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Ford injects the pickup truck with next-generation technologies


April 5, 2013

The Atlas uses an Active Grille Shutter to enhance aerodynamics

The Atlas uses an Active Grille Shutter to enhance aerodynamics

Image Gallery (39 images)

For decades, the pickup truck has been the redneck-jock of automobiles – big, strong, dirty and not necessarily all that smart or refined. With the Atlas Concept, Ford envisions a future where the pickup truck adds a dose of technology and refinement. Consider the Atlas Concept that infuriating jock that managed to get straight As while playing a sport every season.

Large pickup trucks have traditionally served as utilitarian work oxen, hauling provisions to remote worksites, towing cargo trailers, and performing other jobs that would cause lesser vehicles to resign on the spot. They're defined by those types of roles, using muscular gas and diesel engines, off-road-ready drive configurations, and big cargo beds to get things done.

Ford intends for future pickups to keep those qualities, which have long endeared them to the likes of cowboys and construction crews, but with a bit more thoughtfulness. Ford refers to the concept as "working and playing smarter, not harder."

The Atlas begins "working smarter" before the driver even gets behind the wheel. A Cargo Cradle rises off the tailgate and provides extra support for long cargo while freeing up bed space. Cargo Ramps stored underneath the bed make it easy to wheel tractors, quads and other equipment up into the bed. The Dynamic Hitch Assist precisely lines up the truck hitch and trailer coupling, delivering visual cues on the Atlas' infotainment display. An integrated roof carrier and cargo bed tie-down points add even more hauling versatility.

Once everything is loaded, the Atlas eases the strain of driving a heavy, cumbersome work truck. The Trailer Backup Assist makes it easier to back a trailer, and the 360-degree bird's eye-view camera delivers a full view of the truck, useful in maneuvering through and parking in tight spaces. The concept also has more traditional driver-assist systems like Blind Spot Information System, Lane Departure Warning and adaptive cruise control.

Once at work, the Atlas provides several helpful advantages. LED spotlights on the side mirrors illuminate the job site for work that doesn't end when the sun goes down, and LEDs on the cargo bed ensure that workers can easily find their tools. The 110-volt electrical outlets in the bed and cabin serve to provide power and charging.

Fuel economy is usually a secondary consideration to truck users that need something that is large and capable, but Ford reasons that there's no reason not to get as much economy as possible out of its truck. The Atlas is powered by a next-generation EcoBoost engine with truck-optimized Auto Start-Stop and a fuel-saving transmission. The start-stop feature shuts down the engine when stopped in traffic but keeps the engine running when the truck is towing a load. A series of efficiency-optimizing technologies, including active grille shutters, active wheel shutters, drop-down front air dam, and power running boards, improve aerodynamics to get even more mileage.

Ford updates its truck interior with "thin, lightweight" leather seating designed to increase legroom; oversized, glove-friendly controls; ice blue lighting; and an infotainment system with "truck apps," MyFord Touch and SYNC. Multiple USB ports charge smaller, more techy tools of the trade. The Intelligent Access system automatically unlocks doors and tailgate when the owner approaches.

Ford introduced the Atlas Concept at the 2013 North American International Auto Show in January. This week it further highlighted the conceptual truck by showing how some initial ideas were refined into the features actually included on the Detroit concept car.

The distinctive Cargo Cradle, for instance, was created as a means of adding usefulness to the traditional tailgate, which began with the idea of a tailgate-integrated storage box. Similarly, the lighting for the bed was moved from the truck roof to the cargo box walls.

Take a look at the gallery for more angles of the Atlas concept and other features that were dropped or refined from earlier iterations.

Source: Ford

About the Author
C.C. Weiss Upon graduating college with a poli sci degree, Chris toiled in the political world for several years. Realizing he was better off making cynical comments from afar than actually getting involved in all that mess, he turned away from matters of government and news to cover the things that really matter: outdoor recreation, cool cars, technology, wild gadgets and all forms of other toys. He's happily following the wisdom of his father who told him that if you find something you love to do, it won't really be work. All articles by C.C. Weiss

There is a lot to like especially the cargo ramp and cradle but the Active Wheel Shutters is silly at best.


I grew up around trucks as we lived on a farm AND my Dad did construction work, and the first thing to get messed up it seamed was the tailgate. It is the weakest thing on a truck but without it you can't really use a truck for what it was made for, haul things. Farming someone always drops a bail of hay on it from out of the barn window or leaves it down and backs into something, when looking in the rear view mirror it looks like you'll clear but when the gate is down you don't. . . This is why you see so many trucks with different colored gates, they are kinda pricey to replace so usually they're replaced by going to the junk yard and finding one that works. Now with ladders integrated and soon toolboxes they won't even be cheap at junk yards.


Wow hope we see it soon, and not just in the USA.

Realmcoyoneone REalmcoyoneone

Active grille technology, impressive! (sarcasm) umm Porsche was doing that in the 1980's on the 928

Bill Bennett

I have driven a pickup for years without that problem.


WHAT new technology are they referring to? LED's? I'm not sure what else here is "new technology" and LEDs sure don't qualify. The tailgate thing is going to be broken within a year. The shutters on the wheels move to make the truck look better when it's sitting still? No other reason to add moving parts to wheels that are going to be bashing through brush, rocks, snow and mud to the axles? Wonder what goes first, the wheel covers or the tailgate. useless, and very costly gimmicks.

And what's the replacement cost on that windshield?


I've owned a new F series truck every five years for the last 25 years in addition to used Ford trucks totally 10-11 trucks. None ever got more than 15 MPG whether diesel or gas. My last NEW truck was an '06 F350 Crew cab w/6.0L diesel. After that, the technology (and price) got so high, I was unable to service it, or justify the payment. I went back two generations to something I can maintain myself with the same level of comfort; a 1996 F250 Crew cab shortbed w/7.5L gasser. By far the best truck I've owned.

Keep the technoglitz. I have technology that doesn't frighten me, comfort, and no payment. I'll keep this truck till they take my license.

Ford, head my warning. You're Teching yourselves out of customers.


Ford needs to wake up and use their ecoboost engine on a vehicle that could really use it. Were seriously looking at Explorer with EB, but it had no more interior space than other 7 seat SUV's that weighed 1000 pounds less and were significantly easier to maneuver. And the gas mileage was no better as a result.


Grille shutters aren't new at all. Many cars in the 1920's and 1930's had them, controlled thermostatically.

In the 20's the shutters were the grille, presenting a flat face when the engine was cold then gradually turning open as it heated up. If the weather was cold enough they'd close with the engine warm.

Then someone came up with the idea to put a temperature controlled valve in the coolant system and the shutters went away.

Gregg Eshelman

I would be embarrassed to publish this sort of puffery. The pickup segment is by far the most profitable for US car makers and it is also the most competitive with the most aggessive redesing and engineering and shortest model life cycle. Other than a casual mention of the Ecoboost engine this article provides no information on the changes made to the new trucks. I can get better information by going to ford.com and looking at their press releases.

Why not have people who actually have a clue write about the item being reviewed? Why does this questin even need to be asked?


Uhhh...Carlson it's about a concept truck not the pickup truck market or Ford's production line. Calm down?

Joe F

Ford makes one of the best selling trucks in the industry. I'm into sports cars, but if I needed a truck, I'd look into getting this.


No question that weight & aerodynamics are big players in mileage and operating costs. A small diesel would be interesting. Watch how many trucks go by with no or light loads. Is 25-30 mpg feasible with weight, aero, transmission, and engine improvements in the future?

I'm more interested in functions.

An integrated ramp system is a great idea & would make it easy to load heavy stuff like tillers, mowers, etc. Add a winch attachment point in the bed on the cab wall. I often get the load in with add-on ramps but then have no place to put the ramps.

Design a better load control system architecture.

Design a standard rack and box architecture.

Long loads are a problem. 12-16 foot lumber is difficult (both to secure from sliding out and support). There are add-on supports that fit into the hitch.

Like to see the tail gate become a modular workbench. Standardizing an interface would allow users to add a vise, work clamps, lumber supports, etc.

Going to be interesting.

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