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Novelis the driving force behind Ford’s aluminum trend

Novelis, a global aluminum supplier, is seeing a 45-year-old dream come true as the auto industry is on the cusp of making the lightweight material mainstream.

Novelis is supplying aluminum for the 2015 Ford F-150 that goes on sale later this year. The supplier is expanding its Oswego plant, for a third time and Ford can use everything it can make.

For 40 years prior to 2009, the amount of aluminum on vehicles increased by about seven pounds a year, said Tom Boney, a general manager for Novelis North America.

First it was hoods, then doors and liftgates. A few luxury automakers were bold enough to offer aluminum frames and body panels on selected models. But when it came to the full body, steel remained the metal of choice.

When Ford and Novelis started talking in 2009 — facilitated by Novelis CEO Phil Martens, a former Ford executive, and Ford’s former CEO Alan Mulally’s knowledge of aluminum from his time at Boeing — the aluminum F-150 evolved from dream to reality.

Ford makes about 700,000 F-150s a year and starting with the next-generation light-duty truck they will all have aluminum bodies. With reports that General Motors’ next generation of pickups, Chrysler’s next Jeep Wrangler and maybe Ram pickup could all shift to aluminum, Novelis is positioned well for the industry’s next big trend.

By 2025, 18 percent of all vehicles will have all-aluminum bodies compared with less than 1 percent now, according to a recent report from Ducker Worldwide, which examines material trends.

Pickups are leading the charge, partly because they must achieve big improvements in fuel economy in the next decade. Ducker estimates by 2025, 70 percent of pickups will be aluminum intensive.