Volkswagen Trademarks a Pickup Name, But Is It Worth Pulling the Trigger on Another Midsize?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Amarok. The worst sounds mystical, conjuring up images of hairy Ice Age beasts and the grizzled 24-year-old grandfathers who once hunted them. Amarok also refers to a midsize Volkswagen pickup that’s built in Argentina and sold overseas, a pickup the automaker now wants to trademark in the United States.

Is this the first step towards Volkswagen — or a partner — joining the midsize pickup fray in America, or simply a “just in case” exercise? Volkswagen’s not saying. However, looking at the overall midsize pickup segment, is there really a case to be made for a new player, especially when there’s already a Ford Ranger on the way?

The trademark application, noticed by Motor Authority, carries a filing date of November 22, 2017, and comes a few months after an intriguing report. In late August of last year, a source told Wall Street Journal that Volkswagen was engaged in tentative talks with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles concerning the possible joint production of light utility vehicles.

FCA, doing what it does best, made the first overtures. Of particular interest to FCA was a small commercial van and a midsize pickup. The automaker already builds the Fiat-based Ram ProMaster, but you won’t find a Ram badge anywhere near a midsize pickup — a product gap that’ll leave it the odd Detroiter out when the Ranger arrives for 2019. Meanwhile, FCA burned through a pile of development cash with the expensive redesigns (and retoolings) needed for the next-generation 2018 Jeep Wrangler and 2019 Ram 1500.

Volkswagen, of course, does have a midsize pickup, and has since 2010. We haven’t heard anything about how the FCA-VW date went, so there’s no telling if this romance will yield offspring. Any Amarok sold in the U.S., or any badge-engineered vehicle based on it, will need a U.S. production site to avoid the dreaded Chicken Tax.

The thing is, after an impressive ramp-up in 2016, the midsize pickup segment isn’t performing all that hot. With five entries — the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, and Honda Ridgeline — growth isn’t what you’d expect for a utility segment. Full-size pickups are truly hot, spurred by ever-higher trim levels and sky-high incentives, while lower-margin midsizers have a harder time making their case to would-be buyers.

Tacoma sales rose 10.9 percent in December, year-over-year, with the calendar year showing a 3.4 percent increase over 2016. The Tacoma, with extra production capacity coming online soon, is still the one to beat. In contrast, the only other midsizer making gains last year was the lower-volume Colorado, which saw sales rise 2.1 percent in December. Total sales for 2017 were 3.9 percent higher than 2016. However, its Canyon twin slipped 14.9 percent last month, and 14.3 percent over the full year.

Frontier sales fell 3.1 percent, year-over-year, in December, closing out the calendar with a 14.5-percent drop for 2017. As for the unibody Honda Ridgeline, which debuted in June 2016, year-over-year sales amounted to a 27.4-percent drop last month. Only the fact that Honda started selling the thing in mid-year helped the model post a year-to-date increase.

What’s the bigger picture here? The midsize pickup segment posted growth of 1.6 percent in 2017. That’s heading in the right direction, but not at a rapid clip. Only two out of the five models have any forward traction, suggesting a segment with limited growth potential. Also, the Ranger arrives later this year with a familiar and well-loved name, ready to poach buyers from the other five.

It’s not the friendliest landscape out there. Should VW or FCA brass decide to join the market, you can bet there’ll be dissenters among the ranks.

[Image: Volkswagen]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Jan 04, 2018

    I see it this way. VW doesn't have an assured Amarok US market. As Steph pointed out the anti competitive Chicken Tax rules out importation. The Amarok is AN expensive pickup. So a partnership is needed for US (NAFTA) manufacture. One way could be to manufacture the Amarok in Mexico. Use Mexico for some global supply as well as the US.

    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Jan 04, 2018

      Big Al from Oz - agreed but with #45 and his "Morons Are Governing America" mindset, VAG is not going to set up shop in Mexico until NAFTA is sorted out. Even the Canadian side of the agreement is in trouble. Any import plan for the USA will be put on hold by almost everyone.

  • I_like_stuff I_like_stuff on Jan 04, 2018

    Trucks are the mostest worstest things on Mother Gaia. Those things needs to be outlawed ASAP!! Oh what's that? It's a German truck? I love it!!!

  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.
  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys dudes off the rails on drugs and full of hate and retribution. so is musky.