The production version of this concept will replace America's best-selling vehicle of three decades.
The production version of this concept will replace America's best-selling vehicle of three decades.

Despite tough economic times and increasing fuel prices, the Ford F-150 continues to bask in the glory of being the USA's best-selling vehicle - a post that it's held for more than three decades now.

On top of that, the F-150, along with its SUV counterpart, accounts for 90 percent of Ford's global profits. They really can't afford to muck it up, in other words.

Which makes the Ford Atlas Concept, unveiled in Detroit on Tuesday, all the more significant. It gives a very strong indication of what this new full-sized pick-up truck will be like when it hits the scene in time for the 2015 model year. If it fails, Ford will probably die.

There's little doubt that it will still strike a chord with its target market, given that it's still very big and that it has truck-like styling derived from the bigger F-250. We have no doubt that Chuck would approve.

But don't let its appearances fool you - the vehicle is also significantly more efficient than the current F-150.

Not only is it lighter, but it also looks set to make more extensive use of Ford's downsized, turbocharged direct injection petrol engines (complete with idle-stop technology) to reduce fuel consumption by up to 20 percent.

Consumption is further reduced through a variety of active aerodynamic measures, such as grille shutters that block off the inside of the grille when minimal air is needed and wheel shutters that deploy at speed.

In the words of Ford product development VP Raj Nair: "The Ford Atlas Concept previews the innovations that will transform what people expect from their pickup."

This also meant creating lots of useful features, like 110-volt electrical outlets in the load bay for charging power tools, multiple tie-down points and hidden extendable ramps.

Cabin gadgets abound too, the driver's life made easier by features like Dynamic Hitch Assist, which provides a visual graphic of the towbar and trailer coupling position and the 360-degree Point-of-View camera gives a bird's-eye view of the vehicle.