Truck wars take a twist

Rather than duke it out over who has more torque or better anti-sway control, Ford and General Motors are sniping at each other with television ads over what their trucks are made out of.

Ford makes extensive use of aluminum, while GM says it uses aluminum where needed and steel where it matters. Let’s look a bit closer at the claims of both companies with GM coming up first.

If you listen closely, GM doesn’t deny there’s aluminum in Sierra and Silverado trucks. The ads state that aluminum is used where it makes sense, but they don’t say which parts are aluminum. The implication is that Ford’s use of aluminum is somehow new, untested and over the top.

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Ford says that it uses “military grade” aluminum for the truck body and that doing so lightens the body by roughly 300 kilograms.

First off, both companies are, as the Brits tend to say, “telling porkies.” There is no such thing as “military grade” aluminum. The military does not grade any product. It sets the specifications according to the job it needs done.

Aluminum, like steel, comes in many different alloys that define its characteristics from how easy it is to bend, how strong it is and how easy it is to work with.

GM’s Sierra and Silverado have significant amounts of aluminum from roof panels to trim items. All of these items, just like in the Fords, are non-structural components. The company just neglected to mention this in the ad.

Where does this leave the consumer?

Ford provides an expanded engine choice, and consumers can now order their F 150 with a turbo four cylinder.

A body that’s 700 pounds lighter means the F 150 doesn’t need as large an engine for the light duties that most F 150s are used for. As well, the fuel economy is significantly better.

Fuel economy is now the hot commodity in trucks, rather than torque and horsepower. We are only a few years away from new corporate average fuel economy standards. Nobody wants to pay the dreaded “gas guzzler” tax in an age when good fuel economy is seen as being green.

A rough calculation shows that the fuel saved in one year would run all the hybrids currently on the road for years if truck fuel economy improved by .5 litres per 100 kilometres.

When you order the F 150 as a working truck, the weight saving means that you can haul 700 lb. more and still get the same fuel economy. Or, you can stick with the old limits and get better fuel economy. If you happen to be a city user, fuel economy improves slightly because of all the stops and starts.

Less fuel is required because of less weight and mass to move.

Durability and safety are not affected because the frame and major suspension components are still steel.

Ford has more than 20 years experience working with the alloy. When it owned Jaguar, the company introduced a honeycomb aluminum construction car. Special rivets, bonding agents and other innovations were developed to make the program work, and it did.

The significant drawback to using aluminum is repair costs. More aluminum in places where things get bent, such as fenders and doors, means that it takes more knowledge and practice to get the body work right.

Sierra and Silverado use aluminum, just not as much as the Fords. Fuel economy across the engine range is roughly the same as the Ford engines from Eco Boost to V8. For 2016, Silverado/Sierra will use a nine speed automatic to help with the fuel economy numbers.

Its advertising campaign may well be working because GM truck sales overall are up significantly. GM also counts on most people not believing the fuel economy ratings put out by the government.

As well, many consumers do not want the base engine in a truck to be four cylinder, even if there is no intention of ever ordering one.

In short, buy whatever truck you like. My guideline would be to buy from whoever is going to give the best service and the best price. The rest is just smoke and mirrors.

Charles Renny is an automotive columnist and a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.

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