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New York auto show: Ford Atlas hints at future of pickups

The Ford Atlas concept, which hints at the

The Ford Atlas concept, which hints at the future design of the F-150 pickup, is displayed at the 2013 New York International Auto Show. (March 27, 2013) Credit: Adam Fusfeld

Light trucks are relegated to undercard status at the New York auto show. Yes, they’re given exhibit space, but it’s on the bottom floor, tucked beneath the luxury vehicles and best-sellers on the Javits Center’s main level and coupled with other so-called “specialty vehicles.”

But those brave enough to venture downstairs are greeted right at the entrance by one of the more exciting concept vehicles on display during the 10-day auto extravaganza: The Ford Atlas.

First unveiled in January at the North American International Auto Show in Ford’s hometown of Detroit, the Atlas hints at the future of the F-150 pickup.

It counts as big news in the auto industry, considering the relative lack of recent innovation in the pickup sector and the iconic status of the 65-year-old F-Series, which has sold more than 35 million units (second most in history, according to 24/ and has held the title of the best-selling pickup for 36 consecutive years, according to Ford.

Blue oval execs tend to highlight the more aggressively styled grille, the wider stance and the more pronounced wheel arches when discussing the concept, using them to illustrate the automaker’s “Built Ford Tough” slogan. However, the redesign touches nearly the entire vehicle.

The headlights share the active shutter grille’s meaner disposition and are outfitted with LED lighting; the wheels also have shutters that open and close to improve the vehicle’s aerodynamics; the front spoiler automatically drops down to improve underbody airflow; the flatbed comes with a hidden cargo ramp that makes it easier to load heavy items; side-view mirrors are equipped with a lighting system that illuminates the cargo box, which itself can be used to charge power tools; and, finally, a 360-degree camera on the Atlas roof gives driver’s a bird’s-eye view of the area around the truck to ease maneuvering.

Of course, the new features reach under the hood, too. But marketing them has proved to be a little more challenging for Ford as it tries to look to the future (think fuel efficiency) without abandoning its existing tough-guy image. With that in mind, the Atlas is outfitted with an EcoBoost powertrain, which appears on some existing F-150s, too, and a stop-start engine that the company expects to improve fuel economy. But in the initial launch of the Atlas, Ford focused more heavily on the fuel savings generated by the  aerodynamic design elements -- including the active wheel and grille shutters and the drop-down spoiler -- that don’t impact towing power.

How closely this resembles the eventual next-generation F-150, widely speculated to be planned for the 2015 model year, remains to be seen. Up close, the Atlas is an angry-looking beast that lends a renewed focus on form to the ultimate in functional vehicles.

Click here to take a look for yourself.  

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