Next Ford F-150: Advanced Materials Likely, Hybrid Powertrain Possible

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The new Atlas Concept that Ford Motor Co. [NYSE: F] unveiled at Detroit this past week revealed several interesting technologies that altogether could save fuel (active grille shutters, active wheel shutters, a drop-down air dam, and power running boards) and be useful to serious truck users (dynamic hitch assist, hidden cargo ramps, and a point of view camera). And it also suggests a new, even brawnier Super Duty–influenced look for the future F-150.

What remains in looking ahead to Ford’s future trucks are questions about greener powertrains, advanced materials, and the platform itself. Will Ford migrate to an all-aluminum or mostly aluminum structure, or one with more lightweight materials? And what about electrification? And if it’s committed to expanding the mileage and capability of its EcoBoost V-6, as it also mentioned for the Atlas, what about a hybrid or plug-in hybrid F-150?

Those are questions we asked VP Raj Nair, Ford’s global product development chief, out on the floor of the Detroit Auto Show.

“The way it’s trended on the passenger side gives you some hints on where it would go on a truck as well,” said Nair of hybridization or electrification—which perhaps hints that if Ford unveils a hybrid or plug-in, it would first be for the smaller Transit Connect or Transit Connect Van.

This fits in alongside Ford’s passenger-car and crossover strategies, in which it will soon have Hybrid and Energi (plug-in) versions of both the Ford Focus and Ford Fusion, as well as the 2013 Ford Focus Electric. Starting with the Transit Connect, which is perhaps more of an urban vehicle with shorter daily driving distances, might make more sense.

Ford considering light-truck hybrids

But at the same time, Ford is clearly also thinking about hybrids for larger light-duty trucks.

“We’ve said in the past we do expect an increase in electrification across segments,” added Nair. “For rear-wheel drive in particular we’re in some discussions with Toyota on where they think it’s going, where we think it’s going. and any joint opportunities with that.”

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