project’s inception. “It was our moon shot,” Dave Johnson, Ford’s global director of service engineering operations, said in an interview. “We wanted them to be insurable on par with a steel F-150.”

Aluminium is lighter than steel, but it generally costs more and sustains damage more easily. Switching materials helped Ford cut the weight of the F-150 by up to 700 pounds but had the potential to make the company’s top-selling and most lucrative vehicle line vulnerable if buyers began to perceive the trucks as weaker or more expensive to own.  “Given the fact it was aluminium intensive, and prior aluminium 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 said. “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.” A spokeswoman for State Farm said that insurance prices for the aluminium pickup are roughly in line with those of the previous model.

Cheaper parts

Ford also has priced replacement parts for the aluminium pickup lower. The Highway Loss Data Institute found that total parts costs for the 2015-16 aluminium F-150s are 16% less than those for the 2014 steel pickups. That includes a 43% drop for bonnets and taillights and a 37% decrease for front bumpers. Rear bumpers and bedside replacement parts cost more, though. The Highway Loss Data Institute noted, for example, that bumpers on the new pickup use chrome and do not require painting as those on the steel versions do, which saves roughly $150.

Dealer training

The aluminium F-150 rollout also included extensive training and education for dealers and Ford offered its retail network a voluntary Collision Repair Programme to train service shop technicians how to work with the material.

Dealers were responsible for buying new equipment that cost between $30 000 and $50 000, although they could get rebates from Ford worth roughly $10 000. Equipment included a rubberised curtain to separate aluminium repairs from work on steel vehicles because aluminium dust can ignite and explode if cross-contaminated with steel dust. “That was critical; we knew we were asking dealers to do something big with us,” Johnson said. “We knew we needed to have coverage across the country.” As part of that dealer training, Ford brought in insurance adjusters to familiarise them with changes to the vehicle. Bonanni said the company has trained nearly 6 000 adjusters to date.