Ford’s Top Designer Says Atlas Concept an Exercise in Fuel Economy

Active aerodynamic shutters and stop/start technology are among features that could come to the next-gen F-150, which also is expected to have an aluminum-intensive cab and bed.

Byron Pope, Associate Editor

January 31, 2013

2 Min Read
Mays says Ford designs should have ldquoperceived efficiencyrdquo
Mays says Ford designs should have “perceived efficiency.”

DETROIT – The Ford Atlas concept, shown at the just-ended North American International Auto Show, is an experimental model to see how fuel-efficient a fullsize pickup can be, says the auto maker’s top designer.

A precursor to the all-new F-150 due to debut in 2014, the Atlas features a number of fuel-saving technologies, including a new direct-injected turbocharged EcoBoost engine, active-grille shutters and auto stop/start engine shutoff that deactivates when the truck is towing.

J Mays, group vice president-design, and chief creative officer, says he pushed for the addition of active wheel shutters on the concept, which at highway speeds close openings between the spokes to improve aerodynamics.

Mays declines to reveal whether any of the fuel-saving features will make it to the production version of the truck, noting durability will have to be tested.

Sources say the next-generation F-150 will make heavy use of aluminum for its body and bed, and Mays doesn’t rule that out, though he points out the Atlas itself employs very little of the lightweight metal.

“This (concept) is still sitting on a steel frame and there’s some boron steel in there,” he tells WardsAuto. “It has an aluminum hood and suspension components, but that’s pretty straightforward, because that’s what we have on today’s (production) truck.”

Aluminum is more difficult to work with than steel, Mays notes, a lesson he learned while designing aluminum-intensive Jaguars when Ford still owned the British sports-car maker.

Once pressed into form, aluminum wants to return to its original shape, he says. “So you have to really figure out a way to manage that.”

However, modern techniques have made the metal and other lightweight materials, such as carbon fiber and magnesium, easier to work with, he adds.

While the next-gen F-150 is still a year away from production, Mays says Ford’s latest Fusion, C-Max and Escape models illustrate the design direction he will take the Blue Oval brand.

But there will be no cookie-cutter approach, he assures, noting the auto maker is “not just going to do different links of sausage on Ford design” language.

“We want all vehicles to have a perceived efficiency to them, to look light and technical, aerodynamic and fuel-efficient,” Mays says. “We want them to have a feeling of premium-ness, because I really love the idea of giving our customers a premium experience at a mainstream price.”

For the Lincoln luxury brand, Mays and his team are striving for a simple design approach. Luxury, he says, “doesn’t scream,” but rather “speaks with a quieter voice.

“Most luxury buyers are conservative and have nothing to prove and don’t want to drive around in something that looks like a red sport coat. They want something a little bit quieter and a little more sophisticated. That’s how luxury works.”

Mays points to the Lincoln MKC cross/utility concept, also shown at the NAIAS, as an indicator of future Lincoln designs.

Revitalizing Lincoln will require a decade of flawless execution, bringing one great vehicle after another to the market, he says.

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About the Author(s)

Byron Pope

Associate Editor, WardsAuto

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