It's not easy keeping a big secret, but that's exactly what Ford tried to do at this year's North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Sure, there was plenty of buzz about the possibility of Ford showing something interesting, but much of the chatter around the various media sites and water-coolers wasn't definitive ... even right up until the press conference.
Now that the Ford Atlas concept has been revealed (aptly named because of how much weight the F-150 carries as it relates to Ford profits), here are the details as we know them.
Ford is adamant that this is just a concept vehicle. Some design and technology details could make it to a future vehicle, but until Ford gauges customer interest and does the requisite number of the feasability studies, the automaker isn't sure what those details might be. In some cases, the technology highlighted could be, as we understand it, incorporated into a truck as soon as a 2015 model while others are much more futuristic than that.
Thankfully, among some of the coolest features on the Atlas concept are those centered on the more traditional truck capabilities like towing and hauling, but, of course, special attention is given to the all-important topics of aerodynamics and fuel economy.
On the towing side, the Atlas uses some of the same Lincoln technology that allows a vehicle to parallel park itself. The concept adapts it for truck owners who do a lot (or a little bit) of towing. This makes sense since the Atlas' lead chief designer, Gordon Platto, previously did the Lincoln MKS and MKT vehicles. Here are some of our favorite features:
- Dynamic Hitch Assist: The center display screen will show with visual cues exactly where the hitch ball and trailer socket are located and make it an easy, one-time backup operation.
- 360-Degree Camera: This is a first for full-size pickups. With four separate cameras, the driver is able to see all around the truck from a bird's-eye view.
- Trailer Backup Assist: With the same sensors that help with the hitch assist, the truck can be programmed to back up the vehicle and trailer into a designated space without the driver's hands on the steering wheel.
The new Atlas concept also includes a great many cargo-hauling features designed to help the work-duty construction worker as well as the weekend warrior. Integrated into the bed tailgate — much like the existing tailgate step — is a ladder or long-cargo cradle designed to more easily accomodate longer gear such as a ladder, construction wood or piping. Even the roof has detents and latch-points for cargo. Integrated into the tailgate are two lightweight ramps for loading bed toys (ATV, motorcycles or bikes) or work gear into the bed.
As to the important issue of aerodynamics (both GM and Ram have been working in these areas lately, as well), the new Atlas concept is the first truck with active wheel shutters that are designed to automatically close off the wheel's open sections for smoother air flow. Likewise, the Atlas also employs active grille shutters like certain models of the current Ram 1500, but it also includes an industry-first active front air spoiler that can automatically gauge wind speed and flow and extend and contract as needed.
Most importantly (this is where the Ford people get sketchy), the Atlas is reported to be using the next-generation EcoBoost engine, but no sizes, power ratings or fuel-economy numbers were discussed. Ford officials would only tell us that this engine would be appropriate for a truck with both work and play duties, but they did share that the concept's engine did have auto start/stop, which shuts the engine off when idling. This sytem also would be able to detect whether to continue that mode when towing.
As to the physical size and look of the truck (inside and out), the truck does have a strong, extra-large "Super-Duty-ish" feel to it. The Atlas has 33-inch BFG All-Terrain tires, riding on 22-inch rims. There's a touch of the Raptor vibe in the overall look and feel. Inside, the look is much more futuristic and daring, but we'll let you judge that for yourself.
There was much discussion around the size and weight of the Atlas concept as journalists got to the Ford representatives. "We'll be looking at a lot of ways to reduce weight on the next-gen F-150 to meet out goals," said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president of global product planning. Previous reports had some at Ford saying they would like to lose as much as 700 pounds from the half-ton to help with aggressive fuel-economy targets. Nair went on to say, "... if we can get that kind of weight out of that truck then we can start looking at more efficient, even smaller EcoBoost strategies — smaller engines can be more appropriate for lighter vehicles."
Realistically, what does the Atlas concept mean for the next-generation F-150? Some of that answer, we believe, was in the truck's introduction, where Nair referenced the Ford's Mighty F-350 Tonka and Super Chief concepts from 2002 and 2006, respectively. Both gave us some real clues of how the next-gen Super Dutys would look and exactly what types of features (meaning luxury option packages) we'd be seeing in the future.
We think it's worth noting that much of Ford's reasoning behind not having a small truck in the U.S. market hinges on the new global Ranger's capability range that overlaps quite a bit with the F-150. From a business proposition, Ford officials don't think it makes sense to have both here. With the new Atlas concept going bigger, this could mean Ford might be trying to create more separation between the two segments (half-ton and midsize) to open up a spot for a smaller truck. We'd guess that's what the automaker will do if the new Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon start getting good sales results later next year. We'll see.
To read the full Ford Atlas press release, click here.
To read about Gordon Platto, chief designer of the Atlas, click here.
To see more photos of the Atlas on our Facebook page, click here.