While we were busy geeking out over the 2014 Corvette, revealed last weekend at the Detroit Auto Show, Ford was pulling the sheet off their own revolution, and it might be more important than the new ‘Vette.
Actually, “revolution” might be too strong a word to describe the Atlas Concept, which will become the F-150 when it hits the market in 2015. It is, after all, just a current F-150 with a new grille and roof. Yes, at first glance the Atlas seems to be an exercise in impressing the uninitiated with some beautiful new body features. But look a little deeper and you’ll see some ideas that don’t just make the Atlas a very cool truck, but suggest a change in the character of the American pickup. Some are little more than “neato” items, gimmicky tack-ons to wow luxury customers; but others could be quite revolutionary, indeed.
Charge of the Turbos: We’ll start with the engine, which Ford is advertising as an EcoBoost. This doesn’t mean the NA V8 will go away, as this would cause a citizens’ uprising, but it does mean that the EcoBoost V6 has been selling like civvie AR-15s, and Ford wants that to continue. What we’re hoping it means is that Ford will finally release an EcoBoost V8, perhaps the same one we’ll see in a Mustang, released around the same time? The Atlas also has start-stop technology, so you’ll have to throw a switch if you want to warm your truck up in the morning.
LED ALL the lights! : Since this is a concept, and since it’s appearing at an auto show, the headlights and tail lights had to be LEDs. That would be fine for production, as well, since LEDs are brighter, last longer, and use less energy. But Ford also added some low cost LED lighting along the bed rails, causing you to wonder why no one’s done that before; and some LED flood lights on the side mirrors so you can see what you’re doing when you unload the groceries grind pieces of metal and hammer in rivets.
Towing for Dummies: Ever try to hook up a trailer by yourself? Okay, put your hands down, guys. We’re talking about the non-professionals, capicse? Apparently there are a bunch of sensors out back that tell the Atlas’ center screen where the ball is in relation to the socket. Why they didn’t just put a camera back there, we don’t know. There’s also something called “Trailer Backup Assist,” which was cryptically described, but which we can only assume renders a computer model of your grandpa who yells at you from the screen, “Cut the wheel left if you want to go left!”
Tailgating: Our next contestants on “This Should Have Been Standard Decades Ago” are Ford’s hideaway cargo ramps, which slide neatly under the bed. Finally the genius of the Uhaul is recognized in the mainstream. A little further up is the much-lampooned (but probably pretty useful for some folks) tailgate step, but the new version folds into an upright position when the tailgate is up to form a clever cargo bracket. Haulers of 2x4s or long bits of PVC pipe will find this quite useful. Oh, and speaking of the “man step,” there are power running boards now, which retract when you start moving and will probably not break within the first 30k miles.
Aero: When discussing aerodynamic engineering, there are certain vehicles you’ll always bring up: the Porsche 916, the Toyota Prius, the Concord. But never a pickup truck. Ford decided to break into that conversation like a drunk uncle at a black tie gala. The Atlas has these trick wheels that shutter themselves closed at speed to improve aerodynamic efficiency. You see the same idea on those plates snapped onto semi wheels. But since the Atlas’ shutters move, they still look like normal rims when you’re stopped. There’s a drop-down air dam out front, which probably won’t be as noticeable as the fixed one on the Boss 302, but will help cut airflow to the underside of the car. The grille also shutters when you’re cruising, which should help the flat-faced pickup at least hammer its way through the wind resistance, saying nothing of slicing.
So the good news is that the best selling truck in America is still utilitarian. We didn’t hear about leather interiors or carpeted beds. Instead we have a bunch of useful, if a little dorky, tools to help us do some work. The other good news is Ford is still focusing on improving fuel economy, even though their current EcoBoost is already waging war on OPEC. Other manufacturers will undoubtedly be close behind, road-skiing with Ford’s man-step. This means fewer boring economy cars as daily drivers, and more awesome American trucks.
Which of these features would be useful to you? Which ones do you think will reach production?