One of the most intriguing of concept cars ever is the Ford Tonka truck.
So life-like is the reproduction of the Tonka trucks many of us played with as children, that it's easy to mistake a picture of the vehicle for an enlarged photo of a scale model - but this is a real truck and a concept upon which a real production machine is very likely to be built.
The reason for this intriguing machine, in a marketing sense is not hard to fathom -over the last few decades, Tonka has spent millions of dollars across the world marketing to toddlers and parents of toddlers about the virtues of buying the Tonka brand - a brand with values such as "tough" and "durable in a hostile climate."
Fortuitously for both Ford and Tonka, many of those children have grown up, identify fondly with the Tonka brand and are in the target market for pick-up trucks. Conversely, many of those who use Ford pick-up trucks have children, and the "Built Ford Tough" concept translates equally in the opposite direction.
As the Ford PR copy captures so well, The Mighty F-350 TONKA concept celebrates the spirit of the trucks that, for many, first sparked an appreciation for ruggedness and resilience in a vehicle. It's really a match made in heaven and one which will probably strengthen both brands over time if this strategic alliance should come to fruition.
The current status of the Ford Tonka Truck is that it is a concept vehicle and not destined for production, though this magazine is full of such concept vehicles, and in the last two months several of the concept vehicle stories under preparation for this issue have become stories about real production models (Porsche Carrera and Ford GT40 just to name two). Even if it never makes production in this form, many of the technologies it comprises are a hint of what's to come for the next generation Ford F-Series pickup - America's best-selling vehicle for 20 years running and best-selling truck for the past 25 years.
So let's for a moment look at the Tonka concept as displayed at the Detroit Motor Show last month.
To back up the claim to manliness promised by this squared-off hunky look, the Tonka has 350 horses and 600 ft-lb of torque. We think it's kinda cute, and certain to appeal to the little boy in us all.
"We've had fun bringing to life a full-size pickup that reminds kids of all ages of the trucks they used to loved to punish in their sandboxes," said J Mays, Design vice president at Ford in announcing the truck. "This truck is unmistakably a Ford and signals the direction we will take Tough Truck design in the future," he said.
The Mighty F-350 TONKA concept draws strength from its Ford Tough Truck lineage, accentuating instantly recognisable F-Series hallmarks.
An open, B-pillarless design with rear-hinged rear doors extends an uninhibited welcome into the Mighty F-350's extended cabin. Dual rear wheels with 22-inch rims and custom Goodyear tires and a shortened, six-foot open bed give the Mighty F-350 a refined ruggedness designed with the truck enthusiast in mind. Chrome is featured generously, creating a striking profile on this concept derived from the popular F-350 Super Duty Crew Cab.
Like a high-quality tool, the Mighty F-350 TONKA concept truck's interior is designed to be functional and sophisticated - modular, customisable snap-on gauges and oversize, aircraft-inspired toggle switches deliver versatility and durability. A manual Torquemaster controller allows the driver to shift torque left or right, front or back.
The Commander's Seat, built on a full-floating suspension, is inspired by the seats used in heavy-duty, long-distance Class 8 rigs. It is completely adjustable and introduces a new level of total comfort for pickup trucks.
A combined storage system and "smart box jump seat" positioned between the centre stack console and the front passenger seat allow ample room for a sixth passenger. Folding rear seats maximise usable space in the cabin and house removable "tool box" luggage. Rear head restraints fold up into the ceiling, allowing a clear view of the road.
The F-350 TONKA introduces a unique combination of technologies that deliver a cleaner, more efficient ride. The vehicle's concept diesel V-8 engine is teamed with the five-speed PowerTorq transmission, marking Ford's first application of a five-speed automatic with a diesel engine. The 6.0-liter, 32-valve, turbocharged V-8 concept engine is rated at 350 horsepower and delivers up to 600 foot-pounds of torque when teamed with the PowerTorq automatic. With lower emissions and better fuel economy than any V-8 diesel truck engine on the road today, this concept powertrain also features Hydraulic Launch Assist (HLA).
The HLA system, currently under research, is designed to improve fuel economy in large trucks by an estimated 25 to 35 percent in city driving. A reversible pump/motor attached to the driveshaft through a clutch system and an energy storage module work in tandem with the traditional powertrain. The HLA system recovers energy normally lost during vehicle deceleration, stores it in the form of hydraulic pressure and then reuses it during acceleration.
"We're committed to pushing the envelope and exploring ways to provide our customers with leading-edge powertrain technologies that are fully capable and socially responsible," said Richard Parry-Jones, Ford's Chief Technical Officer.
The Mighty F-350 TONKA concept truck features several technologies designed to deliver value and convenience.
The truck's vehicle's air suspension - with air springs replacing the conventional rear leaf and front coil springs - enables a "kneeling" function to ease entry and exit and assists in loading the truck bed. As the doors are opened, the Mighty F-350 lowers five inches and the running boards deploy. The truck reverts to its raised position once the doors are closed.
A camera-operated lane departure warning system helps keep the driver alert by emitting a soft audible sound signal if the vehicle unintentionally drifts outside of the lane.
Additional cameras mounted within the bed help the driver monitor truck-to-trailer coupling, as well as reversing. The F-350 TONKA concept also marks the debut of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) in headlamp application, introducing new opportunities for advanced lighting technology. High intensity LED lights are featured prominently throughout the vehicle's interior and exterior: in low beam and fog lamps and in all of the signal lights, including rear combination lamps, the centre high-mounted stop light, front turn signals, and marker lights.
This advanced lighting technology can deliver better-distributed illumination on the road than conventional halogen lights, as well as provide a means to reduce electrical power and emissions. While halogen bulbs take a fraction of a second to respond to an electrical input, LEDs respond instantly, giving valuable extra warning time for following traffic.
LEDs are also very efficient, using up to 50 percent less electricity than halogen lights. With thinner packaging than conventional lights, LEDs offer weight savings, create new possibilities for signature lighting, and allow for more flexibility in design.