I guess it's no surprise that, after years of severe recession, as soon as funds returned, employment numbers seem to be going in the right direction, and people are starting to have the money to buy vehicles again, we're finally seeing new trucks come to market. The Ram was significantly updated for 2013, the Silverado and Sierra will be new for 2014, and, if all the conjecture is true, the Ford Atlas concept that was revealed at the Detroit auto show is a strong preview of the 2015 F-150.
The concept pickup had all kinds of cool technology in it, features with a lot of potential in the pickup truck market. While the new Ram has active grille shutters, the Atlas has those, plus active wheel shutters and a drop-down air dam, to improve aerodynamics. The Atlas is powered by the next-gen EcoBoost with stop/start, but the company didn't go into detail about the engine. All of these things should translate into fuel-economy improvements.
Ford also showed new innovations that make the truck easier to use. The tailgate step shown was a new evolution that combines the versatility of a tailgate step with the ability to hold long cargo. (You secure the cargo to the roof at two tie-down points, it sits above the bed, and is tied down to the extended step.) There's also a feature that makes it easier to back up with a trailer in tow, one that makes it easier to line the truck up to a trailer when hooking up, a 360-degree camera, and even dual cargo ramps that slide out of the rear bumper.
Even though Ford didn't mention a single performance specification (they did list dimensions), and we don't know yet how much of this concept will become reality, the Atlas still stole the show. So how is the rest of the half-ton world going to respond?
Of the competitive set, Ram would probably have to do the least to catch up to Ford. The 1500 already has a lot of terrific features to improve aerodynamics and fuel economy, while using normally aspirated engines. General Motors has to be a bit peeved at this, though, having just revealed its new Silverado and Sierra. The trucks use direct injection, VVT, and cylinder deactivation and are greatly advanced over the previous generation, but Ford and Ram are pulling away from GM on the technology side. The biggest advantage GM may have is the potential for a reduced cost of ownership with their trucks because of the use of (relatively) less technology.
What about Toyota? The Tundra is an excellent truck, but it is just about ready for a refresh. The last time Toyota's full-size was updated, in 2009, it included mild restyling and replacing the 4.7-liter V-8 with the 4.6-liter V-8. It'll be interesting to see what the next step is when it comes to the Tundra.
But the truck that is probably the most due for change is the Nissan Titan. It hasn't taken the half-ton world by storm, and Nissan has been so quiet about the truck that some people have forgotten about it. The truck currently comes with one engine choice (a V-8), two cabs, and three bed lengths. It hasn't gotten a major update since it first came out for the 2004 model year. That's 10 model years. Ten. Maybe it could be the first one to break through the half-ton diesel barrier. From what we hear, it was supposed to, but the deal fell through.
When Ford presented its Atlas at Detroit, the company showed the potential that platform has in the future. We still have to see how much of what was shown on that truck could actually go into production. If it could all be feasible for production, how much would it all cost? If it were sold at a reasonable price, would it still ensure plenty of truck capability and reliability? If the Atlas goes into production with a lot of what the concept shows, the rest of the half-ton segment is going to have to spend the next couple years playing catch-up.