By on September 26, 2016

Volkswagen-Amarok-2017-1024-01

Move over Chevrolet, Ram and Ford?

It’s hard to say if American van and truck builders have anything to worry about after the head of Volkswagen’s commercial vehicles division publicly mused about jumping into the U.S. market.

According to Reuters, the potential for future sales has the automaker considering a stateside foray, given the booming sales of its commercial products overseas.

“Orders are at a level that some would wish for,” said Eckhard Scholz, chief executive of the automaker’s commercial vehicles division, at a German trucks show last week. He added that the U.S. is “a highly interesting market.”

Through August, Volkswagen truck and van sales rose 8.2 percent compared to the same period last year, totaling 308,500 units worldwide. Last month saw a 25 percent sales increase, with 35,500 vehicles sold.

When asked about marketing its trucks and brands in the U.S., Scholz said, “A lot of things come to mind but at the moment I have nothing concrete to say.”

Overseas, Volkswagen markets a number of vans and the recently restyled Amarok body-on-frame pickup. Bringing any of those vehicles to the U.S. would present a number of challenges, not the least of which is the dominance of other players in the market.

The company’s year-old diesel emissions scandal has stigmatized the brand. That doesn’t bode well for Volkswagen, as most of its commercial and trucks models contain diesel powerplants, including the next-generation 3.0-liter V6 TDI in the Amarok.

The automaker’s manufacturing footprint in the U.S. isn’t great, with a single assembly plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Nor does it have much cash to throw around, given its recent multi-billion-dollar emissions settlement with U.S. customers and regulators.

Vehicles imported from Europe would be subject to the much-loathed “chicken tax,” assuming VW doesn’t mirror Ford by installing backseats and windows in its vans (slated for removal upon arrival). U.S.-bound vehicles assembled at its Mexican plants would avoid the tax, but Volkswagen’s bean counters would need to weigh the risks. The automaker wants surefire monkey makers in its bid to turn around a U.S. sales slump.

Overseas, Volkswagen’s vans include the Golf-based Caddy van, the venerable Transporter, and the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter-based Crafter.

[Image: Volkswagen AG]

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67 Comments on “Volkswagen Eyeing U.S. Van and Truck Market: Report...”


  • avatar
    indi500fan

    There are two new VW dealer points here in the Indy area (Noblesville & Avon) with greenfield buildings by large dealer groups – Tom Wood and Andy Mohr. Interesting to me that somebody is spending a lot of dough on the brand.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The planning and much of the commitment to investment almost certainly would have occurred before the scandal broke. Calling it off would have meant certain losses while continuing with the plan could lead to a potential profit or at least lower current losses with the potential for future profits.

  • avatar
    RetroGrouch

    Do the truck and van buyers of America want overly complex vehicles with the reliability and repairs cost of German luxury cars? Um, no.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Last time VW made trucks is when Hitler took them to Russia. They didn’t do too well. But our Studebakers did. Nothing changed since. Contractors simply don’t have time to take VW trucks for repairs.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        We have paved roads now- even in Russia, I hear.

        But have you learned any new facts in the past 70 years? I just did, at wikipedia. They say-
        — Volkswagen Trucks and Buses, Portuguese: Volkswagen Caminhões e Ônibus Ltda, is a Brazilian commercial vehicles manufacturing company based in Resende, Brazil and a subsidiary of MAN SE. It manufactures heavy trucks and buses under the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles marque.

        Volkswagen Trucks and Buses was originally a part of the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles division of the Volkswagen Group, but as of 1 January 2009, it is now under the ownership of MAN SE and is now MAN Latin America.[3]

        — Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles took over the Brazilian Trucks and Buses operation in 2000 from Volkswagen do Brasil; Volkswagen’s Brazilian subsidiary. This signaled the start of a new era for the Volkswagen Group in producing its own Heavy Truck and Bus chassis range, which covers the gross combination mass (GCM) of 5 tonnes to 57 tonnes category.

        Since Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles have taken control; the company has been looking at expanding Truck and Bus sales to other markets outside of South America, South Africa and Middle East regions.

        • 0 avatar
          RobertRyan

          @Wheatridger
          Add in Scania as well as MAN, that want to get some of the Commercial Truck and Van market in the US. MAN is unusual as it is a Truck division which in turn owns a Truck division in Latin America. Navistar will be a joint acquisition by the two companies

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            Ya know, US truck buyers don’t exactly have fond memories of the last Navistar engines available in a pickup…The Ford Power Strokes they built were complete disasters.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

            Big USA Al is correct. I’m not sure if MAN and Scania build conventional models or just Euro-style cabovers? I’m thinking the latter in which case there is a very limited market in the US and Canada for them.

            Otherwise, Ford’s sweet new Cargo would be here lol.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Lotta crazy schemes got hatched during die letzten Wochen im Bunker.

  • avatar
    jhughes

    The North American truck market is a tough one to break into. But VW could make a ton of money if they can get a piece of the pie, even a small one. It would also show that they’re making big changes, even if all they do is introduce existing models here for the first time, since they’re new to us.

    • 0 avatar
      Adam Tonge

      If GM has to have Nissan build a small van for them why would VW be able to make money on a small van?

      And when it comes to the Amarok, VW will price it, in typical VW fashion, above the established competition and wonder why Americans don’t like their vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        tinbad

        Not so fast, these small vans are super popular in Europe and VW is one of the best sellers in some regions there. The ancient underpinnings and terrible fuel economy of something like the E-series (GM already abandoned the Savanna/Express) leaves a lot of room for new entries. Both current GMs and RAMs offerings in the segment are based on European versions and for good reasons (fuel efficient, practical/cheap).

        • 0 avatar
          Adam Tonge

          Well since Ford is mostly selling the Transit/Transit Connect and owns over half of the van market, VW would have to come after them. Everyone else is fighting for a much smaller market.

          VW has no clue on how to deal with fleets in the US, they don’t have the dealership network that Ford does, they won’t be competitive on price, and businesses in the US don’t care about VW.

          And believe or not, there is still a market for those American BoF dinosaur vans.

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          The E-series has only available in cutaway versions for a number of years and it is selling like hotcakes. GM has not abandoned their BOF vans they are contracting with their new truck partner International to build them for them so they can increase production to keep up with demand. Nobody is going to fall for another Sprinter clone, the van with the worst owner loyalty. Look at market share Ford >50% GM ~25% and the other 3 vans fighting for scraps.

          The small vans do OK but no where near the volume of the biggies and just like the biggies Ford owns the market accounting for near 50% market share with the other 50% being split between 3 vans with 4 nameplates.

          Setting $100 bills on fire would be a much more efficient and productive thing for VW to do with the little money that they have.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          Fleets just want a shoebox that’s reliable. Fuel efficiency isn’t a big factor when $1,000+ is on the line, every single day.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Yup up-time is the most important factor followed by long term durability. Fuel economy is near the bottom right before ergonomics.

    • 0 avatar
      mikeg216

      Right.. And Toyota spent billions on a plant for the tundra.. They were going to sell 175,000! Per year.. They sell 50,000 Nissan built a factory in Mississippi for the titan.. They were going to sell 100,000..they sold 10,000 and that plant now builds small vans for Chevrolet to keep the lights on

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @jhughes
      It will be not a small part of the pie. Problem with VW’s Van division it is like Mercedes Sprinters, all diesels

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Several years ago I read that VW felt that they’d need to sell 100,000 Amaroks per year to justify a NAFTA zone factory to build them. If one considers VW’s reliability woes combined with emissions issues, they’d be hard pressed to sell 1/2 that number. Ironically the chicken tax targeted VW back in the day and once again keeps them at bay.

  • avatar
    Adam Tonge

    Good luck VW. You will certainly need it.

    Offering no compelling reasons for Americans to switch from the existing midsized trucks or commercial vans should work well for sales…

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      This. For trucks & vans, America has no peer.

      • 0 avatar
        mikeg216

        I mean hell if anything Mercedes helps Ford and Chevrolet sell vans.. The Mercedes is more expensive up front and the running costs are high and the repair costs are astronomical and by the time you are done paying it off its full of rust holes! Thanks Mercedes!

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          I know the maintenance manager at our county airport and he agrees with you.

          A yellow Sprinter makes for a lavish public display of rust!

          • 0 avatar
            Adam Tonge

            Around here, all the Sprinters look like they are bleeding rust.

          • 0 avatar
            Kenmore

            Yep, Mercedes gifted Ford a huge public perception advantage with those Sprinters.

            It’s not like anyone is going to miss noticing that big 3-pointed star leading around a house-sized rust outcrop.

          • 0 avatar
            tedward

            I have to agree. Every sprinter I see doing every-day commercial duty is covered in weeping rust sores. Besides, isn’t one of vw’s vans a version of the sprinter? They seem to work really well for recreational duty conversion van use though. I’m in the northeast so that might affect this.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Only in regards to the North American market which is shrinking as a proportion of global sales.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      VW would have a tough row to hoe if they want to sell trucks in any significant numbers in the U.S. American truck makers (with their numerous Mexican assembly plants) have mastered the segment – dependability, utility and a certain amount of luxury, with easily available parts when necessary, and generations of brand loyalty.
      Toyota and Nissan have not taken a very large market segment, despite competing here for decades.
      VW has very little brand loyalty; in fact, they have stunk up their name on the level of a roadkill skunk. So they will have to wait a while for the current mess to fade into the past.
      Their only hope would be to provide tremendous value, quality and utility, along with an exceptional dealer experience and stellar warranties. This would require a comprehensive and genuine corporate culture overhaul, which is extremely unlikely to happen.

      • 0 avatar
        Adam Tonge

        They wouldn’t come out with a full sized truck. That would be a waste of everyone’s time. Still, I don’t see how they compete with the combination of Tacoma, Frontier, Canyon/Colorado, Ridgeline, and eventually, Ranger.

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          There’s a dozen midsize cars and compact CUVs. So I could envision another entrant in the midsize pickup market. VW could make it work, but they would have to bring a unique and compelling value proposition.

          Since VW struggles to do have compelling product in the car and CUV markets, I doubt they could bring a credible pickup to the US market.

      • 0 avatar
        RobertRyan

        @RHD
        It will be Commercial Vans and HD Trucks. Navistar acquisition on the top of their agenda.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @Adam Tonge
      VW have very little incentive to sell the Amarok in the US. Commercial Vans yes and their Heavy Truck Diviions can establish them selves

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        The Amarok is the only product that makes the slightest bit of sense to bring to the US market.

        The van market is overcrowded and unprofitable unless your name is Ford. GM does sell a fair number of Vans, and has been production restrained on the full size, but soon they will all be made for them by either Navistar or Nissan. The other 3 mfgs trying to play in that space are fighting among themselves for ~25% of the market. 5% of a relatively small market where buyers don’t spend money on options is not a recipe for profit.

        As far as the MD and HD segments Mercedes and Renault learned long ago that it is a very tough road for a non US tied nameplate to gain a foothold which is why they bought existing US brands and despite what you think VW can’t afford to buy Navistar.

        • 0 avatar
          RobertRyan

          @Scoutdude
          VW are not buying Navistar, Scania and MAN are and they are cashed up and looking for an acquisition, they just started with a 16% portion, going to increase the % in the not too distant future.
          Amarok, could make sense, if the midsize market keeps growing, but VW makes vastly more off their Commercial Vans. They would have to design the Amarok for the US market, Vans not so much

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Their vans would need major rework to as well as some sort of engine to power them to come to the US. Their full size van which is the bulk of the US market is the Sprinter and that hasn’t ever sold that well with Dodge, Ram, Freightliner or Mercedes badges and putting a VW, Scania or MAN badge on it won’t do any good. That is assuming that Mercedes is willing to play along and in the US market they can’t afford a badge engineered competitor to cut into their already slim market share.

            Volkswagen Truck and Bus is a wholly owned subsidiary of Volkswagen. They shot they load with what they bought and Navisstar is so concerned about VW’s long term health that they forced a clause that says VW can’t divest one single share of the stock for 3 years. I think they know much more than you do.

          • 0 avatar
            HotPotato

            Why would anybody want Navistar? They’re the poster boy for a toxic corporate culture. Review: numbskull CEO promises shareholders the company can do emissions control on the cheap; abused engineers are afraid to tell him it can’t be done and he should stop talking nonsense; resulting trucks are gross polluters (I hate being stuck behind one) and company gets seriously sideways with the EPA. Meanwhile, company builds its reputation in lighter vehicles by building a diesel for Ford that is famously failure-prone and costly to fix.

            Abusive corporate culture, diesel emission scandal, legal trouble, poor reliability and expensive repairs? Actually, that might be a fit for VW.

            Seriously though, Scania buses are masterpieces, and MAN trucks are well respected. Makes no sense to ruin the group’s image by buying 16% of a dumpster full of fish market garbage.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            @HotPatato, you’ve got the timeline wrong and several of the facts as well. The 6.0 came well before the emissions problems happened though it was their emission plan. The EPA dangled the carrot of every 2007 engine produced before the deadline meant that they could sell one 2007 compliant engine after the deadline for 2010 emissions. That is why they rushed the 6.0 into production half baked and why they were happy to divorce Ford over it thinking that they had rights to those credits. The EPA then said no which is the root of their past emissions problems.

            That and the dissolution of the BlueDiamond partnership is behind them. They now have a fairly lucrative contract to produce trucks for GM both their vans (again) and a version of the old 650/750/Durastar as well as engines for CAT branded trucks.

            They will do OK in the long term now. VW likely saw this as a place to stash some cash and keep it safe from the fines since they can’t touch it for 3 years as well as a way to lower their costs in the short term.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @Adam Tonge
      Europeans do not buy Pickups, what 60,000 in a market of over 500 million?. Their mindset, is Vans and HDT trucks, not much else.So they are seeing the US market from that perspective.

  • avatar

    I think it should be remembered that Japan Inc. and Germany Inc. didn’t just come in and steal American market share. (OK, give VW credit for the first Beetle, which succeeded as an alternative in size. And while well-built for their time, so were most American cars up thru the late 60s.)

    The American companies gave that market share away to Japan/Germany, etc., with a good couple decades (in GM’s case, three decades) of poorly built cars sold with a huge side dish of screw-you arrogance.

    The full-size truck market was the ONE segment in which America brought their A-game. Or at least a better game than the overseas challengers. Hence the loyalty to American marques remains.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    If VW moves on this it might be a prime opportunity to launch the MAN brand in the US. The cheesy marketing for the brodozer set (and their overall opinion of diesel emissions isn’t likely to be affected by the current kerfuffle) almost writes itself.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    “The automaker wants surefire monkey makers in its bid to turn around a U.S. sales slump.”

    RIP Harambe.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Trucks? So they want a piece of the Ridgeline’s huge market?

  • avatar
    brettc

    If they offered the Amarok here they might sell some. Although they’d really have to offer a diesel option in the lineup. Can’t see them competing with the large vans though, it would turn out to be something like the Sprinter situation with exorbitant maintenance costs.

    Although VWs don’t rust like Mazdas or Sprinters, and they do at least have the 12/120K rust warranties. So I guess they’d have a slight advantage over the Sprinter, which is made of the finest OSR (oriented strand rust) available.

  • avatar
    gasser

    For trucks the number 1 attraction is reliability.
    Whether it is a fleet or a small business with one truck, it has to work and be easy to service and occasionally to repair. VW does not have this reputation, nor do my suppliers seem the least bit dissatisfied with their Ford vans.
    No one is saying “let’s buy a van from an auto manufacturer who has screwed us in the past, and has a small dealership network with untrained technicians and lacking extensive parts support.”

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Nice Idea! VW should have done this five years ago, when they still had gutsy, efficient TDI engines to put in their trucks, giving them some brawnier appeal.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Those ‘gutsy, efficient TDI’ trucks would now be headed to the crusher, after being bought back by VW.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheatridger

        So every vehicle they sold just dug them in deeper, I get that. But TDI would have helped the VW trucks sell back then, before the scandal.

        Methinks VW ought to suck up the federalization costs and market many more of its worldwide models, like the existing pickup, to the US, and see what happens. A niche here, a niche there, and you might re-establish some momentum. What are the alternatives? Offering a cheaper Jetta? Developing a better RAV4? Those aren’t low-cost, sure-fire projects, either.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          The alternative seems to be VW trying to reincarnate itself as an EV builder, with no diesel options in the US.

          Indeed, their diesels were/are very nice, but they burned their own bridge with this scandal.

          • 0 avatar
            Wheatridger

            I don’t see electric and hybrid as an alternative, but a given. Remember how, ironically, VW had two main announcements at the German auto show held the week before the Diesel scam erupted? They had just became the world’s largest-volume carmaker, and they were going to concentrate on electrics & hybrid- electric, with (IIRC) 20 models before the end of the decade?

  • avatar
    philadlj

    If you can manage to recoup the price of federalizing your global pickup for sale in the U.S., I see no reason why you wouldn’t do that.

    Especially when you didn’t go anywhere cornering the “convertible with a sunroof” market.

    Sure, not every automaker that has offered a pickup has found amazing success. But it’s a big pie.

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    VW Transporter/California please!

  • avatar
    RobertRyan

    @Nostrathomas
    Yes you will get that , with maybe the new Crafter,

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    VW will overprice anything they have in the US along with higher maintenance costs and questionable reliability. I would trust a Chinese brand truck before a VW–at least the Chinese truck is less expense and would probably use Japanese or South Korean drive trains.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    Much too little, much too late…

    If you search “Amarok” here, you’ll find all the times I suggested that Volkswagen should bring or produce here the Amarok, and if they did that they could have the mid-size truck market to themselves, and particularly the Diesel mid-size pickup market. I also worked at a VW dealer for a while, and whenever the execs were in asking what the dealers needed, I’d say Amarok. I would then have to explain what the Amarok was.

    Now the midsize market is getting hot, and getting crowded. TDI is poison to Volkswagen. I don’t work for the dealer anymore. And if not for my wife loving her Passat, I would be de-dubbing as soon as the TDI settlement is finalized.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    What Scoutdude & I are talking about regarding Navistar: there are two parts to the story.

    From 2003-2007, Navistar’s 6-liter Powerstroke diesel engines were installed in Ford’s Super Duty heavy pickups and vans, and experienced so many failures (particularly with the EGR cooler, EGR valve, oil cooler, fuel injectors and turbocharger) that Ford — no doubt annoyed by having to pay owners in a class action lawsuit — ultimately severed their 30-year relationship with Navistar.

    Also around this time, Navistar and other builders of Class 8 (18-wheeler) trucks and engines needed to decide how met 2010 federal emission standards for such rigs. Every other manufacturer studied the issue and decided to use selective catalytic reduction, or SCR, while Navistar’s CEO Daniel Ustain insisted on an “advanced” EGR-only strategy. The company’s engineers knew this approach was doomed, but were afraid to cross the tyrannical Ustain.

    The strategy failed. The company burned through all the emissions credits they had stockpiled and bought, made a failed attempt to bamboozle the EPA by labeling as 2009 models engines that were completed in 2010, and faced over a dozen class action lawsuits from buyers over repeated engine failures and frequent repairs and downtime.

    In 2012, the company finally canned Ustain and gave up the EGR-only strategy for Class 8 trucks.

    Maybe the company’s leadership culture has executed a 180-degree turn in four years. But if I were a potential buyer, I’d cool it for a while to make sure.

  • avatar
    Dr. Claw

    What is it going to take to get rid of that “chicken tax”? The whole thing was a bunch of protectionist BS in the first place because the Big 3 couldn’t make small trucks on their own without making them captive imports. After the Ranger/S10/Dakotas had their run the tax should have been abolished. Can’t imagine there’s a lot of tax being collected on it nowadays.

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