Alan Mulally was a leader at aircraft manufacturer Boeing before he joined Ford as CEO in 2006. While at Boeing, Mulally was involved in the development of several aircraft. He lead the design of the 757/767 cockpit which was one of the first “all glass” aircraft, meaning it relied on screens rather than physical gauges. In an industry first, because the 757 and 767 had the same flight controls, it allowed pilots to be “type rated” to fly both aircraft even if they only had experience in one.
In 2010, Mulally pushed Ford’s efforts to introduce Ford’s new MyFord Touch screen-based interface for the car’s audio and accessory systems. Although it was derided for reliability issues at the time, this presaged the trend toward controlling car systems through a screen and put Ford on the map at events like the CES consumer electronics show.
Aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup
The 2015 F-150 was an enormous gamble for the automaker. The pickup truck was Ford’s best selling and most profitable vehicle, but the company went all-in on building the truck with aluminum body panels. The weight savings were substantial (700 pounds) but the new material was more expensive, and many feared it would be fragile and expensive to repair.
Mulally understood from is time in the aerospace industry that aluminum could indeed be as durable as steel and that the weight savings were justified. The trucks could be more fuel efficient and require less substantial suspensions and brakes.
The big advantage of aluminum is that the weight savings last the life of the truck. Other fuel saving technologies like sophisticated injection systems, hybridization, turbos, or extra gears in the transmission all add complexity and long-term maintenance costs. Furthermore, aluminum is corrosion resistance and its light weight improves handling and performance.
Mulally lead the increased reliance on screen-based control of car functions. This adapts technology reminiscent of that he lead the development of in aircraft.
Mulally’s experience in the aircraft industry no doubt influenced his willingness to approve extensive use of aluminum in the F-150. It’s hard to say that aluminum construction isn’t durable when the average age of a US commercial jet is 11 years old, and many examples last thirty years.