5 stars: Aluminum Ford F-150 gets top score for safety – Detroit Free Press
Ford will announce today that the all-new 2015 F-150 pickup has received its first crash-test safety rating, and it’s five stars, the highest possible score — an important achievement for an automaker that gambled so heavily in switching to aluminum for its profit-driving full-size truck.
In fact, the aluminum version received a higher safety rating from the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration than Ford’s outgoing traditional model made of steel, which achieved a four-star overall rating.
A bad rating for the new model would have been horrendous for Ford, which invested millions of dollars to retool two plants to make the truck with an aluminum body. And it would have given ammunition to the skeptics who still aren’t convinced aluminum can perform as well as steel.
Ford has already announced it will make its next generation of heavy-duty pickups with aluminum bodies as well.
“It was important to have five-star,” said Matt Niesluchowski, Ford’s truck safety manager. “Customers understand it and can relate to it.”
For trucks relying on traditional steel bodies, General Motors has received five-star overall crash ratings for the 2015 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size light-duty pickups.
GM’s smaller Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon get a four-star overall rating. The Ram 1500 pickup from Auburn Hills, as well as Toyota’s full-size Tundra and smaller Tacoma, all have four-star overall ratings.
NHTSA gave its five-star rating to the F-150 aluminum crew cab but has not released a rating for the super cab models. Ford’s internal testing of prototypes found the 2015 model performs well in crash tests with all cab styles — but only NHTSA’s results matter.
NHTSA is the government safety agency that regulates and polices the auto industry. It buys new vehicles from dealerships to run its independent crash tests. In the case of the F-150, the safety agency purchased three crew cabs and three super cabs.
If Ford achieves the highest rating on impact tests across the board, it will be the first time for the F-150 since NHTSA changed the criteria in 2011 to make the top score tougher to achieve.
Ford also introduced a new high-strength steel frame in the F-150, contributing to safety improvements. But in side impacts, the aluminum body bears the brunt, and the crew cab received five stars in those tests.
Ford executives admit there was a lot of pressure for the new F-150 to do well.
“We knew people would question whether aluminum would be as strong and safe,” Niesluchowski said.
Work began about five years ago, said Len Shaner, Ford F-Series safety supervisor. The development team needed to know what alloys to use where — the truck has different gauges and strengths of aluminum and steel. Testing started in the virtual world, before any F-150s were actually built.
“We learned quickly the shapes and manufacturing processes for aluminum are very different than steel,” Shaner said.
To design the truck, Ford tapped its global resources and had a huge safety team involved. The process led to the filing of 31 patents, some already granted.
The work was personal for Niesluchowski. His wife and family travel by F-150.
“Delivering on safety,” he said, “was a key priority.”
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