Are Americans Ready for a Volkswagen Pickup? VW Aims to Find Out

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Buyers in foreign markets enjoy far greater midsize pickup choice than their counterparts in North America. Besides the usual products from General Motors and Ford ( the latter of which we’re only just being introduced to), there’s offerings from Mitsubishi, Fiat, even Volkswagen. Has decades of full-size truck dominance made North America too unforgiving for smaller entries? Sales of the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, and Chevrolet Colorado say otherwise.

There’s midsize ground to be gained here, but no new model faces a guarantee of success. Volkswagen, which sells the body-on-frame Amarok (seen above) overseas, apparently wants to find out how Americans would feel about a smaller, lighter entry in the midsize pickup game. According to sources, it wants to find out this week.

Sources close to the matter tell Automotive News VW plans to showcase a unibody truck concept based on the Atlas midsize crossover at this week’s New York International Auto Show. The public’s reaction to the concept will guide VW towards a decision to either kill the idea or greenlight it for production.

Many would-be small truck makers can’t get their wares to the U.S. market due to the chicken tax and the high cost of adding tooling (and capacity) to existing facilities. And that’s if the automaker even has U.S. facilities. For VW, the unnamed truck would roll out of its Chattanooga, Tennessee assembly plant, which stands to gain a second new model in short order. The automaker plans to reveal a sportier, five-door variant of the Atlas this week.

While the Amarok boasts 2,400 pounds of payload capacity, this model would go the way of the Honda Ridgeline, offering buyers a familiar, car-like driving experience with the ability to venture tentatively off-road. The truck’s bed would not rest atop leaf springs and a ladder-type frame, making dorm room furniture, not gravel, its most likely occupant.

Long ago, VW sold the Rabbit Pickup in the U.S. to compete against other car-based trucks like the Chevrolet El Camino, Dodge Rampage, and Plymouth Scamp. Canada even bought a military vehicle based on the Rabbit’s bones and used it seemingly forever. This vehicle, if built, would not be quite so dainty.

Is the demand there? Volkswagen would love to discover it is, but the Ridgeline’s story suggests a cautious approach. While reviewers were pleasantly surprised at the second-generation model’s prowess in handling the rough stuff, sales seems to be heading in a direction that requires downshifting and careful use of the brakes.

Thus far, U.S. sales have not reached the level seen in the early years of the first-generation Ridgeline. In February, Ridgeline sales fell 32.3 percent, year over year. Over the first two months of 2018, sales fell 27.4 percent. Compare that to the 55 percent increase in sales of the truck’s platform mate, the Pilot.

[Images: Volkswagen, Wikimedia ( CC BY-SA 3.0)]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • George B George B on Mar 27, 2018

    The big problem with foreign designed pickup trucks is that the bed doesn't match the dimensions of stuff a typical home owner would want to put in the bed. What are the odds that the German engineers who design this have ever visited a Home Depot? They should be given a shopping list for wood for a home owner project, drive to Home Depot, pick up the wood including 4ft x 8ft sheets, and then have to haul it 5 miles on suburban streets without losing or damaging anything. They should then repeat the process using a right sized 20th century American pickup truck.

    • See 12 previous
    • DenverMike DenverMike on Mar 29, 2018

      @Big Al from Oz BAFO's problem with 12' drywall/materials is it makes it a b!tch to handle with a midsize Ute/truck, especially those with just 5' beds which are the maximum pickup beds (with crew cabs) in OZ. Yes 12 ft drywall isn't easy to handle especially installing on the lid/ceiling and 5/8s drywall no less. DIY'er do use lots of 12' drywall, not just for less seams to tape/mud/etc, but their ability to straighten walls with twisted, warped, uneven studs/joists, yes even 5/8s thick, 12' drywall on the walls. With shims, works wonders! Even the most anal and efficient "Pros" are constantly scrambling to The Home Depot, etc to fetch materials in a pinch.

  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Mar 27, 2018

    So this is basically a Ridgeline, which sells in pretty modest numbers as it is but, but with VW reliability instead of Honda reliability. Well where do I sign up!!!

  • Michael Gallagher I agree to a certain extent but I go back to the car SUV transition. People began to buy SUVs because they were supposedly safer because of their larger size when pitted against a regular car. As more SUVs crowded the road that safety advantage began to dwindle as it became more likely to hit an equally sized SUV. Now there is no safety advantage at all.
  • Probert The new EV9 is even bigger - a true monument of a personal transportation device. Not my thing, but credit where credit is due - impressive. The interior is bigger than my house and much nicer with 2 rows of lounge seats and 3rd for the plebes. 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, around 300miles of range, and an e-mpg of 80 (90 for the 2wd). What a world.
  • Ajla "Like showroom" is a lame description but he seems negotiable on the price and at least from what the two pictures show I've dealt with worse. But, I'm not interested in something with the Devil's configuration.
  • Tassos Jong-iL I really like the C-Class, it reminds me of some trips to Russia to visit Dear Friend VladdyPoo.
  • ToolGuy New Hampshire