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Auto blogMon, 13 Jan 2014 09:05:00 EST
Just when you thought you'd figured the fullsize truck market out, Ford goes and throws us a massive curve ball with the 2015 F-150. The big headline news aren't tow or payload ratings, though we're sure those figures will be fully competitive if not class leading, they haven't yet been announced. Instead, the big headline news Ford is highlighting are the truck's new aluminum-intensive structure and 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 engine.
And with good reason - all that aluminum means that Ford was able to cut a massive 700 pounds from the truck's curb weight. That is going to cause all sorts of great things to happen to the 2015 F-150's driving dynamics, performance and fuel efficiency, not to mention its ability to haul heavy loads. For those customers worried about the strength of aluminum versus the more conventional steel, Ford is quick to point out that many military vehicles, such as the HMMWV and Bradley Fighting Vehicle, use a very similar sort of aluminum alloy in their construction.
It's also worth mentioning that the backbone, a fully boxed ladder frame, is hewn from high-strength steel. Ford says "2015 Ford F-150 is the strongest and most durable F-150 ever," for what it's worth, claiming that "torture tested" in labs and in the real world for more than 10 million miles. What's more, the truck, in disguised form, completed all 883 miles of the Baja 1000.
Ford has given the F-150 a dramatic makeover for 2015, switching to an aluminum body that helps reduce weight by about 700 pounds. Because the truck is dramatically different, Ford also had to change the way it makes the F-150, so we went inside its sprawling factory in Dearborn, MI, this week to see the Blue Oval's new manufacturing techniques in action.
The company has added 850 jobs at the site and upgraded its stamping and tool and die facilities. The body shop is also modernized, and it has been fitted with 500 new robots that join the structures together. The first 2015 F-150 rolled off the line on Tuesday, and the trucks will begin arriving in dealerships in December. Get a closer look at the F-150's unique assembly process in our video.
Ford is in a bit of a pickle for importing and selling Turkey-built Transit Connect cargo vans as passenger vehicles in the US, then converting them to commercial-vehicle specification stateside in an effort to bypass a 25-percent tax imposed on vehicles imported for commercial use. Automakers are required to pay a 2.5-percent tax on imported passenger vehicles.
The Blue Oval got into trouble for this in a January ruling in which U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials asked Ford to stop the practice of importing the Transit Connect vehicles with passenger seats, then removing and shredding them. Now Automotive News reports that Ford is appealing the ruling. The 25-percent "Chicken Tax," as the tariff is often called, is 50 years old and was enacted as a response to a German tariff on chickens. Like Ford, Chrysler bypasses the higher tariff, but it does so in a different manner. It partially disassembles Sprinter cargo vans before shipping them to the US, then rebuilds them at a plant in South Carolina.
But the ruling against Ford's strategy states that it "serves no manufacturing or commercial purpose" and is there to "manipulate the tariff schedule," Automotive News reports. As Ford's appeal goes through, it is importing the Transit Connect and paying the higher tax, hoping for a favorable outcome and planning to build the next-generation Transit Connect, which it plans to launch before the end of the year, in Spain.