Pickup trucks took early spotlights at the Detroit auto show this week as auto writers proclaimed the Ram 1500 as North American Truck of the Year
Ram 1500's fuel-saving and ride-enhancing improvements helped it win journalists' 2013 Truck of the Year award.
Ram 1500's fuel-saving and ride-enhancing improvements helped it win journalists' 2013 Truck of the Year award.
, and Ford dropped an F-150 "Atlas" concept truck onto a stage amid flashing lights and welding sparks to show off new cargo and powertrain features.

A jury of 49 journalists from the U.S. and Canada chose the redesigned 2013 Ram 1500 for its fuel-saving technologies and advanced suspensions, according to reports from the North American International Auto Show now going on in Detroit.

The Ram claims an EPA fuel-economy rating of 18 mpg City and 25 mpg Highway with a Pentastar 3.6-liter gasoline V-6 and a ZF 8-speed automatic transmission, and is newly available with air front suspension to join the previously offered rear air bags.

Also new in the Ram light-duty pickups are stop-start functions for engines, thermal management system to speed warmups, pulse-width modulation of the alternator to reduce drag, and active aerodynamics, including grille shutters.

The Ram beat out two other finalists, Ford's C-Max and Mazda's CX-5, both crossover utility vehicles. To win, entries must be new or substantially improved over previous models.

Ram previously won the award in 1994, when it got its big-rig styling still basically used today, plus extensive re-engineering that left the aging, 1970s-designed Dodge pickups behind and turned Ram into a real contender against Ford and General Motors.

1994 was also the Detroit show award's first year, and balloting for this year's contest followed a multi-step point-based system. Journalists also picked a 2013 Car of the Year, Cadillac's new ATS compact sport-luxury sedan.

F-150 of the Future?

Ford's Atlas concept truck, said to be the precursor of the next-generation F-150, also includes fuel-saving aero tricks like grille shutters, which close to streamline the front end when cooling air is needed less, and a low-slung spoiler that deploys to push aside air while underway and retracts at low speeds for more ground clearance.

That grille is heavily chromed, like the current F-150's, but larger, and the body and axle tracks are wider. The body is aggressively sculpted and creased, while head- and tail lamps are LEDs.

The engine is a turbocharged V-6 that Ford says is advanced over the current EcoMax V-6, though it didn't say how. There's still no diesel because this engine type has become too expensive and fuel costs are too high to make sense for consumers, Ford executives have said in the past.

The Atlas's cargo bed has built-in tie-down points, pull-out loading ramps and a fold-down tailgate step that also folds up to form a lumber or pipe carrier. Racks on the cab's roof hold the forward ends of such payloads. A Ford graphic here points out all the concept trucks features.

Interior treatment includes brushed aluminum panels, glass-encased instruments, blocky console and infotainment stack, blue LED lighting, and eye- and body-grabbing seats. Observers think the theme, if not all the details, will be carried through to the next-generation F-150, expected in a year or two.

That won't be too soon, observers think, because while F-150 has perennially been the nation's best-selling single vehicle, Ford this year faces new competition from the award-winning Chrysler Ram 1500 and GM's next-generation Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 pickups, shown off last month near Detroit.