Ford offers hints at upgraded F-150
Ford Motor Co. figures that Atlas — a titan standing for strength and endurance — is just the right code name for the effort to build the next-generation F-150, the country's best-selling pickup.
The Atlas, a concept vehicle showing off possible changes for an updated F-150, was shown earlier this year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The Atlas shows, analysts say, that as the pickup market improves along with the economy, Ford is preparing a stiff fight for any competitors trying to dethrone the F-150.
At the auto show, the Atlas boasted wheel covers that automatically close to reduce air drag and improve fuel efficiency.
The front grill, a critical part of a pickup's appearance, has been toughened up. And cargo capacity has been expanded with a metal support that pops up out of the tailgate. A canoe, for example, can be carried by resting one end atop the truck's cab and the other end on the tailgate support.
The Atlas “is the rallying cry to what the future could bring to the F-series,” said lead designer Gordo Platto.
The F-150 revamp is critical to Ford because the expanding economy, especially the housing market, has set off a market-share battle for pickups. For decades, Ford has kept the F-150 at the top of the heap. It recently announced it was adding 900 jobs at its Claycomo (Mo.) Assembly Plant to keep up with demand.
But the F-150 was last redesigned in 2009, putting Ford behind its competitors' improved pickups.
Although Ford won't confirm it, the F-150 revamp is expected to be offered next year.
Michael Omotoso, an analyst for LMC Automotive, said the F-150's lead in sales could narrow even with a new model.
But the F-150 should retain its role as the country's best-selling pickup. “They obviously know what they are doing,” he said.
Ford's two big competitors emerging this year are getting attention.
The Ram 1500 has been winning industry awards, including Motor Trend Truck of the Year. It has rated highway fuel economy of 25 miles a gallon, best in its class, and among other things is mating eight-speed transmissions with its engines.
It also offers special features like adjustable air suspension, which can lower the cargo bed for easier loading.
The new Chevrolet Silverado, in second place in sales behind the F-150, is just now rolling out. The vehicle and its sister, the GMC Sierra, will rely on V-8 engines for a majority of sales but with fuel efficiency boosted by technology that deactivates cylinders when the extra power isn't needed.
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