Photo courtesy of Ford
Named for the Greek god who holds up the Earth, Ford's Atlas takes trucks further into the digital age with handy telematics tools.

General Motors and Chrysler's Ram division showed off new pickup trucks at this month's Detroit auto show, but Ford Motor Co. offered a look at a pickup of the future. Its Atlas concept incorporates smart technology that is designed to make work less stressful.

"It is a vision of where future Ford trucks could go," says Mike Levine, Ford truck spokesman. The full-size pickup rides on a high-strength-steel frame and body with a next-generation EcoBoost engine. First introduced on Ford's half-ton F-150 truck line for 2011, the direct-injection, twin-turbocharged EcoBoost engine, which improves fuel economy by up to 20%, has become a popular option among truck buyers.

Atlas uses aerodynamics to squeeze out another two miles per gallon. Its tricks include active grille shutters, active wheel shutters and a retractable air dam, all of which deploy automatically. Power running boards also tuck up under the truck after passengers have climbed in.

In many ways, the future of construction vehicles lies in their telematics, and Atlas does not disappoint here. Its trailer-backup assist helps take the edge off a task that can intimidate even the most experienced truck drivers: A new knob allows drivers to fine-tune the articulation point between truck and trailer to make backing up a cinch. The truck also sports a dynamic display that speeds up trailer hitching, another difficult operation.

The cargo bed has a few nifty gadgets, too. Ramps stowed underneath help users roll equipment aboard, and Ford's signature tailgate step can lock upright to act as a cradle. This feature secures long items—such as lumber and ladders—over the bed to free up space for other cargo.