Is the Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak Pickup Concept Legit?

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German automaker Volkswagen stunned the crowds at the 2018 New York International Auto Show by unveiling not only a new crossover utility vehicle concept, the Atlas Cross Sport that it plans to turn into a production car, but also a new pickup truck concept. We expected the Atlas Cross Sport — VW has been suggesting it for years and even teased us with a prior concept in 2015 with the VW Cross Coupe GTE — and VW has confirmed that it's definitely coming from the same production facility as the three-row Atlas SUV at the plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. We did not expect to see the VW Atlas Tanoak concept pickup, however, a unibody mid-size pickup based on the big Volkswagen Atlas crossover that would compete with the Honda Ridgeline. We dug a little deeper into the Atlas Tanoak concept to see if it really is a full-fledged pickup, a pie-in-the-sky concept or something in between. And as a result, we have a few questions.

Is It More Idea Than Reality?

Peek underneath the VW Tanoak (pronounced "TAN-oke," like a beige tree, regardless of how the German execs mangled the pronunciation at its unveiling) and you'll see that this is still more a styling study than prototype pickup. The bed might look like a separate unit, but it's not — just like the Honda Ridgeline. It's all one piece, carefully constructed to look as if it has a separate pickup bed. The Tanoak does an arguably better job of it, with pronounced fenders and a distinctive plastic separator that helps to visually separate the bed from the cab, but like the Ridgeline you won't see it tooling around town in chassis-cab configuration or being sold to upfitters.

Is a V-6 Engine Enough?

There are purists who insist that a V-6-powered pickup isn't worth wasting thought — or money — on. But then, at least 75 percent of Ford F-150s leave the factory with a V-6, so the times, they are a changin'. The V-6 engine in the Tanoak is VW's 3.6-liter narrow-angle "VR6," pumping out 276 horsepower and mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. It's the powertrain out of the Atlas SUV, but VW says that the Tanoak would have low range as well — even though the all-wheel-drive system on the Atlas does not. The one in the Tanoak concept doesn't either, this is the "concept" part. Presumably this means that VW sees the value in having a low range for truck customers, whereas the Atlas' family-hauler nature means it doesn't really need one. Additionally, the inclusion of four healthy tow hooks implies that the vehicle would be able to be yanked out — or do the yanking out — of serious situations. However, we assume that would include some serious beefing up of a unibody frame that typically doesn't like yanking or pulling forces against it. Ask any body shop and they'll tell you how easy it is to get a unibody vehicle out of "straight" and how close to impossible it is to get it back to the proper specs after its been pulled or twisted off its axis.

Can It Tow Anything?

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As noted, the VW Tanoak is a concept, so the axle specs are unknown and the actual underbody was hand-built for a show floor, instead of stamped and welded for field work. But the full-size Atlas SUV can tow — it's rated for a maximum of 5,000 pounds, sufficient to drag a decent sized camper or boat, but that's 2,000 pounds less than the maximum tow rating for other comparable mid-size pickups, such as the Chevrolet Colorado diesel. The Honda Ridgeline can tow 3,500 to 5,000 pounds, so the VW Tanoak would match up against the Honda if VW doesn't strengthen the chassis.

We do like that the VW Tanoak is longer and wider than the Atlas, and presumably it would be just as heavy. To compete in the mid-size pickup class, VW would have to beef up the Tanoak's structure to boost gross vehicle weight and payload ratings.

Perhaps VW's glossing over of the Tanoak's presumed abilities says something about who the automaker is targeting for the pickup, should it get built. Maybe you noticed they didn't include a tow hitch on the conept? Simply put, truck buyers want to know about things like GVWR, towing capacity and gear ratios for off-roading, which leads us to our next question.

Who Does the VW Tanoak Target?

The most similar truck on the market is the Honda Ridgeline, which isn't exactly lighting the sales charts on fire; Honda sold just less than 35,000 of them in 2017. It's basically the worst-selling pickup on the market right now, which begs the question: Is it something Volkswagen should be chasing? Our own testing of the Honda Ridgeline versus other mid-size trucks shows that while it's more comfortable than any of its competitors, it's also not quite as capable in areas such as towing (it goes off-road surprisingly well, however). That limits its utility for hardcore truck buyers but makes it more appealing for people looking for a crossover with a bed area to put wet or messy items in.

It has been suggested that such a vehicle could be aimed toward women buyers, but this suggestion contradicts what is known about women who buy pickups. Women buy pickups for the same reasons men do: utility and style. Most of the women I know who drive pickups do things like haul horse trailers, load the bed with heavy landscaping materials or chauffeur tour groups through the wilds of Utah — things a VW Tanoak would likely not be able to do. Which makes the purpose of a VW Tanoak more similar to that of a Honda Ridgeline: a lifestyle vehicle with a limited audience, albeit with the potential of a wider appeal than the oddly styled Ridgeline.

V vs H 2

Will VW Build It?

Here's the thing: VW has growth ambitions for the U.S. market, big ones. It wants to double its market share here, and the only way to do that is to build more and varied offerings to try and appeal to American buyers. Crossovers are a key to that, but adding a pickup-style vehicle on an existing production line would be even better.

The VW "MQB" platform on which the Tanoak sits forms the basis for nearly two dozen VW models around the world, from the diminutive front-wheel-drive Polo subcompact to the massive all-wheel-drive Atlas SUV. Adding some new features, strengthening the platform and throwing another 30,000 units down the production line in Tennessee would add to the Atlas' overall production volume, dropping per-unit cost and boosting profitability for the plant. Even if VW sells only 30,000 of them a year, that would add 50 percent to the current sales volume of the Atlas itself.

Final Thoughts

We're not yet sure if the VW Tanoak concept is a good idea. There's still too much about the truck we don't know. Honda Ridgeline's mediocre sales would say no, but if VW can tweak the formula and make its crossover-based pickup more appealing to traditional truck buyers, we won't rule out a shot at the Tanoak hanging with the big boys. If VW decides to built it, that is.

Cars.com photos by Christian Lantry

 

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Comments

I apologize but I am not stunned, at least not in a good way. It doesn't look like much of a truck. I can't think of much that would fit in that bed that wouldn't travel at least as well in a SUV and there are plenty of other choices there once you start looking that direction. As the article says: "Honda Ridgeline's mediocre sales would say no".

I don't understand why VW would go through this trouble instead of "Americanizing" the Amorak.

Any small pickup that'll never see traditional truck duty can certainly afford to be short on utility and still fulfill a market niche.

None-the-less, that doesn't preclude it from being an unsuccessful example of whatever that niche is supposed to be.

There would be a niche if they shrank it! Nobody makes a true compact truck anymore. We could use something like the old rabbit on lots here.

Swordman248: Agreed.

PUTC
I can see you're really excited about this VW truck
,,,,,but it's not a sure thing they are going to build them

I want to see more stories about the F-150
the only stories I see about the F-150 is the first of every month when they claim the #1 sales numbers
you're like the car and motorcycle magazines where they talk about and test every low selling car or motorcycle that nobody wants or afford

lets have stories about #1 for a change

@eco rules

PUTC is a lifestyle website devoted to trucks. Are you suggesting they ignore a story about the world's biggest automaker creating a new truck for North American consumers?

@Aaron -- There are several points in your analysis that I'd like to address:

1) Ridgeline sales - Honda doesn't sell a lot of Ridgelines because Honda doesn't build a lot of Ridgelines. It's as simple as that. The Ridgeline has to compete for production time in the same plant in Lincoln, AL where the Pilot and Odyssey are built. Those other two vehicles are arguably more important to Honda. Honda doesn't really seem to care how many Ridgelines they produce, but they have a very short time on dealers lots.

2) Atlas towing capacity - All else being equal, unibody SUVs will have greater body strength than unibody pickups due to the D-pillars stiffening the overall frame/chassis. In the case of the Ridgeline, the chassis was developed with the Ridgeline in mind (although the Acura MDX and Pilot both share this chassis, and they were introduced ahead of the Ridgeline, leading many to erroneously believe that the Ridgeline was based wholly on the Pilot). We don't know if VW was considering pickup truck duty when they developed the Atlas chassis - if not, I would be highly surprised if it towed more than the Atlas.

3) Payload capability - the Ridgeline has more payload capability than most mid-size trucks and some full-size trucks. Sure, you can find some trucks with bigger beds, but they are uncommon. You can find a few mid-size trucks with more capacity than the Ridgeline, but they are extremely rare. You will NOT find a mid-size truck with the same line of options that can match the payload capacity of the Ridgeline. It also has the largest standard bed you'll find in a four-door mid-size truck. What other mid-size truck can haul a Honda Pioneer 500 SxS in the bed?

Other than those areas, good article!

Nothing VW will darken my driveway again.

This would probably pass Chevy for #3 in sales when it comes out. By then Ram will already be #2.

I would not buy a VW or any German vehicle--expensive and frequent maintenance. If I had to choose between this and the Honda I would pick the Honda just on reliability but I would choose any one of the other midsize trucks offered before I would choose the Honda because they better meet my needs

The Tanoak concept is really a good idea; their mistake is in making it too bloomin' large and attempting to compete with full-sized trucks in a part of the market that is basically full-sized or nothing. This truck should be no less than 20% smaller, lowering the roof no less than one foot, narrowing it by no less than one foot and even lowering the ground clearance by about two inches. Instead of competing with existing models, it needs to create its own market where, as the author said, "That limits its utility for hardcore truck buyers but makes it more appealing for people looking for a crossover with a bed area to put wet or messy items in." This is EXACTLY where it needs to go!

Jeff S

that's a very good point
you're right! oil changes would cost $800, brake jobs $2000

"Towing" is a non factor in the little pretend truck land. The car based versions of little pretend trucks (NON body on frame) actually make a lot more sense than the truck based little pretend trucks for 90+% of the pretend truck buying people. For a few K more and a few MPG less one can have a real full size truck to do real work with. For those who don't care about or value their money or place their "feelings" to ride high and look cool over the realities small trucks are a good choice.

The Car based versions try to split the difference. Delivering everything better, economy, handling, ride, ect, except for the areas of the towing nobody uses in this segment, the off road ability rarely used (but prized) and the most critical to and cool "I drive a truck cause I wanna" factors in this segment.

The sad thing is the portion of this market that actually has the sense to go with the car based versions is the smallest portion of it and its not worth VW fighting Honda (or anyone) over if it isn't growing.

""Towing" is a non factor in the little pretend truck land. The car based versions of little pretend trucks (NON body on frame)"

My personal experience is that not having a frame is not necessarily a bad thing. I owned by a full sized 1972 Chrysler Newport that was unibody and a 1970 Impala that was body on frame. The Chrysler was bigger, more ridged and towed much better while only weighing 200lbs more. My father ordered a Newport with the tow package that was rated to pull 6,000lbs. I couldn't afford that and had to settle for adding extra cooling to a used one but it pulled a 4,000lb boat very acceptably for those days. The only real drawback I saw to the unibody construction was that rustproofing was nonexistent back then and the thinner body panels would rust out faster than a relatively thicker frame. When a body panel rusts out on a unibody you are in trouble. The only reason I sold the Chrysler was people kept running into it and it looked a ramblin wreck even though it still drove great, plus it a hole in the floor of the trunk that you could drop a baseball through. I much preferred driving the Newport over the Impala and was sad to see it go. But it was getting close to 17 years old then, which was really old for those times. I did keep the Implala until 2002 because I was cheap but never did really like it. Nobody ever ran into it.

I think the reason the Ridgeline does not sell well is because it is very generic looking no different variations in models no beefed up off road model no lift just very plain it is not appealing to enough buyers also no colour options very plain. Volkswagon can make a dent in this segment if they create a few variations of this model and keep a little bit of ruggedness to it.

I don't think the Atlas will see the light of day.

Why would VW risk another midsizer when they already produce a good midsizer?

This is just eye candy and marketing from VW.

test

the Atlas is already in production. Duh.

I don't think VW has any BoF factories in the U.S. Therefore, it would be cheaper for them to test the truck waters with a unibody truck with a factory mostly set up to do it already.

If you want a VW BoF truck (Amarok) in the U.S., get off your duff and tell your congressmen to repeal the idiotic Chicken Tax. Good luck with that, though, as Big 2 and UAW have some powerful lobbyists.

"Expensive" and "Frequent" maintenance. I have an Atlas. Oil change $60 without tax. Every 10,000 miles.

I'll take that any day:)

@Bob

I worked for a local auto dealership here in central Florida. Our lineup included Subaru, Mercedes, VW and Volvo.

The labor rates in the Mercedes shop were atrocious, however, the VW rates were right behind.

Their shop was always busy and the customers loved 'em, but the rates were insane. Subaru and Volvo were reasonable, and in those days Subarus were bulletproof so those techs got pretty lonely. The VW guys always had plenty of work to do.

Sorry......all truck owners do now carry around 5000 worth of gear or tow boats. Thousands and thousands of us need them for yard work and the supplies required which do not weigh 5,000 pounds. The Tanoak is longer and wider than some of its competition and I like it. For those of us who use it regularily for yard work, we still want a good looking vehicle with a luxury interior. I want one. I want one today.



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