Detroit 2013: Ford F-150 Atlas Concept
We told you months ago that Ford was working on an all-new F-150 that would raise the bar in the pickup market. We also told you that the Wall Street Journal was reporting that the new truck, likely a 2015 model, would be constructed primarily of aluminum, and could be as much as 700 pounds lighter than the current truck. What we didn’t know then was what the truck would look like – until this morning.
Ford’s annual arena dog-and-pony show, which in various years has focused on the B, C, and C/D segments (actually, in precisely that order, from 2010 to 2012) had a distinct commercial-vehicle theme this year. And it makes sense that it would. The passenger vehicles are in relatively good shape, and have been sufficiently “One Ford-ed.” There are ten models on Ford’s C-segment (Focus) platform. Basically the same Fiesta is sold around the globe, and likewise the Focus. The Mondeo/Fusion twins are off to a good start as Ford now has a single C/D-segment offering around the world rather than developing two separate cars with similar missions. Plus, there’s a lot of money in commercial sales, and Ford already owns a large piece of that pie.
For first showed the new Transit Connect, which we first saw in November in Los Angeles. Then the big-brother Transit, which has been a favorite of tradespeople in Europe for half a century, and is now coming to the U.S. in its new generation, replacing the antediluvian E-Series vans. Blah, blah, vans, diesels, EcoBoost.
Oh, and in case you haven’t heard repeatedly for the past 36 years in Ford’s advertising, the F-Series pickups are the best-selling trucks in America. You didn’t think that Ford would give up the chance to poke rival GM in the eye as GM basks in the glow of its all-new (but fairly conventional engineering- and design-wise) pickups at the hometown show, did you?
So Ford showed a video of guys in yellow hardhats working on a construction site, then a physical “work site” (or at least a diorama of one) lowered slowly from the ceiling, complete with sparks from live human beings cutting or welding. The “work site” then continued lowering, with more guys “working,” and finally, there was a slightly different-looking F-Series pickup coming from the ceiling of Joe Louis Arena. It may have been the most surprising thing to land on the floor of The Joe since the Cusimano brothers threw the first octopus onto the ice 60 years ago.
(OK, I’m lying, the truck wasn’t nearly that surprising, but I had to somehow weave an octopus and Joe Louis Arena into this story to make it more interesting).
Though Ford didn’t explicitly say that they would be bringing an F-150 concept to Detroit, it was easy to read between the lines. The morning’s press conference was focused on commercial vehicles. Ford is soon due for a new F-150. Ford needed to divert some attention from GM’s new trucks. Chatter was strong that the F-150 would make an appearance as a concept. (The other rumor I heard was that they’d show a Mustang concept, but we’ll have to wait longer for that. Plus, it doesn’t fit in at all with the commercial-vehicle theme of the day’s presser.)
So, the truck. The F-150 Atlas, though labeled as a concept, appears to be very close to being production-ready. The usual concept-car stuff will be ditched, and it will have improved interior materials, upgraded electronics, all the usual stuff. The press conference was short on details, but there were several good ideas that Ford discussed for this truck that could make it a more effective tool for commercial buyers.
For instance, the integrated tailgate step can now be extended upward and locked to form, with a channel in the Atlas’ roof, a horizontal surface for holding long, straight objects such as pipes or lumber. There’s Dynamic Hitch Assist to aid in coupling a trailer, and a 360-degree camera to aid low-speed maneuvers (I wish they had such a thing for 2008 Siennas for my wife).
Ford is also throwing nearly every fuel-economy trick that it can at the F-150 Atlas. To wit, the concept boasts active grille shutters, active wheel shutters, a drop-down front air dam, and power running boards. Ford claims that taken together, these features can add 2 MPG highway to the new truck relative to the current truck.
Interestingly, nothing was said – at all – about aluminum. The word does not appear in the press release. Is Ford keeping its cards close to its collective chest with regard to the body material of choice in its bread and butter vehicle? Quite possibly. Aluminum vehicle frames, once an exotic feature, appear to be suddenly more democratized since the 2014 Corvette Stingray has one standard, and Ford would get one hell of a volume discount if all F-Series half ton trucks had an aluminum frame under their body.
The other possibility is that Ford explored an aluminum-intensive truck, but decided to go more conventional out of concern that its huge buyer population would think twice about an aluminum-bodied (or even aluminum-framed) work truck, and that’s why it’s employing many of the same aerodynamic tweaks that the 2013 RAM has, plus some others. Damn, I wish I had known to bring magnet with me this morning!
Design-wise, the Atlas concept is likely very, very similar to the final truck, with the exception of some detailing, including nearly the entire concept-ish front end. Expect something far more conventional up front, but most likely, what you see is what you’ll get. I hope you like what you see, because if not, you’ll still be seeing hundreds of thousands of these things sold to commercial and retail buyers, and that shows no signs of changing anytime soon.