There’s not a bigger hitter in the United States auto market than the Ford F-150. In addition to being the best-selling pickup in the country for the past 36 years it’s also become the perennial best-selling vehicle of any variety. It is to our domestic auto industry what butter is to Paula Deen, sans the diabetes.
Ford caused a stir at the Chicago Auto Show this month by revealing the Atlas concept; for all intents and purpsoes a giant rolling hint of what the future holds for the iconic pickup.
Ford has been very clear over the last couple years their number one goal is improving fuel economy. How to achieve that in vehicles that can’t sacrifice any of the power needed to serve they’re purpose is being hotly contested in the truck market. The Atlas show’s Ford is sticking to their wager that turbocharging is a good replacement for engine displacement.
Hidden behind the massive grill is the next generation of Ford’s twin-turbo EcoBoost 3.5-liter V-6. It features a “truck –enhanced” stop-start system that shuts off the engine during stops in traffic to save fuel.
Besides engine technology the Atlas sends a clear message Ford is focusing on active aerodynamics to squeeze more range out of their trucks. Shutters in the grill and in the wheels close at highway speeds when cooling requirements are low to reduce drag. The running boards tuck up against the truck when it’s moving for the same purpose.
The truck’s front air dam is also active. It lowers at highway speeds to improve underbody airflow and rises at lower speeds to improve ground clearance. In sum Ford says the aero tricks will improve highway fuel economy by 2mpg, which in the larger scheme of the Atlas’ fuel-saving efforts could prove to be more than a drop in the bucket.
Speaking of tricks Ford has a couple hidden away in the Atlas’s exterior. The popular tailgate step featured on the current F-150 now extends upwards when the tailgate is closed to act as a support for roof-mounted cargo. In effect the step doubles as a storage rack that can appear and disappear as needed. The trickery continues beneath the bed with hidden cargo ramps that slide out to allow ATV’s and other wheeled apparatus to role up into the truck.
Of all the handy upgrades the Atlas showcases two are guaranteed to make gray-haired truckers gripe that today’s generation is growing softer by the minute from technological coddling. Using Ford’s Dynamic Hitch Assist the Atlas uses the rear backup camera to seamlessly line up the ball of the truck’s hitch with a trailer.
Should it catch on such a feature threatens to eliminate a man’s ability to interpret a co-worker's hand signals through a prism of truck mirrors for backup guidance. Scarier still is the Atlas’ Trailer Backup assist, which uses Ford’s park assist option to back the truck and trailer into a parking spot on its own…
It could be about time to throw in the man towel guys. These contraptions are starting to drive themselves.