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Ford unveils bolder, lighter F-150 concept truck

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By Deepa Seetharaman

DETROIT, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co unveiled a concept version of its 2015 F-150 pickup truck called the "Atlas" that suggested the next generation of the best-selling vehicle in the United States will have a bolder look and be much lighter.

The F-150 concept was outfitted with the next-generation of Ford's turbocharged engine, known as EcoBoost, to wring out more miles per gallon. The F-150 also has active grill shutters on the front of the car and on the wheels to improve aerodynamics.

The second-largest U.S. automaker is looking to boost the gas mileage of its overall lineup by cutting weight using turbocharged engines. This is done to keep up with stricter federal standards for fuel economy as well as attract the growing number of truck buyers who value fuel efficiency.

"Part of our strategy is to have all of our vehicles go on a diet in terms of weight," Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields said on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show on Tuesday.

Ford executives stopped short of describing the kinds of materials or weight savings targeted for the new F-150. But Raj Nair, head of global product development, said Ford is exploring the use of lightweight materials like high-strength steel, aluminum and carbon fiber across its lineup.

Analysts say the segment is due for a rebound this year as the U.S. housing market rallies. Ford's choice to reveal the upcoming pickup at an auto show illustrates the highly competitive nature of the lucrative truck market.

Ford's U.S. rivals, General Motors Co and Chrysler Group LLC, showcased new trucks at the show as well. GM first unveiled its new trucks last month. They are considered GM's most crucial launches since its 2009 bankruptcy.

GM and Ford are fierce competitors in the full-size pickup segment, which accounted for about 11 percent of the U.S. auto market last year and will get more competitive as more truck owners look to replace their vehicles.

More than half of trucks on U.S. roads are more than 10 years old, Fields said. So-called "style buyers" or those who liked but did not need a truck are now buying different vehicles.

The F-series and sport-utility derivatives such as the Expedition account for more than 90 percent of Ford's global profit, according to Morgan Stanley auto analyst Adam Jonas.

In their latest truck redesigns, GM and Ford have diverged in their focus, with Ford placing more emphasis on fuel economy.

Ford is looking to strip out between 250 and 750 pounds from vehicles across its lineup. These weight savings can also be achieved through changes to the overall design process.

The company's designers are "almost working backwards from what would be an ideal structure from a weight and load basis and then working to get the manufacturing and production feasibility out of it," Nair said.

In its F-150 overhaul, Ford is looking to shave an average of 700 to 750 pounds from each vehicle through extensive use of aluminum as well as a redesign of components including brakes and axles, people familiar with the matter have said.

The current version of the F-150 already features an aluminum hood as well as other aluminum components.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130115/ford-unveils-bolder-lighter-f-150-concept-truck