By Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co could incorporate more aluminum into its sport utility vehicles and other vehicle models in the future, executives said on Monday, after the company showcased a new lightweight version of the F-150 pickup truck at the Detroit auto show.
The new F-150's body is 95 percent made of a military grade aluminum alloy used in Humvees and weighs up to 700 pounds less than the outgoing model.
"Obviously this is our first shot (at using aluminum in) a big volume vehicle and there's absolutely no reason why we couldn't think about taking it elsewhere," Executive Chairman Bill Ford told reporters after the press conference.
"It is a lightweight, high strength material and 700 pounds out of a vehicle like this -- that's a big deal," he added.
Consumer tastes and upcoming U.S. fuel economy regulations -- known as corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards -- spurred the No. 2 U.S. automaker to make the bet on redesigning its most profitable vehicle in aluminum.
The redesign makes the new F-150 "CAFE-positive" for the first time, meaning the truck will help Ford meet those standards instead of lowering the average gas mileage of its lineup, Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields said.
But during the press conference, Ford also emphasized that the lightweight metal would be tougher than steel and more resistant to dents than today's model.
As part of its testing, the truck towed a heavy trailer across the country in both desert and high-altitude terrains and in temperatures ranging from 20 degrees below Fahrenheit to 120 degrees above.
The new truck reflects how Ford, under Chief Executive Alan Mulally, has been willing to take bolder, educated risks, Deloitte consultant Joe Vitale said.
The F-150's design has allowed Ford to "bridge the gap" between heavy truck users and casual buyers. "You can see it in the parking lot of a Neiman Marcus," he said.
Production of the new F-150 would begin in the fourth quarter in Dearborn, Michigan and in early 2015 in Kansas City. The truck will be in U.S. showrooms by the end of 2014.
Bill Ford, the company's executive chairman, and Mulally both said they were happy the speculation that Mulally was leaving Ford to run Microsoft Corp was behind them. Mulally declined to answer any questions about why he is no longer in the running for the job.
"It was time to get that distraction off the table," Bill Ford said in a later interview with Reuters Insider, adding that Ford has a great team "that brought us back from the dark days of '07 and '08."
(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)