By on June 4, 2019

Volkswagen has been flagrantly displaying new pickups at trade shows for a couple of years now, and with good reason. Domestic trucks have grown very large. In 1993, you could still purchase the Ford F-Series in a format where its maximum length did not exceed 197 inches. Today, the F-150 gets no smaller than 209 inches with a standard cab. Meanwhile, the now mid-sized Ranger, sold only in SuperCab and SuperCrew guise, grew from to 181 inches in overall length to a whopping 211 inches within the same timeframe.

The supersizing of the North American pickup created an interesting opportunity for manufacturers, and Volkswagen took notice

“As [midsize] pickups get bigger — to the stage where they are as big as full-size pickups were not so long ago – and more expensive and less fuel-efficient, we are trying to see if there is space for a vehicle with a smaller footprint that potentially is more affordable and gets better gas mileage,” VW’s senior vice president for product marketing, Hein Schafer, explained to The Detroit News this week.

Despite the continued existence of the overseas Amarok, Volkswagen has shown two new pickups at American trade shows over the last two years. In 2018, the Atlas-based Tanoak concept showed up at the New York Auto Show to show the automaker was serious about exploring the truck market. That concept, however, was sized extremely close to existing mid-size mainstays and was actually a little larger than Ford’s Ranger.

Image: VW of America

The following year, the much smaller (at 193.5 inches) Tarok arrived. Assuming Volkswagen sells it in the United States, the pickup would be the smallest thing with a bed currently available. It’s also more congruous with the public presumption that VW does small vehicles well. That’s unlikely to be disputed by early adopters, who will notice that the Tarok’s modern, car-like interior is loaded with the latest technologies.

It’s also the better vehicle to break into the truck market with, according to Autotrader senior auto analyst Michelle Krebs. “Our research shows there is little brand loyalty in smaller trucks,” she said. “Full-size buyers are the most loyal in the industry; smaller-truck buyers are the least. So the newest player likely has a good chance of conquesting [sic] buyers.”

Image: VW

A small truck would also have more global appeal. While individuals with a penchant for oversized ladder-frame pickups exist across the globe, most places aren’t interested in importing what would likely be considered an extravagant and ridiculously proportioned work vehicle. Something smaller is likely the better fit, which is why Volkswagen has already started assembly of the Tarok in Brazil. The automaker would need to shift production to North America to avoid the dreaded chicken tax.

Image: VW

To accomplish this, VW claims it can probably move some assembly north (likely to Mexico, alongside its MQB-based relatives) without much trouble. There, the little pickup would receive a more robust powerplant than the 1.4-liter TSI four-cylinder offered to Brazilian buyers.

“Obviously there is a market here for small pickups for young people who don’t want to spend $40,000 and want a lifestyle vehicle to haul their bikes or kayak,” says Joe Phillippi, analyst at AutoTrends Consulting. “But it’s a finite number of sales and manufacturers need to make sense of the numbers.”

Image: VW

Phillippi estimates that the hypothetical U.S.-spec Tarok would start in the low $20,000 range and fall short of $30,000 when fully loaded. That’s considerable different ground than a typical American full-size pickup, which usually starts above $25,000 and can be kitted out to a point where it costs multiple times the base model’s MSRP.

If Volkswagen is serious about getting back into the pickup game, it’ll have to strike while the iron is hot, at the same time realizing that this likely won’t be a segment with a never-ending consumer base. VW has the first aspect covered and may find additional support through its current partnership with Ford. But the second could be upended if a gaggle of rival manufacturer decide to start delivering smaller lifestyle trucks to Americans.

Image: VW

[Images: Volkswagen]

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42 Comments on “Smaller Trucks, Bigger Loyalty: VW Sees a Place for Truly Compact Pickups...”


  • avatar
    don1967

    Curious to see how many crossover-haters will drool at the prospect of a crossover with no cargo protection.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      I owned an SUV once but found a pickup with a bed was way more useful. The cargo opening in many of these new crossovers is tiny due to their rounded shapes. Many of them actually have almost no storage due a focus on rear seat room and comfort. This is fine for groceries and shoes from the mall, but if you have to haul a TV, BBQ grill, bike, treadmill or mulch then a compact pickup is much better. Pickups are great for large, odd sized or dirty items nobody is putting inside a CRV.

      I made do with a Ranger Splash for years, then upgraded to a Dakota Quad Cab. I never needed nor wanted a full size truck. However I am not sure I could get away with a true compact since I need towing capacity more then bed space these days. A crossover with a bed sounds like a win-win in today’s market given customers only buy crossovers OR trucks – so why not a combo?

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Ford intentionally built the Ranger bigger and more expensive so they could slot a smaller, cheaper truck underneath it. Keep your eyes peeled for the new Transit Connect-based Courier pickup in 2021 or 2022.

    Also, the pictured VW isn’t a pickup, it’s a sedan missing the trunk lid. Small, cheap pickups are wanted/needed by cheap people who actually need to haul stuff. What the market needs is an extended (not crew) cab truck with a 6′ bed.

    • 0 avatar
      Oberkanone

      No Ford didn’t.
      Ranger is built on T6 global chassis. It’s been on the market since 2011 and designed years before. It’s same size as all the midsize trucks.
      Ford sold a Courier compact truck up to 2013. If compact truck were important to Ford they would not have discontinued it.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Smaller than a Tacoma/Colorado/Canyon/Ranger but bigger than a Subaru Baja?

    I’d be interested in seeing how it shakes out.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Is that an RV salesman standing behind it? Is he wearing a white belt that matches his white shoes?

    • 0 avatar
      thegamper

      Ha, I dont even see a white belt but I think it is probably Bono based on the rose colored shades. Or maybe just a middle aged guy trying too hard, difficult to tell from the pic. But between middle aged guy attempting to be a hipster, Bono or an RV salesman…..my money is on Bono.

  • avatar
    salmonmigration

    This is nothing but pandering to stockholders, just like Hyundai has been doing for years with the Santa Cruz. None of these pickups are ever going to see a cent of engineering budget.

    It’s 2019 and 97% of the pickup market is for 4 door models. You can’t sustain a model based solely on a slice of the other 3% of the market. If you want to build a modern vehicle with 4 doors and legroom and a pickup bed and a bunch of NHTSA crash test stars, it won’t be any smaller than any of the other trucks. So either you build it anyway and compete for a slice of the Ridgeline’s pie (already tiny), or just make some concept cars and try and fool investors into thinking that you’re going to break into some “brand new segment” that is actually impossible.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      +1

      Regular cab trucks are dead outside of fleets, and dying even there. No fleet is going to take a chance on an unproven VW, and a tiny truck does nothing better than a small van for commercial customers anyhow.

      That leaves consumers, who all say they want something like this, but will inevitably find it too big, too expensive, too feature laden, too high of bed sides, or some other complaint that underscores that all they would actually buy is the 1997 Ranger back at its 1997 MSRP, which is impossible in today’s regulatory environment.

      So if this actually sees the light of day I predict an enormous flop despite the outspoken commentators sure to descend on this post assuring me that I’m dead wrong and offering something like this will get Americans to trade in their full sizers once and for all. That for the first time in history outside of severe recessions/gas spikes we will willingly downsize our preferred vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @jack4x: “No fleet is going to take a chance on an unproven VW, and a tiny truck does nothing better than a small van for commercial customers anyhow.”

        — False. A “tiny truck” is infinitely better than a ‘small van’ when it comes to carrying outsized loads like trees, landscaping materials, refrigerators and other such things that can ONLY fit in an open bed. A small truck like the one shown above could carry a couple of trees for Arbor Day plantings, bushes and flowers for planting in the yard, that refrigerator (that certainly doesn’t need a giant pickup to carry 100# of hollow sheet metal and fiberglass.) And most people outside of commercial delivery services wouldn’t be caught dead in one of today’s “small vans” that look more like retirement home busses rather than personal transportation. And that include most of those who claim a car is, “just transportation.”

        The cry is getting louder for small–truly small–trucks to compete with the typical CUV that is SO much smaller than the smallest current ‘mid-sized’ pickup.

        You may not like it, Jacko, but obviously there are others who do and I expect to see these things take a healthy bite out of the CUV market.

        Note that I didn’t say they would bite into the full-sized market (though they might) but rather into the compact and mid-sized CUV market, which is currently the biggest single market in the US.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          “Tiny truck” for fridges means a lot more driving around to get a fridge, after each delivery.

          A box van can carry a whole day worth of deliveries.

          There’s a *reason* they all use box vans for appliance delivery, not Rangers or even bottom-spec F-150s.

          Tiny trucks for commercial fleets are … pretty goddamn niche, is all.

          (Commercial garden/landscaping people also want multiple jobs worth of stuff at once, and also room for all their tools and such.

          The vehicles in the photos at the top of this article are plainly not aimed at the fleet market. They just aren’t.

          The consumer market is *far* more plausible for that; VW or Ford might get enough to break even selling “tiny trucks” there.)

          • 0 avatar
            Sigivald

            (To clarify: I don’t entirely disagree with you re. the market for consumer tiny trucks, though I suspect you overestimate it.

            And I personally find the segment baffling.

            But I don’t think the commercial market is significant; the incentives and values don’t seem to align.)

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            Read my response again. Read Jack4x’s own argument, for that matter. He did not say “box van”, he said, and I quote, “…and a tiny truck does nothing better than a small van for commercial customers anyhow.”

            If he meant “Box Van” he should have said “Box Van.” Most appliance delivery services use large box vans of no less than 20′ box length, not a “small van.”

            Note also that I stated “personal use” because you’re right, no commercial appliance delivery service would use even a full-sized pickup, much less a compact.

          • 0 avatar
            jack4x

            You’re the one who brought up appliance delivery services, not me.

            I’m speaking of commercial users driving Transit Connects and the like. I stand by my statement that this type of tiny unibody truck offers no advantage over those small vans for any actual commercial use, not hypothetical (don’t know many Transit Connect drivers wishing they could be delivering trees, landscaping materials, or refrigerators in a 5 foot bed)

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @jack4x: False. I did not bring up appliance delivery services. I brought it up as one possible load an INDIVIDUAL would put into a small truck because it wouldn’t fit in the typical crossover or SUV due to its height, along with arbor-day trees for the yard, etc. I never mentioned it as a commercial truck.

            I also clearly stated that no individual would be seen dead driving one of those Transit Connect-type vans unless they had an absolute need (like a very large family.)

  • avatar
    thegamper

    Please Lord, bring us compact pickup trucks from several manufacturers.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Off topic, but the guy in that picture proves one point: it’s time for the skinny-suit thing to go the way of the pet rock already.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Fullsize regular cabs (all brands) had to grow. The distance from the steering wheel to the back window was stupid tight. Bench seat sat you straight up, no recline feature, and very uncomfortable for long rides if you’re over 6′ tall. Plus a few inches were added to round the front-clip area (radiator to grill) for improved aero.

    Midsize “regular cabs” had the same issues, but they couldn’t realistically add approx 7″ (like they did to fullsize), behind the seat. That’s half way to an “extra cab” midsize. That’s one of the main reason they killed regular cab midsizers, after all, midsize pickup buyers aren’t necessarily smaller humans.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      @DM: Let’s assume you are right about them needing to grow the cab. Ok, they allow for a bit of recline. Ok, they allow a little more room behind the wheel for comfort. Ok, they add a little to the nose clip for aerodynamics.

      Why did they have to raise the roof higher?
      Why did they have to raise the ground clearance so much?

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        It depends on the truck, so which ones specifically? Off the top of my head, the 2wd Colorado/Canyons got taller to have one suspension setup, 4X4 or no. To save on production, you could say they took the high road.

        OTOH, Ram and Ford 1/2 tons no longer have high-rider suspensions for their 4X4s, they all ride low, 2wd or no.

        GM HD pickups ride very high so that (low hanging) diesel DEF tanks don’t hit the ground, or high-center.

        Ground clearance comes down to the lowest point, and rear shock brackets still hang a couple inches below the axle tubes and axle tubes don’t rise without a bigger tire/wheel combo.

        I really can’t picture a pickup with an abnormally tall cab, seat to roof. That’s sort of dead space anyway, up to 7′ tall.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          Let’s stick to full-sized trucks for simplicity, DM. As far as I’m concerned your mid-sized one doesn’t make any sense, since the 4×4 is obviously taller than the 4×2.

          Meanwhile, headroom clearance even in the older full-sized trucks was already ample. There was no reason to add more, especially since they allowed for more seat recline, actually reducing the need for a higher ceiling.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            4X4 pickups don’t all ride higher than their 2wd counterparts. Yeah they used to but some OEMs are incorporating both into a single suspension setup.

            I can tell you haven’t noticed, but as far as the current low-riding 4X4 1/2 tons go (same as 2wd height), OEMs are always increasing the factory off-set on wheels (at each new generation of trucks), similar to FWD wheels on compacts (remember the deep-dish wheels of ’70s and ’80’s pickups?) leaving more room to stuff the front axle “pumpkin” next to the engine (on the left side) plus the left half-shaft and brakes, allowing for a lower riding 4X4 than previous.

            Part of the reason for low-riding 4X4s is for aerodynamics.

            If pickup roofs were any lower, even tall drivers would have to duck to get in, or tilt their heads to get out, since you can’t really exit a pickup in the recline position without dodging the B-pillar.

            And short/petite drivers tend to drive in an upright position, which I’m sure feel more in-control to them and gives a better and higher view of the road, corners of the hood and surroundings, especially reverse, looking over their shoulder.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @DM: I can tell you’re just guessing there. Because my wife is a tall driver and she didn’t have to duck to get into the 1990 F-150, so she certainly wouldn’t need to duck to get into a new one… and she could wear a beehive hairdo in the new one–like Marge Simpson.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Again, the “reclining” has nothing to do with entry/exit “headroom”.

            You’re the one that said a seat that reclines “…actually reduces the need for a high ceiling…”

            Remember a reclined seat puts the upper body, back behind the B-pillar, so you have to sit up, to get out.

            And I didn’t say anyone had to duck to exit and old F-series regular cab with a bench seat.

            But mostly it’s you and you alone claiming new pickups have a substantially higher ceiling/roof (off the seat or the truck’s floor), which you’ve yet to establish, link, or even point to something, anything that suggest that they do.

            Simply comparing their profile pics shows you’re wrong.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @DW: “Again, the “reclining” has nothing to do with entry/exit “headroom:.

            You’re the one that said a seat that reclines “…actually reduces the need for a high ceiling…””

            — Then allow me to be more succinct. “… actually reduces the need for a high[ER] ceiling…”

            Better?

            “But mostly it’s you and you alone claiming new pickups have a substantially higher ceiling/roof (off the seat or the truck’s floor), which you’ve yet to establish, link, or even point to something, anything that suggest that they do.”
            — Seems you need to do some specifications reading on these newer trucks. Increased ground clearance alone doesn’t account for the fact that roof hight now reaches or exceeds 7′ in height, making it impossible for some full sized trucks to utilize older parking garages. At 6′ and even at 6’6″ they were still good but now there are garages with high-density parking that specifically ban full-sized pickups because they can’t clear the overhead beams and/or fire-suppression piping. There is no legitimate reason to sit so tall, even taking those diesel exhaust fluid tanks into account. As the arguments went both here and on PUTC, hanging those things down off the frame rails was a cheap cop-out from real engineering.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            No matter how you slice it, rising pickup roofs are imagined by you, and not a real phenomenon.

            Your bigger malfunction is no pickups are 7′ or taller, stock. And more importantly, no parking garages have 7′ or lower “clearance”.

            It’s “Code”, been that way since there’s been cars. Doorway clearance in homes is 6’6″ minimum, higher for commercial. Things aren’t built “willy nilly” or improvised like you think (or feel).

            Just walking, your tall wife in heals could bang her head on the overhead pipes or beams of parking garages and the building owners would be held liable for everyone that sued, or just wanted some extra spending cash.

            Ain’t nobody got time for that!

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @DM: And yet again you intentionally misread what I wrote. I said ‘parking garage’, not ‘house garage.’ And yes, even if I have to drive 50 miles to photograph it, I can show you a parking garage that has a maximum height of six feet. And showroom stock, I have seen trucks measuring 83″, which is one inch shy of seven feet, though I will acknowledge that the 2WD and some 4×4 versions run 76″ to 78″ My Ram dealer, for instance, consistently shows trucks riding with their side step above my knee and while my own Colorado is a mid-sizer, the step is only 2″ below my knee. Even the new Jeep Gladiator isn’t as tall as most 4×4 full-sized pickups.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Who said anything about “house garage”? Is that the thing you park your house in??

            No, I said “parking garage” because that’s exactly what I meant. Silly. I only mentioned home doorways (like the things you walk through going from room to room) to illustrate how deluded you are.

            Now as a code planner/enforcer , would you allow or stamp approved “clearances” for vehicles, including fire/ambulance/rescue, lower than the minimum for humans?

            Spare us your scientific knee measuring units, but you won’t show a “parking garage” with just 6′ of clearance because there are none. Not even in 3rd World locations ’cause they ain’t stupid either.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            “Now as a code planner/enforcer , would you allow or stamp approved “clearances” for vehicles, including fire/ambulance/rescue, lower than the minimum for humans?”

            — Of course, I’m sure you know responder services purchase custom-designed ambulances and rescue trucks just for parking garage incidents, don’t you?

            https://bfxfireapparatus.com/emergency-fire-apparatus-vehicle-truck-clearance-parking-garage-narrow-driveways/

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            If you’ll notice, the “specialized”, low clearance responder trucks aren’t modified in the way of the (Ford) factory build. The run “work” beds no higher than the cab, and less prominent or flip-down lightbar/strobes and that’s all.

            I’m sure you’ve seen them or definitely tow trucks in parking garages. They just can’t have anything higher than the cab of an F-350 to F-550 4X4, or similar Ram. And they’re all clearly, several inches above 6 ft tall, some close to 7′.

            Now think about that 6′ max clearance, parking garage you think you saw…

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    HOOOO-hahahahahahahahaha…! And one prolific commenter here claimed there was no market… If there’s no market, why, all of a sudden, are Ford, Hyundai, VW and others announcing upcoming entries into that market?

    The Subaru Baja didn’t die because there was no market…it died because they couldn’t decide how to market it! It lacked many of the things that would have made it work and which the newer efforts have realized what they need to make it work.

    My only hope is that they make both extended cab and crew cab versions… because not everyone wants four full doors on their compact pickup.

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      If you’re referring to me, I’ll believe there’s a market when a single one of these long rumored vehicles actually goes on sale. Then actually, you know, sells well enough not to be cancelled right away.

      Until then as mentioned above, they are concepts only and a few people complaining loudly on message boards doesn’t prove there is a huge untapped group of buyers out there pining for the return of the Baja.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Many are happy to tease, but point me to a showroom where they’re On Sale.

      Subaru couldn’t figure out how to market it, the only one of its kind in the US, so they killed it for no particular reason?? That’s one of the goofiest things you’re said. …”HEY BOSS, I’VE GOT A GREAT IDEA…”

      Subaru and VW similarly have their own set of fairly niche, dedicated repeat buyers. Subaru added the Baja (on an existing platform), but instead of conquesting new buyers, sales of their other lines slowed a bit, and overall profits dipped even as overall Subaru sales increased a bit.

      VW buyers would love to have many more choices on the showroom, but what’s in it for the automaker?

      It’s an expensive gamble for marginal returns at best.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        And what about Ford, DM? Ford, who definitively stated they would have a true compact pickup to release in ’23.

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          Nothing’s definite until it’s in showrooms. And if one arrives as “promised”, it’s not definite you’ll buy it. When a Concept starts making its publicity tour, and auto conventions, feel free to leave a non refundable $1,000 deposit.

          If enough of you fanatics did that, it’d be a different story.

        • 0 avatar
          Sigivald

          You mean this? https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a25998560/ford-confirms-new-small-pickup/

          “You can expect new nameplates below where we compete today.”

          That’s so definitive for the US market (global conference!) that we can basically start preordering them now.

          I’ll believe it when they’re actually selling one.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I would only be interested in an extended cab since a crew cab has such a small bed to render it useless for what I would use it for. I don’t need or want a full size truck and a midsize is as big as I want to go for what I use it for. I had more need of a full size half ton 20 years ago when I was doing yard projects but now a half to is too big for my needs and wants. If I needed a full size I would rather get a late 90’s or early 00’s before they made trucks taller and bigger. Today’s full size is bigger than what I would have needed 20 years ago.

  • avatar
    namstrap

    Last time I was in the UK, I saw lots of what I thought were smaller Japanese pickups. They were sized kind of like the ones from the 90s and 2000s. On closer inspection, they were labelled “Great Wall”, so the Chinese are filling that need over there.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    That doesn’t surprise me, there is a need for a smaller truck.


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