The new ’15 Ford F-150 debuting later this year will be the first-ever aluminum-intensive fullsize pickup and it will be the beginning of a major trend, with 75% of all new pickup trucks produced in North America featuring aluminum bodies by 2025, a new study predicts.

The study, performed by Ducker Worldwide and commissioned by the aluminum industry’s trade group, surveyed all major automakers and reports Ford, General Motors and Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles will become the biggest users of aluminum sheet in the next decade.

In a development that could severely cut into steel’s market share, Ducker also predicts the number of vehicles with complete aluminum body structures will reach 18% of North American production, from less than 1% today.

“Within the next 10 years, seven out of 10 new pickups produced in North America will be aluminum-bodied, and so too will be more than 20% of SUVs and fullsized sedans,” says Tom Boney, chairman of the Aluminum Assn.’s Aluminum Transportation Group and vice president-general manager of automotive for aluminum supplier Novelis in North America.

Publicly, executives at GM and Chrysler’s Ram brand, Ford’s main competitors in the fullsize pickup market, have been skeptical of Ford’s dramatic strategy, saying new advanced high-strength steels combined with efficient powertrain strategies can allow them to meet CAFE targets with less risk and at lower cost.

However, CAFE targets become much more difficult to meet after 2018, causing many auto industry insiders to say a move away from steel will be necessary, although the steel industry vehemently disputes this and says new grades of advanced high-strength steels capable of making lightweight bodies at much lower cost than aluminum continually are being introduced.

“Our industry believes the amount of mass reduction and the better value of AHSS will win many future large vehicles,” says Ronald P. Krupitzer, vice president, Steel Market Development Institute, a steel industry trade group.

“Ultimately, while materials competition will continue, the cost effectiveness of our products and the lightweight designs they enable will create a different future than estimated in this forecast,” Krupitzer says.

Other findings from the study include:

  • For 2015, pickup trucks will contain the most aluminum with 548.9 lbs. (249 kg) per vehicle, followed closely by E-segment sedans at 546.9 lbs. (248 kg) and SUVs at 410.3 lbs. (186 kg).
  • The average aluminum content in 2015 will be up 44 lbs. (20 kg) per vehicle or 13% more than 2012.
  • Total North American light vehicle aluminum consumption will increase 28% in 2015 compared with 2012.
  • Tesla, Mercedes, BMW and Ford will exceed the average aluminum content and the average aluminum share of curb weight for 2015.
  • Total North American aluminum content in 2025 will be 10 billion lbs. (4.5 billion kg).
  • Globally, light vehicle aluminum content will approach 35 billion lbs. (16 billion kg) by 2025 making light vehicles the most important global market for aluminum.

dwinter@wardsauto.com