Years ago, when we'd first learned that Ford's F-150 pickup truck was the best-selling automobile in the world--and purportedly had been for decades—our reaction was "Uh-oh." For a gas-guzzling behemoth to be flying off of dealer lots was, we felt, bad news for the planet. But global sales that year remained strong, and since no one buys a 14 m.p.g. vehicle because they enjoy spending a lot on fuel, it proved that there was worldwide demand for a big-ass vehicle that can haul stuff.
Strong demand means Ford will keep making the F-150, but it doesn't mean they have to keep making it the same way. The Dearborn-based manufacturer has set an ambitious target of shaving 700 pounds off of the 2015 model, and the current version is part of Ford's push to increase the amount of sustainable materials going into all of their cars.
To that end, the company is now starting to use a polypropylene composite made with rice hulls for the new F-150's wiring harnesses. A wiring harness might not sound like a large item, but spread across the breadth of their sales, it means the company is getting 45,000 pounds of rice hulls off of the street, where they would otherwise be used to commit violent crimes. Okay, maybe the crime part's not quite true, but the point is that they're using 45,000 pounds of a natural material that is ordinarily considered waste, and putting it to good use.
Furthermore the F-150 contains seat cushions, seatbacks and headrests made with soybeans; "the equivalent of 10 pairs of jeans" worth of recycled cotton for the carpet insulation and sound absorbers; recycled tires for the underbody shields; recycled plastic bottles for the wheel liners; and recycled post-industrial plastics for the interior finish panels.
"Researchers in Dearborn are constantly searching for the next sustainable material that can feasibly be used in Ford vehicles," writes the company. "Finding a source of material is only the beginning of the process, however, because before making it to production, components made from recycled content must perform as well or better than comparable virgin-grade material." Which is why the rice hull material was tested for more than a year; the final stamp of approval was announced on Tuesday.
Big-ass American trucks are not going away anytime soon, particularly when they deliver sales units to the tune of 650,000 a year. But it's nice to know they're at least attempting to make them greener.