VW’s surprise announcement of a full size truck concept has taken the internet by storm and shows that someone in VW is paying attention to what buyers want. However, we’ve seen this movie before – big announcements that lead to nothing – so we’re cautious about getting our hopes up, especially without a diesel.
The Atlas Lesson
In 2016 VW finally released their full size, three row SUV, the Atlas. It’s safe to say that VW was literally 10 years too late to the party – pretty much every other manufacturer had a 3-row SUV in their lineup for over a decade. Market share of SUVs continued to climb while the market share of sedans continued to fall. Nevertheless, VW remained stuck selling Jettas, Golf and Passats along with their high-priced Touareg. VW did have TDI, which kept certain models like the Sportwagen in high demand.
Even though it was horribly late and, in our opinion, a pretty bland vehicle, the Atlas has been a sales success. Buyers have been attracted to the VW look and driving feel, especially when compared to cookie cutter competitors like the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. While it isn’t taking the market by storm, VW has finally put themselves into a growing market segment that it was completely absent from just 2 years ago.
America is on a Pickup Truck Tear
The latest trend in US automobile sales is the $50k+ pickup truck. A few years ago Ford began offering their F150 pickup with luxury features that are usually reserved for luxury brands. Heated and cooled seats, big stereos, touchscreen displays combined with expansive cabins made these trucks great places to be. GM and Ram followed suit, upping the options (and the price) of their pickups, only to find their sales numbers increase. Today, trucks like the F150 raptor are cannibalizing sales of cars like the Audi A6 or BMW 5-Series. For $50 grand, the same money as most German sedans start at, you could be driving a 450-horsepower, lifted, big tired, and still nice riding truck with more utility and more interior space – which also looks badass. That idea resonates with quite a few people.
VW is Paying Attention
With low fuel prices seemingly here to stay, all indications are that the pickup truck craze will only grow. Other brands have shown that the market is open to trucks not from the traditional three – take Toyota’s Tundra for example, or, to a lesser extent the Nissan Titan. Mercedes also announced their intention to bring a pickup truck to the market. The announcement of the Tanoak shows that VW isn’t interested in repeating their mistake ignoring the 3-row SUV market.
The Tanoak Concept
Lets get to the truck itself. Firstly, for being a first try the Tanoak looks like a very mature design. If you take away the overly conceptualized head and taillights, the truck has great hood, cab, bed proportions and really bold body lines. The Tanoak exhibits a classic, simple overall design, especially when compared to the latest American pickups that are all about plastic chrome and unnecessary body shapes. The concept is a dual-cab model, so it seems VW is fully aware that succeeding in the truck market demands a four door cab configuration.
Years ago VW introduced their “MQB” architecture as being so flexible that it would usher in a new era of vehicle design and manufacturing at VW. The Tanoak proves that this was more than just marketing cliches. The MQB architecture currently underpins the VW Mk7 Golf, Golf Wagon, Tiguan, Atlas and now the Tanoak (plus some Audi models, too). VW is even stating the the MQB could be stretched further if they wanted to go larger than the Tanoak in the future.
Powering the truck is VW’s stalwart 3.6L V6 engine that is already used in the Atlas. In the Tanoak it is tuned to 276 horsepower and mated to an 8-speed automatic most likely from ZF. This puts it behind other trucks that have optional larger engines, and VW doesn’t have a high output V6 for the MQB ready, either. This will limit the reach of the truck, especially for those who tow often.
Unlike lots of new concepts released lately, VW did not share plans to offer an electric or hybrid version. It goes without saying that we’re disappointed there was no mention of a diesel offering as the 3.0L V6 TDI would be a perfect match. If VW wanted to re-enter the diesel market the Tanoak would be the place to do it – Ford, GM and Ram will all have diesel-powered options in their half-tons in 2019.
The interior will be extremely familiar to anyone who has spend time in an Atlas. While upgraded with dual screens and colorful trim work, the overall dash design seems to be straight out of an Atlas.
Reasons to Hope
But will it actually appear? For as long as we can remember, VW has shown concepts with great promise – cars that really got to the heart of what gives VW such as strong brand identity. The concepts only exist fleetingly – think about the multiple VW bus concepts that have popped up through the years with none of them making it to dealership lots. All these bold designs get quickly crushed by upstairs executives and marketing teams who wrongly think that the US wants boring cars rather than segment defining cars (like the Mk4 was).
However this time may be different. For one, the Tanoak concept isn’t that far fetched. VW already has the platform to build the Tanoak on, and the market for it is already well established and growing. Unlike other concept cars, the Tanoak wasn’t filled with crazy in-the-clouds designs or technology. Exactly the opposite – it was made with engines, interiors and technology that VW already offers. The interior design was especially notable for its familiarity to the Atlas. If VW simplified the front and rear ends a bit, this is a truck they could conceivably build tomorrow. That fact, combined with the undeniable strength of the full size truck market, makes us think that this might be a VW we actually see…as long as the executives don’t get to it first.