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Making Sense of the Aluminum Truck Debate
Making Sense of the Aluminum Truck Debate
May 18, 2018

Let’s face it, our world, the world of jobsites, fleets of vehicles and handling jobs in any kind of environment, calls for a vehicle that can haul plenty of stuff first and worry about looks second.  Of course, there is a practical side to that statement – the trucks and vans that you and your team use everyday either help or hurt your image and, if they are outfitted correctly, they can also improve your business due to better efficiency.

Nonetheless, we all know that, when the chips are down, we could likely get the same job done in a 1984 Dodge Tradesman Van that we do today in a new Ram Promaster.

So what’s all the buzz between Chevrolet, Ram, and Ford about using aluminum in full size trucks?  One side (Ford) says that aluminum is the way of the future and has replaced steel in many, if not all of the body panels and even the bed of the newest Ford full sized trucks.  When you couple that with the tough talk of President Trump in the United States about limiting steel imports into the U. S. and suddenly, the price difference in materials begins to lower. 

On the other side, Dodge has stuck with essentially an all-steel truck, and Chevrolet/GMC is using aluminum panels in doors and other non-structural panels … but not the bed. 

Who’s right? 

It’s tough to argue with the success that Ford has had with the F-series platform since the redesign a couple of years ago.  Sales are up, profits are up, and even on the heavier Super Duty series of trucks, aluminum plays a significant role in the body.  Weight savings of up to 700 pounds has also allowed the F-150 to sport better fuel economy and payloads when compared to the Chevy/GMC.  We’ve even heard rumblings from our industry contacts that Ford expects to introduce a diesel-powered full size that can break 30 mpg this year and a hybrid F150 is slated to be introduced in the 2020 model year.

No matter what side you’re on, at Expertec, we’re still watching this closely.  Any Canadian knows how salt eats up steel and aluminum struggles just as badly, so which manufacturer is going to have the advantage when these vehicles have a few winters under them is anybody’s guess.

One thing we do really like, though, is that the “Big Three” are thinking outside the box.  In years past, stricter emissions rules were met by reducing power output again and again, until even the largest engine available struggled to pull any sort of a load.  Today, these same companies are reimagining what it takes to still provide a powerful vehicle that is fuel efficient, comfortable, and durable enough for the toughest of jobs. 

Even better?  The fact that for the first time in over a decade trucks and vans are losing weight and gaining power means that even a fully outfitted truck or van doesn’t impact the Gross Vehicle Weight Rating like it once did.  Today, a fully outfitted truck, installed with equipment that is perfectly suited for the job, doesn’t cost as much to operate and is far more aerodynamic – lowering the overall costs of entry for many companies.

That type of action makes our jobs easier.  A longer-lasting vehicle AND one that costs less to operate is one that owners take better care of and, because they know it is well-suited for the tasks at hand, owners and fleet managers are prepared to make sure that such a valuable asset is perfectly outfitted for years of work and not simply just “good enough.”

The real winner in this market is the buyer.  Where once there was only the hope that a new truck or van could make it to past 200,000 km, now a buyer is nearly assured of a high-quality piece of equipment from the first day of ownership.  There is, of course, a trade off – aluminum costs more, but for many buyers, super-low interest rates, longer finance terms, and lucrative tax write-offs for buying institutional assets like vehicles help to hide the steadily rising prices as composites and aluminum are found more and more in the trucks and vans used in the trades.