Trucks at Work

Concept pickup aims to boost capability and fuel economy

So if you’re attending the 2013 North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week (and sadly I am not!) you’re going all sorts of interesting vehicles – especially where the light truck segment is concerned.

Today, let’s take a look at Ford Motor Co.’s new Atlas concept pickup truck, which combines all sorts of nifty stuff into a more fuel efficient crew-cab styled package.

This isn’t a “fancy pants” truck, by the way; a vehicle all chromed up to appeal to luxury buyers who will barely drive the thing. Here are a few reasons why it isn’t: multiple tie-down points integrated within the cargo box walls and load floor, along with 110-volt electrical outlets in the cargo box to charge power tools. That tells you right there this truck is expected to do some serious work.

[You can view more photos of the Atlas by clicking here.]

Then there’s an integrated roof carrying system and hidden extendable ramps give the truck unique functionality for a variety of jobs, along with thin, lightweight rear seating in comfortable leather to allow for extra legroom for rear passengers.

To save on fuel, the Atlas is equipped with what Ford calls a “next-generation” EcoBoostengine equipped with automatic “Start/Stop” engine shutoff technology that shuts down the engine when stopped in traffic to save fuel – while suspending it if the truck is towing cargo.

[Below is a “silent movie” overview of the Atlas concept. No sound, but you get a feel for the exterior and interior look of the truck.]

I’ve discussed the new EcoBoost engines in this space before – a powerplant that uses gasoline direct injection and turbocharging to boost fuel-economy some 20% – but the Atlas adds in other some unique features to help boost fuel economy further, including:  

  • Active Grille Shutters: Automatic shutters behind the grille stay open when extra engine cooling is needed, such as during low-speed stop-and-go driving or while working in hot weather. The shutters automatically close to improve aerodynamics when cruising on the highway at steady speeds.
    Active Wheel Shutters: Automatic shutters in the wheels are hidden to improve style at rest and low speeds, but automatically close at highway speeds to improve aerodynamics. Self-charging batteries use energy from the wheels’ motion to power the shutters.
    Drop-Down Front Air Dam: A drop-down front wind spoiler lowers at highway speeds to improve underbody airflow. The air dam is raised at low speeds to improve ground clearance – helpful for off-road operation.
    Power Running Boards: Auto-deploying running boards help passengers enter the truck at rest and tuck up against the truck when it is moving to improve aerodynamics and ground clearance.

The combination of these fuel-saving features saves more than 2 miles per gallon on the highway without diminishing towing or hauling capability, Ford said.

From a work truck perspective, here are a few more upgrades worthy of note:

  • Dual-Purpose Tailgate Step and Cargo Cradle: Ford takes its “Tailgate Step” up another notch by adding the ability to also act as a cargo cradle – lifting and holding extra-long cargo items above the truck and freeing valuable bed space.
  • Trailer Backup Assist: This allows drivers to back a trailer with the twist of a knob; and Ford’s research indicates that backing a trailer is often the most intimidating task a truck customer can face.
  • Dynamic Hitch Assist: Hitching a trailer can be time consuming and difficult. Dynamic Hitch Assist helps precisely line up the truck’s hitch with the trailer coupling, eliminating maneuvering guesswork by showing visual cues in the truck’s center display screen.
    360-Degree Point-of-View Camera: This gives the drive what Ford calls a “bird’s-eye view” of the truck to help position the vehicle in tight places or when there are obstacles near the truck – such as on a busy job site or parking lot.
    LED Headlamps and Taillamps: Using light emitting diodes (LEDs) offers better road illumination than conventional halogen or high intensity discharge (HID) lights and lasts longer. LED lamps also offer near-instant response, giving valuable extra warning time for following traffic.
    LED Cargo Box and Side Mirror Lighting: These LEDs brightly illuminate the cargo box and job site after the sun goes down with minimal battery drain compared to standard headlights or plug-in lights.
    Hidden Cargo Ramps: Lightweight, durable loading ramps stowed below the cargo box can be quickly removed and set up to assist with loading wheeled items into the bed – from landscaping equipment to dirt bikes.

Of course, all of this is packaged together with an extremely stylish crew-cab body and chassis so the vehicle can maximize the number of people – as well as cargo and other gear – it can haul to and from the job site.

Tell you what: it’s a pretty slick looking truck, at least from where I sit. 

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