By on August 7, 2018


The introduction of Volkswagen’s well fleshed-out Tanoak concept at this spring’s New York Auto Show showed just how versatile the company sees its Atlas midsize crossover. Sporting a reasonably useable bed and a design that’s more butch than that of Honda’s unibody Ridgeline, the Tanoak was made to tease.

Would Americans gravitate towards it? Could VW add a full-on truck to its lineup, bolstering its SUV push? These are the questions VW wanted answered before committing extra dollars and Chattanooga assembly plant space to the project.

Apparently, the Tanoak’s still in the running.

While there’s still a strong desire to build the model, no trigger’s been pulled. Volkswagen isn’t rushing into this, as it already has strong sellers on its hands with the redesigned Tiguan and Atlas. A sportier Atlas variant is on the way. Volkswagen of America’s sales rose 12.7 percent in July, year over year, and the brand’s 2018 volume tops the same period last year by 8 percent.

“It fits the brand well, because we want to get more American in the U.S., but it’s something we have to look at carefully,” Hinrich Woebcken, VW’s U.S. boss, recently told Autocar. “It’s a very patriotic segment, which American manufacturers dominate.”

Image: VW of America

Still, there’s encouraging figures emerging from the midsize pickup segment. Toyota’s Tacoma saw its sales rise 25.7 percent, year over year, in July, with year-to-date volume up 23.3 percent. General Motors no longer provides monthly sales data, but the second quarter of 2018 saw the Chevrolet Colorado’s volume up 46.8 percent over Q2 2017. Over the first six months of 2018, Colorado sales rose 38.9 percent — a gain of almost 20,000 units. The GMC Canyon’s second-quarter volume rose 30.9 percent, year over year. As of the end of June, Canyon sales climbed 13.2 percent on a YTD basis.

That’s not to say there aren’t stragglers. As it continues cutting back on incentive spending, Nissan’s ancient (but cheap) Frontier saw July demand fall 40.1 percent, year over year. However, the model’s still up on year-to-date volume — by 1.8 percent.

Honda’s Ridgeline, though well regarded by reviewers, continues its struggle. The sole unibody truck model in the U.S. declined by 3.2 percent in July, with YTD volume down 17.5 percent. With Ford’s long-awaited Ranger just months away, Volkswagen’s no doubt consulting its crystal ball, asking: Is the Tanoak sufficiently trucky enough to carve out a niche among American consumers?

[Images: Volkswagen of America]

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32 Comments on “A Volkswagen Pickup Is Too Tempting an Idea to Dismiss, but VW’s Still Wary...”

  • avatar

    Still waiting–vainly it seems–for the Santa Cruz or something minus mid-size.

  • avatar

    Ridgeline struggles because Honda is stupid. If they would make very minor front end styling changes, drop in the Accord’s infotainment (including a damn volume knob), and make LED lights standard all around, they would probably double their sales overnight. The Ridgeline is the truck most people should be buying.

    • 0 avatar

      Ridgeline is more of a Dodge Rampage type vehicle, it has very limited appeal because it cannot perform truck needs that consumers look for. Having a bed is only a portion of the need in a truck, you can tack a pickup bed onto anything it doesn’t make it better than a dedicated truck platform.

      • 0 avatar

        I do agree however, not having a volume & tune knob on the radio is an instant sale killer. I will never buy any vehicle that does not have those two dials.

      • 0 avatar
        Ol Shel

        Ridgeline isn’t macho, and insecure guys can’t handle it.

      • 0 avatar

        I think while Ridgeline would perform most -actual- truck needs, I do agree it does not suit for -perceived- truck needs.

        And perception is important in all car purchases.

      • 0 avatar

        “you can tack a pickup bed onto anything it doesn’t make it better than a dedicated truck platform.”

        Agreed. The Ridgeline is an Odyssey where your luggage gets wet. On the other hand, don’t you look good to your fellow poseurs in the neighborhood, whom you are trying to impress by being in fashion.

        Of course, we all know that fashion doesn’t get any job done.

        Either get a minivan (which, btw, can haul 4×8 sheets of drywall if it’s not hauling people) or get a truck.

    • 0 avatar

      Although sales are primarily due to marketing disaster, it doesn’t help that the Ridgeline is too large. If Honda made a Ridgeline based on the CRV instead of the Pilot it would be significantly more economical than the Tacoma or Canyorado. As it stands, fuel economy and price is basically on the same level as other midsize trucks.

      There’s no incentive to switch from another midsize except cargo volume, and if that’s important you can always just buy a half-ton.

      • 0 avatar

        Big3, the Ridgeline receives 20.3 mpg on fuelly. The Tacoma gets 19.2. Does that 1.1mpg gain make up for the horrendous resale gap?

        For 99% of people a Ridgeline is not the economical choice.

        Sure, it’s better handling and riding than the competition but if that is a primary selling point it would be difficult to justify a pickup in the first place.

        • 0 avatar

          Price is another issue with the Ridgeline. While theoretically available starting at $30K finding any below the RTL trim (~$35K) can be a challenge and in reality most are around $40k+.

          Yes, it is more comfortable than most midsize pickups, yes it has all the capability that most pickup owners need, but it is not price competitive. You really need to value the Ridgeline’s comfort (or the Honda badge) to justify it, and pick ups have come a long way in comfort.

          Honda doesn’t really care that much, so doesn’t bother significantly discounting or building a ton of low spec models- they can just build more popular Pilots instead.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s about capability, not sexuality. I’m gay, yet I prefer a truck that is a real truck that does real truck things, not a minivan shaped like a truck. Does the Ridgeline work for some people? Sure, but for many, it doesn’t.

        I realize there is a market for vehicles like the Ridgeline, but it is not going to be most peoples first choice when they think of hauling or towing. Chances are that if towing and payload aren’t near the top of your priorities list, having a truck isn’t either.

        As was stated, the Ridgeline offers virtually no economical benifit, and ride/handling are as important to truck buyers as towing capacity is to Civic buyers. Some buy trucks for image, but (contrary to the anti-truck, or rather, anti-American truck crowd), many do buy them with doing more than going to Costco in mind.

      • 0 avatar

        The old Ridgeline was most at home in purple paint, parked outside the Cracker Barrel for a 4:25 PM dinner.

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t know about the purple paint, but I’d argue that the same generalization can be made about the “new” Ridgeline too. A pair of white Kirkland sneakers and a Consumer Cellular flip-phone seem right at home in the Ridgeline…

        • 0 avatar

          I had to look up what Consumer Cellular was just now. Don’t think I’ve seen any new ones in parking lots really, but it makes sense the owners aren’t far removed from the past generation.

          Perhaps some New Balance sneakers as well.

    • 0 avatar
      Clueless Economist

      Exactly right, tnk479. The Ridgeline looks like a chopped van. It needs to look like a truck. Square up the front and offer an extended cab and magically it would be more appealing. And yes, a standard volume knob.

    • 0 avatar

      I was looking at Hondas recently. $35 to $40K for a Ridgeline? What? I had no idea they went for that much. I imagine pricing has something to do with the sales numbers.

  • avatar

    When I want rugged durability, VW is the first thing that comes to mind.

  • avatar

    I think they have the design down, low and wide; imo the tall and narrow look of the GM twins kills the whole design. I live in America where you can plow something 100 inches wide down any road in any state of the union. Why design the Colorado to fit in ultra compact parking spots, yet be worried about hitting ceilings in parking decks.

  • avatar

    Pickup drivers are by far the most strongly buy-American segment; even highly-regarded-for-reliability brands like Toyota sell a small fraction of domestics, even after about 50 years of US truck sales. If Honda and VW, etc., are content to sell a few thousand a month, as additions to their SUV lines and overall sales – and build a beginning presence in the segment – they should do it. The Tanoak looked truckier than the Ridgeline; Honda needs to restyle that, as they did the Pilot, away from the jellybean look.
    Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  • avatar

    It will sell only if there’s a compelling reason for people to buy this over Ford, Chevy, Nissan, Honda, Toyota or Ram. That neon tailgate and illuminated badge should be toned way down before production begins.
    It might be a pretty good truck, but any construction worker who shows up at the job site in a VW had better have very thick skin and/or very poor hearing.

    • 0 avatar
      Clueless Economist

      Not aimed at those guys. It is aimed at those of us who what the utility of a truck but don’t really need the hauling, off-road prowess or bad gas mileage.

  • avatar

    let’s get a pool together on how long it takes the first dealer to market a bundle of the truck with a GTI in the bed.

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