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DETROIT - When the Ford Atlas Concept truck made its spectacular descent from the ceiling at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit before a packed house of journalists from all over the world attending the 2013 North American International Auto Show, Ford Chief Designer Gordon Platto likened the feeling to the one he had the day his wife gave birth to their first child.
“It was a pretty proud moment,” said Platto, with a sparkle in his eyes. “We have a passionate group of designers, who are really into trucks like I am, and we are committed to staying on top and keeping Ford trucks No. 1.”
The Atlas reveal was also an exceptional moment for Doug Scott, Ford Truck Marketing manager.
“It’s exciting to see a truck get the spotlight and be the center of attention. To be able to see people’s reactions to is just a thrill,” he said. “It’s very exciting following the Super Chief and Tonka tradition – just stretching the envelope on what full-size pickups will look like in the future when it comes to fuel economy, capability, technology and design.”
For Platto, the Atlas Concept represents a year-long labor of love by a team of roughly 75 people who worked together to design and build the vehicle.
Platto led both the exterior and interior design teams. He says the idea for the Atlas originated with truck customers.
“The customer is hugely important to us in the truck business. So the concept began with research to really understand their underlying needs and what they really want,” said Platto. “What we found is that their truck needs to serve two purposes. It needs to be their primary tool for work, but it also needs to serve their lifestyle needs after work if they want to go out to dinner or to the movies with their family.”
In order to be able to accommodate friends and family, the concept was designed as a crew cab. Platto says the dual functionality of the truck as both a work horse and recreational vehicle drove the aesthetics of the Atlas.
“It has that Built Ford Tough appearance that is very machine-like, but it also looks beautiful and stylish enough that you feel very comfortable going out to a nice restaurant in it,” he said.
Early on in the design process, Platto says the team had many brainstorming and sketching sessions. Members of the team also reached out to their global counterparts for their input.
“We’re the experts in the North American market, but it’s always good to get that fresh point of view to help us think out of the box a little more,” he said.
Certain elements of the concept reflect signature Ford DNA, like the drop-down beltline along the windows and the twin nostril grille. Other more futuristic features on the concept’s exterior were incorporated to meet another important customer need: fuel efficiency that doesn’t sacrifice capability.
The Atlas features several aerodynamic elements that enhance fuel efficiency by reducing wind resistance and drag, such as Active Grille Shutters (shutters behind the front grille that automatically close at high speeds), Active Wheel Shutters (automatic shutters in the wheels that close at high speeds), a Drop-Down Front Air Dam (a front wind spoiler that lowers at high speeds) and Power Running Boards (running boards that tuck up against the truck when it is moving).
“Fuel efficiency is huge in our customers’ eyes and we pay attention to that, so we’re always looking for new ways to either improve the powertrain or look at aerodynamic features that may enhance fuel efficiency,” said Platto.
To make work and recreational life easier, the Atlas includes smart features like Trailer Backup Assist.
“If you’ve ever tried to back up a trailer, you know that it can be tough,” said Platto. “With this feature, you take your hands off the wheel and work a control knob on the instrument panel. Once you get it in position, the trailer backs up straight and into a spot. It’s really neat.”
Another neat feature designed with work and play in mind is the Dual-Purpose Tailgate Step and Cargo Cradle.
“If you’re familiar with the step gate, it pulls out and allows you to step with a handle to access the box better. This is an evolution of that, and it actually functions when the tailgate is up,” explained Platto. “It extends up to roof height. The roof has a small cradle on it and the tailgate extension also has a cradle on it, and it allows you to carry long items – like a ladder or a canoe.”
The interior of the Atlas features Cobalt Blue backlighting that was designed to coordinate with the blue color in the headlamps and box lighting. Platto says the interior was designed modularly so that pieces and parts could conceivably be swapped with different materials to change the aesthetics.
“It allows us the flexibility to design anything from a work truck all the way up to a premium truck like a King Ranch or Platinum vehicle,” he said.
Choosing the gunmetal silver color for the Atlas Concept exterior was a long process, according to Platto.
“We did a lot of tryouts and actually painted full halves of current model vehicles to see how colors would lay on the surface. We did a series of reviews all the way up to the highest level of senior management,” he explained. “Then we had to check the color under different lighting conditions – in the studio, showroom, outside, at Cobo Hall – because different locations give you different feelings.”
Deciding on a name for the concept also took careful consideration, says Scott.
“Nomenclature is always a challenge because everybody has different ideas. We researched a number of names and considered quite a few. We wanted something that was consistent with the idea that the Atlas was intended to be unstoppable, and Atlas just seemed to be a really great fit,” he said. “Atlas is about helping customers shoulder the burdens that can come with their active professional and personal lives.”