VW explains why it brought a pickup truck concept to New York

The Atlas Tanoak Concept certainly made a splash at the New York Auto Show. Now, Volkswagen answers the big question on everybody's lips: Why?

Steven Ewing Former managing editor
Steven Ewing spent his childhood reading car magazines, making his career as an automotive journalist an absolute dream job. After getting his foot in the door at Automobile while he was still a teenager, Ewing found homes on the mastheads at Winding Road magazine, Autoblog and Motor1.com before joining the CNET team in 2018. He has also served on the World Car Awards jury. Ewing grew up ingrained in the car culture of Detroit -- the Motor City -- before eventually moving to Los Angeles. In his free time, Ewing loves to cook, binge trash TV and play the drums.
Steven Ewing
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Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak Concept
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Before rumors hit the internet last week, it's pretty safe to say no one expected to bring a pickup truck concept to the New York Auto Show . But it did. The Atlas Tanoak is one of the most surprising reveals at this year's show, and following its debut, we're all left wondering: Why?

"We really showed this as a concept without a clear production plan behind it," Volkswagen's North American CEO, Hinrich J. Woebcken, told members of the media during a briefing Wednesday. "Our intention [is] to demonstrate that we very seriously look into the American needs. ... Volkswagen wants to be part of this market much more seriously than in the past."

Woebcken says Volkswagen has "definitely not decided" whether or not it will produce the Tanoak, which uses an elongated version of the Atlas SUV's scalable platform. After all, there are a number of factors to consider.

"It all depends now if this market will appreciate more unibody pickup tucks," Woebcken said. "The C segment ... is a very high commercial use segment. Almost 70 percent of those vehicles are used in a commercial environment." 

It's true. The US truck market is dominated by pickups that boast impressive towing and payload capabilities, areas where a unibody truck would absolutely suffer by comparison.

Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak Concept
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Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak Concept

The Atlas Tanoak is technically a mid-size truck, despite looking super duper full-size.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Woebcken thinks a Volkswagen pickup could have "a higher chance on the lifestyle side," but even then, "we still have to study how that would work."

Of course, a pickup like this could also have global appeal, and Woebcken admits that's also something being discussed internally.

"We potentially would not only look at the data for demand here in the United States. There is the opportunity of exporting a pickup truck out of the United States and generating scales of economy." Right now, Volkswagen sells the Amarok truck in low volumes in markets outside the US. If its replacement could be based on the unibody MQB architecture -- and therefore assembled alongside the Atlas at VW's factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee -- the likelihood of US sales is much more realistic.

Still, as of right now, there's no telling if the Atlas Tanoak will enter production, let alone come to the US. Woebcken is mostly using it to show "additional opportunities on the MQB platform" -- hence its debut alongside the Atlas Cross Sport concept, which will go into production in Tennessee next year.

"This is all about the Atlas platform and industrialization here in the United States," Woebcken said. "I think it's a good story for Volkswagen today."

Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak Concept is a pickup truck tease

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