DETROIT -- Some call it a game-changer. Some just shake their heads. Either way, Ford's new aluminum-clad F-150 is such a radical departure from past pickup trucks that it dominated talk at the opening of the Detroit auto show.
Ford Motor unveiled the 2015 F-150, whose body is 97-percent aluminum, on Monday. The lighter material shaves as much as 700 pounds off the 5,000-pound truck, a revolutionary change for a vehicle known for its heft and an industry still reliant on steel. No other vehicle on the market contains this much aluminum.
"It's a landmark moment for the full-size pickup truck," said Jack Nerad, editorial director for Kelley Blue Book.
On the day Ford launched its new-generation aluminum body F-150 pickup truck, arch-rival Chevrolet won the 2014 North American truck of the year award with its new Silverado at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
It was a full sweep for the flagship division of General Motors. The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray won North American car of the year.
This was the first time Chevrolet has won both awards in the same year. The Silverado was last named truck of the year in 2007 and the Corvette was last named car of the year in 1998.
"Chevrolet is in the midst of the most aggressive product transformation in the brand's more than 100-year history," said Alan Batey, General Motors senior vice president, global Chevrolet.
The winners were selected from a panel of 48 automotive journalists from the United States and Canada.
Other car finalists included the Cadillac CTS and the Mazda3. The other truck and SUV finalists were the Acura MDX and Jeep Cherokee.
The redesign of the F-Series is Ford's response to small-business owners' desire for a more fuel-efficient and nimble truck -- and stricter government requirements on fuel economy. It sprang from a challenge by Ford's CEO to move beyond the traditional design for a full-size pickup.
"You're either moving ahead and you're improving and you're making it more valuable and more useful to the customer or you're not," Chief Executive Alan Mulally told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
But it remains to be seen if customers will accept the change.
"Trucks are put to such hard use. They take bangs and dings and a lot of hard use," Nerad said. "We'll see how the use of lightweight aluminum plays out in the field."
Ford is taking a big risk. F-Series trucks -- which include the F-150 and heavier duty models like the F-250 -- have been the best-selling vehicles in the U.S. for the last 32 years; last year, Ford sold an F-Series every 41 seconds. Ford makes an estimated $10,000 profit on every F-Series truck it sells. Michael Robinet, the managing director of IHS's automotive group, says the trucks account for about a third of the company's revenue in North America -- $80 billion in 2012.
"Anytime you make a change with that vehicle, it's got to be well thought out, because you are really playing with the crown jewels of that company," Robinet said.
But Robinet said Ford had to make a change, since its trucks were heavier than competitors', hurting their fuel efficiency. Ford, which has been selling F-Series trucks since 1948, also has a deep understanding of its customers, he said.
"They wouldn't roll the dice on this if they felt it wasn't going to work," he said.
Competitors aren't panicking, but they're on notice. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, whose company makes Ram trucks, said he'll be watching the Ford truck carefully. Still he believes cost is still a big barrier to the wider adoption of aluminum.
"We've looked at it, but right now I can't make the weight to cost benefit analysis to work. But it may be my fault," he said.
The 2015 F-150 goes on sale late this year. As for cost, Ford wouldn't reveal prices, but its truck marketing chief Doug Scott says the F-Series will stay within its current price range even though aluminum costs more than steel. F-Series trucks now range from a starting price of $24,445 for a base model to $50,405 for a top-of-the-line Limited.
Pete Reyes, the F-150's chief engineer, said Ford expects to make up the premium by reducing its recycling costs, since there will be less metal to recycle, and by slimming down the engine and other components, since they won't have to move so much weight.
Aluminum is widely used on sporty, low-volume cars now, like the Tesla Model S electric sedan and the Land Rover Evoque. U.S. Postal Service trucks are also made of aluminum.
Ford is convinced truck buyers will accept the change. The company says the new truck will tow more and haul more. The frame -- which does most of that work -- is still made of high-strength steel, and the engine doesn't have to account for so much weight. It can also accelerate and stop more quickly. Aluminum doesn't rust, Ford says, and it's more resistant to dents.
Reyes says the company planted prototype F-150s with three companies -- in mining, construction and power -- for two years without revealing they were aluminum. The companies didn't notice a difference.
Still, Ford could have a tough time wresting customers from the competition, mainly Chevrolet, GMC and Ram, says Jesse Toprak, an independent auto industry consultant in Los Angeles.
"Movement between brands in the full-size truck segment is extremely minimal," Toprak says. "It's the strongest loyalty of any segment."
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.