BBC Autos

Ford Atlas, a world-hauler

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When Ford says it wants "One Ford", with little differentiation in its products from one market to the next, we believe it.

But then the company engages in bits of kabuki theatre, as it did at the Detroit auto show on 15 January, pretending it would only display Transit commercial vans at its press conference before revealing the Atlas Concept.

The F-150 pickup, the next generation of which the Atlas Concept previews, is only the company's top-selling model in the US, so to say the Transit vans were upstaged would be an understatement.

True to its name, Atlas is mammoth – a gargantuan crew-cab pickup with four doors that looks ready to shoulder the actual Earth, and not a scale replica, in its bed. Because the Atlas is a styling mock-up rather than an actual production prototype, few facts are available, but the company did release some interesting tidbits.

Ford vice president of product development Raj Nair said the Atlas has shutters that close gaps in the grille, but the Ram 1500, 2013 North American Truck/Utility of the Year, already has that feature. How about an even cooler gimmick? 

Check out the active wheel shutters. The Atlas rolls on suitably gigantic spoked wheels, the sort that churn the air like a Cuisinart. But at speed, the active shutters pop out from the spokes, sealing the gaps between them to present a smooth disk to the air stream, slicing through the wind more efficiently.

There is also lower body sculpting that extends below the front bumper at speed, and active running boards that ease ingress and egress while serving to smooth airflow under the truck.

Also cool, a trailer back-up assist system that would help drivers unaccustomed to towing a rig back the trailer out of the driveway without hitting the house or the neighbour's car. Like parking-assistance systems, the trailer backing system will automatically steer the truck to keep it and its rig in alignment. If you need to back the trailer around a turn, well, then you need to practice.

Ford added a version of its tailgate step that it says is easier to use, plus a bracket that folds from the roof for supporting long objects such as canoes or ladders.

Naturally, such a massive truck looks capable of steamrolling all comers, but Ford's goal is to make the next F-150 lighter. Though Nair, the product executive, did not put a number to the weight savings on the eventual F-150 replacement, Ford has committed to reducing its models’ weight by 250lbs to 750lbs by 2020.

The truck will be powered by next-generation EcoBoost turbocharged engines, which, combined with the weight reduction, should improve fuel economy by as much as 20%, Nair claimed. The active aerodynamic devices alone are worth 2mpg on the highway, according to Ford.

All these tweaks and upgrades should serve to keep the next F-150 a compelling story to follow through its development.