The official word from Ford on its North American truck strategy since the discontinuation of the compact Ranger after the 2011 model year is that it would be all F-Series. Most interpreted that to be F-150 to Super Duty. It didn't look like there was any room for the critically acclaimed T6 global Ranger. Ford claimed it was too close to the F-150 and size and pricing to justify it as a separate model. But the prospect of a sub-F-150 Ford truck may not be totally off the table for North America after all, if these spy photos are any indication.

Although outward cues and dimensions suggest it's a heavily cladded F-150, a few details on the mule indicate there may be more than meets the eye at first glance. The truck appears to have a slightly lower ride height and narrower track than the current production F-150. The spy shooter also points out the wheelcaps show a distinct five-lug pattern, as opposed to the current six-lug pattern of the F-150. Five-lug wheels have not been seen on the F-150 since the 1997-2003 model. However, since we can't view the actual bolt patterns and lug nuts themselves, this could be a red-herring detail.

Another clue are the unusual tailpipes on these trucks. The exhaust tips are "vented" as on the Power Stroke-equipped Super Duty models to keep the exhaust tips cool during regeneration mode. This suggest these mules could be equipped with diesel engines, a surprising development considering Ford's publicly vocal and staunch support of its EcoBoost strategy.

Considering Ford CEO Alan Mulally's "One Ford" gameplan of global platform consolidation, we think it's highly unlikely this is a bespoke, stand-alone platform. It may be either an adaptation of the global Ranger, or an early-stage prototype of the 2015 F-150 previewed by the Atlas Concept seen at the 2013 Detroit auto show.