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Ford Atlas Shows Fuel-Saving Tweaks– But How Many Will See Production?

Sections: Fuel Economy

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Wheel Shutters displayed on the Ford Atlast pickup truck concept

The Ford Atlas concept pickup truck featured a number of fuel-saving aerodynamic tweaks, including these active wheel shutters. Are they ready for real-world use? (Photo courtesy Ford Motor Company.)

Much has been made about the Ford Atlas concept shown at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) this month. While most of the focus has been on how the truck previews the next F-150, Ford showed several fuel-saving tweaks on the concept. How many are ready for the real world?

In a press release, Ford says it equipped the Atlas concept with these fuel-saving tweaks:

  • Active grille shutters. These work in much the same way as they do on current fuel efficiency-minded compact cars, including Ford’s own Focus SFE. When traveling at highway speeds, the shutters close to improve aerodynamics. They open at low speed or during stop-and-go driving when extra cooling is needed.
  • Active wheel shutters. Similar idea, different location. Shutters stay hidden while moving at low speed or when parked, but then use electric power they gather while the wheels are in motion to close at higher speeds and improve aerodynamic flow.
  • Drop-down front air dam. Another feature that comes into play at highway speed, the air dam lowers at the lower edge of the front fascia to improve the flow of air underneath the truck.
  • Powered running boards. These lower when parked to aid ingress and egress, then raise to become flush with the lower body of the truck when it is in motion. Again, the idea is to improve aerodynamics.

All of those tweaks are feasible– indeed, other vehicles already have them– except for one: the wheel shutters. One might wonder how such a system would perform in a work truck that is likely to see mud caked in its wheels. We’d be surprised to see them make production.

Those tweaks are the small potatoes, though. The big fuel economy gains would come from stop-start engine technology that would shut down the truck’s engine at long traffic lights, restaurant drive-thru lines, and the like, then automatically restart it when the driver took his foot off the brake. Add that to next-generation EcoBoost engine technology, specifics for which are slim in the press release, and the tweaks could net as much as a 2-MPG highway improvement over an Atlas not equipped with them.

Assuming the Atlas could match the current F-150’s 23 MPG highway EPA rating, that means the tweaks to the EcoBoost engine and aerodynamics would merely match the current best-in-class Ram 1500 V6 at 25 MPG highway. But perhaps the next-generation F-150 has other tricks up its sleeve that could push its highway fuel economy numbers even higher. We won’t know until that next generation bows sometime after the introduction of the new GM pickups in 2014.

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