Spied: 2015 Ford F-150 Prototype On Public Roads

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These camouflaged pickup trucks are most likely prototypes of the next-generation Ford F-150, which will probably debut next year as 2015 models. It's too early in the trucks' development process to draw any real conclusions about styling, but it appears the chrome Gillette-style front grille will remain.

Our spy photographers suggest this could be a prototype of a Ford F-100, a sub-model designed to offer a smaller and cheaper truck option to buyers, citing the apparent presence of five-lug wheel hubs as evidence. Currently, all F-150 trucks use axles with six- or seven-lug hubs. In general, trucks with higher payload ratings have more wheel lugs -- Ford Super Duty models get eight or ten, for instance -- so if these prototype trucks really do have just five wheel lugs, it could signal a lighter-duty pickup.

But Ford has repeatedly downplayed the possibility of launching a smaller pickup truck in the U.S. market; the global Ranger, for instance, is about nine-tenths the size of an F-150, and it wouldn't make sense for Ford to sell a "small" truck that was almost the same dimensions as the company's breadwinning F-150.It wouldn't be possible for Ford to profitably sell a smaller pickup alongside its popular F-150.  Further, these bumpers don’t look much smaller or cut down from normal. And these wheel covers may be just that -- covers, which may be hiding six-lug F-150 hubs.

Regardless, we know Ford is working on the next generation of its truck. The 2015 Ford F-150 will take some cues from the Atlas concept shown at the Detroit auto show. Expect the next-generation truck to drop close to 700 pounds by virtue of using advanced metals. While the current F-150 has an aluminum hood, using more high-strength steels, aluminum, and maybe even magnesium, will help the 2015 F-150 hit its diet goals. Reducing weights means better fuel economy, and potentially smaller engines underhood. The new truck will also be significantly more aerodynamic than today's model; the Atlas concept previewed several active aero aids that could cut highway fuel consumption.

Our source also posits that the tiny split exhaust tips seen on this prototype may signal a new, smaller engine for the Ford F-150 (current trucks have larger exhausts). The truck's current engine choices comprise a 3.7-liter V-6, 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6, 5.0-liter V-8, and a 6.2-liter V-8.While the 3.2-liter five-cylinder turbodiesel on offer in the 2014 Ford Transit van is a possibility, Ford development vice president Raj Nair told us in Detroit that a diesel F-150 is unlikely. Instead, he suggested the next-generation F-150's EcoBoost V-6 could shrink in displacement, perhaps to 3.0 liters.

We'll learn more about the 2015 Ford F-150 over the coming years as our spy shooters catch more prototypes roaming the roads for development purposes.

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