By Jack Weatherly
The federal government put the hammer down on the U.S. automotive industry in August 2012 — issuing a mandate that the fuel efficiency of trucks and cars had to more than double by 2025.
Toward meeting that goal, Ford Motor Co. has just rolled out its lighter-weight, all-aluminum-body F-150 pickup, the best-selling vehicle in the United States for more than 30 years.
A half-dozen, perhaps the first ones in Mississippi, rolled into the Gray-Daniels Ford-Lincoln lot in Brandon on Dec. 16.
Jimmy Martin, 23, had been gunning to be the first to buy a 2015 F-150 in Mississippi.
It’s not clear if he was, but he drove off the lot with an F-150 Lariat on Dec. 17.
Watson Quality Ford in Jackson got its first two late last week, said Ryan Rousselo, new-car sales manager. He said the dealership has already pre-sold a number of them.
The shipment has drawn curiosity seekers. “We had 10 or 15 people come by yesterday and take pictures of them,” Rousselo said Friday.
Seven of 10 pickups — including Chevrolets, Dodges, Toyotas and other brands — will be aluminum-bodied by 2025 and all major automakers will have aluminum-body program in place by then, according Forbes.com, citing a report by Ducker Worldwide, a research firm.
The aluminum alloy is thicker — and thus stronger, Ford argues — but still lighter than rolled steel.
The retooling of Ford assembly plants in Dearborn, Mich. and Kansas City to turn out the lighter, stronger F-150s delayed the usual early-fall delivery to the week before Christmas.
The switch to aluminum alloy was the brainchild of then-Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally, a former executive at the Boeing Co., where strength and lightness are at a premium.
An engineer with a gift for management, Mulally turned around Ford, which was the only U.S. automaker that didn’t have to opt for a government bailout during the recession.
Mississippi may play a role in the future of Ford’s pioneering venture.
A startup company, American Specialty Alloys, is expected to open a 1.4-million-square-foot plant at Columbus to turn out the rolled aluminum alloy.
A Columbus-based spokesman for the company has declined to confirm that the $1.2 billion plant will be built there, but American Speciality has applied for permits from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
Tantalizingly, the company said in a detailed Nov. 17 news release that the “transition from steel to aluminum in the truck sector has been accelerated by the launch of the 2015 Ford F-150.”
Ford doesn’t have the No. 1 seller without repeat customers.
The re-engineering and strategizing that have gone into the revamped F-150 are not what brought Jimmy Martin to the Brandon lot.
He saw the new F-150 months ago online and liked the style, Martin said in a telephone interview.
He gets the weight thing — up to 700 pounds less than in the 2014 F-150, leaving more power for hauling, and making for fuel efficiency to offset increases in the purchase prices.
But Martin went for looks and comfort, and more horsepower than in Ford’s more-economical 2.7-liter V-6. His has the 5-liter V-8.
Martin bought a tricked-out F-150 Lariat, very much like the one in the Gray-Daniels showroom last week with a $53,000 sticker price. Except he says the one he drove home to Sylvarena in Smith County has a few more extras than the showroom pickup.
Prices start at about $26,600 for the regular-cab version, about $400 more than the 2014 equivalent, and the top-of-the line Platinum is about $3,000 higher than its 2014 counterpart, according to Forbes.com.
Gray-Daniels General Manager Bob Harper said the King Ranch version of the Lariat has a sticker price of about $63,000.
Martin’s a Ford guy. He bought a 2012 F-150 and put 60,000 miles on it in the first year driving from Smith County to west Texas, where he is a driller for Helmerich and Payne Drilling in the Permian Basin.
“I work two weeks on and two weeks off. So I do a lot of driving,” Martin said.
He traded in the F-150 for a F-250 ecodiesel for economy, and had his eye on another F-250 until he saw the new F-150 online and became infatuated.
At that point, he decided that economy was not the top priority for him, telling his wife: “I’ve got to have one of those.”
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