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Ford Aluminum or Chevy Steel: Which Take on High-Tech Will Win the War?
Body Armor War
It’s all out war, the battle lines have been drawn and the weapons of choice declared. In the Blue Oval camp the propulsion decision across-the-board with the exception of ferociously fast V8 Mustangs and some trucks is to go with smaller displacement turbocharged engines.
Over at Bow Tie Central the attack plan is to stay loyal to larger displacement small-block V8 engines and run with traditional since 1955 pushrod driven overhead valves. That said, today’s pushrod Chevy small-block V8 with variable valve timing, cylinder deactivation, direct fuel injection, plus a highly complex computer to run it all has evolved into the world’s most sophisticated pushrod engine of all time.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the two philosophies in this theatre are each make’s choice of armor. In the direction of uncharted territory for an American truck, Ford has opted to go with high-strength, military grade aluminum alloy for every area of the body including the cab, and bed. Not just any aluminum, but what is claimed as next-generation aluminum alloys that are more formable and design-friendly.
Klaus Kleinfeld, Alcoa chairman and chief executive officer spoke “Alcoa’s breakthrough Micromill technology offers highly differentiated automotive material with strength, weight, formability and surface quality combinations previously impossible. This high-tech aluminum will give Ford a true material edge enabling greater design flexibility and better vehicle performance – making the concept cars of tomorrow a reality.”
The increased formability of Micromill aluminum makes it easier to shape into intricate forms, such as the inside panels of automobile doors and external fenders. The increased material strength allows for the use of thinner aluminum sheet without compromising dent resistance.
Micromill is the fastest, most productive aluminum casting and rolling system in the world combining multiple technologies into a streamlined production system. A traditional rolling mill takes around 20 days to turn molten metal into coil; Micromill does it in just 20 minutes.
Its been said nothing accelerates new technological advancements like war and our auto industry spies tell us the commanders at General Motors set in their commitment to stamping out steel for Chevrolet and GMC body parts aren’t content standing still.
The General’s Approach
Equally as high-tech there’s a new-patented process called Flash Bainite for heat-treating steel and its rumored General Motors might be in the testing stages right now. It’s stronger than titanium by weight, it is high strength steel at a savings of 30 percent. The revelation of this exciting new treatment for steel is akin to the early days of combat aviation where suddenly an army’s aircraft is able to fly faster and higher than the opposing air force. Quoting Flash Bainite’s Gary Cola “Flash Bainite is a patented process for heat‐treating steel that yields the strongest, most ductile, lean alloyed, readily weldable, least costly maximum strength metal known to man.” Cola stated, “While aluminum is good for hoods, deck lids and door skins, Flash offers higher strength per pound for structural safety components.”
This revolutionary process for steel is radically less expensive and quicker plus consumes less energy to produce than conventional steel and can be stamped into shape while cold without cracking or stretching. Ultimately parts produced from Flash Bainite can weigh 30-50 percent less than conventional steel and maintain equal performance in crash testing.
As it was some thirty five years ago with the appearance of aluminum body panels on American cars it’s the increased fuel mileage figures of the future that are behind the big push to lighten the curb weight of Ford and GM trucks. Only time will tell whether it was Chevrolet and GMC with its pushrod V8 engines and state-of-the-art steel bodies or Ford with turbocharged V6s and lightweight aluminum bodies that won this war of philosophies.