Aluminium-intensive bodies will not be featured on upcoming Ram trucks due largely to a lack of consumer demand for the lightweight material, according to the company’s top executive.

"I have never heard anyone ask for an aluminium truck," Bob Hegbloom, president and ceo of Ram Trucks, a division of Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler Group LLC, told reporters October 30. "You can look at some data and research out there and the customers feel much safer in a steel vehicle. Even on certain areas they can understand using different materials—whether that’s on the hood, whether it’s in the box of a truck. But in particular on the doors of a vehicle where they feel exposed, they feel the safest material to use there is steel."

Hegbloom’s comments run counter to the strategies of other major automakers, including Ford Motor Co, which have made significant investments in aluminium in recent years. The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker is in the initial production phase of its aluminium-bodied F-150 pickup truck, which is set to hit showrooms at the beginning of the year.

"(Aluminium) will lower (the F-150’s) weight by up to 700 lb, and it will put them roughly 300 lb less than us," Hegbloom said. "They were the heaviest truck in the marketplace, so they had to do some things to get down in a test weight class."

And lowering test weight class is only a "small piece of the equation" for achieving better fuel economy, Hegbloom said. "Will (the 2015 F-150) be a game-changer in the marketplace? Time will tell," he said. "But I don’t see anyone asking for aluminium trucks today."

Chrysler’s strategy to meet increasingly stringent corporate average fuel economy (Cafe) standards has focused mainly on improvements to powertrain components. "The mileage on the 3-litre EcoDiesel in the Ram 1500 today is better than the Ford F-150 will have with the aluminium body, at least in terms of what they have announced as mileage numbers, so we have to be very, very careful that we don’t invest in technology for no returns," Fiat Chrysler Automobiles ceo Sergio Marchionne said in May.

Hegbloom conceded, however, that reducing curb weight is a crucial for automakers looking to meet increasingly stringent Cafe requirements, which call for light trucks to achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

"Do we have to lightweight the truck? Absolutely. I mean I think everyone will be going down that path to find opportunities to do that," he said, adding that aluminium is only one component of Ram’s broad scale initiative toward lightweighting. "There are places where we use aluminium; there are other materials that certainly are being looked at that are lightweight."

This report was first published by American Metal Market.
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