Ford Motor Co. figures that Atlas -- a titan standing for strength and
endurance -- is just the right code name for the effort to create the
next-generation F-150, the country's best-selling pickup truck.
The Atlas, a concept vehicle showing off possible changes for an updated F-150, was unveiled earlier this year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
The Atlas shows, analysts say, that as the pickup truck market improves along with the economy, Ford is preparing a stiff fight for any competitors trying to dethrone the F-150, which is made at the Claycomo Assembly Plant and a plant in Dearborn, Mich.
Just this year, both GM and Chrysler unveiled updated models of their most-popular pickups.
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 critically important 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 Claycomo 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.
"We think it's going to be a very good year," said David Elshoff, a Chrysler spokesman.
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 V8 engines for a majority of sales but with fuel efficiency boosted by technology that deactivates cylinders when the extra power isn't needed.
It also has a redesigned cab to reduce wind noise, new interiors and a step built into the rear bumper for easier access to the cargo bed. The bed also has LED lights while the cab's interior comes with seven trim levels.
"Going from the oldest truck in the segment to the newest gives us a stronger position in the market," said Tom Wilkinson, a GM spokesman.
Full-sized pickups are especially important for Detroit's Big 3, which over the years have largely fought off imports. Through April, they had nearly 80 percent
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