The newest pickup truck comes from an unlikely contender: Volkswagen.
The vehicle is not currently slated for production, however Volkswagen said it will monitor public reaction as it considers entering one of the most popular segments in the U.S. auto industry.
The Atlas Tanoak Concept is designed as a dual cab, five-seat configuration with a short bed. Its dimensions and unibody platform, as opposed to the traditional body-on-frame for pickup trucks, positions the Atlas Tanoak Concept as a midsize pickup akin to the Honda Ridgeline.
The pickup rides on the Modular Transverse Matrix global architecture platform, or MQB. The MQB platform is used for Volkswagen models as varied as the Atlas and Atlas Cross Sport Concept SUVs and the Jetta and Golf sedans. The Tanoak is the first pickup truck to be fitted to the MQB.
Like the Atlas Cross Sport Concept that debuted on Tuesday, the Atlas Tanoak is part of Volkswagen’s vision to build a family of large Atlas vehicles. The pickup concept bears a noticeable resemblance to its three-row Atlas sibling and boasts the model’s logo on its rear tailgate.
The new truck shares more than just a name with the Atlas SUV. The two vehicles share a 3.6-liter V6 engine making 276 horsepower and 266 pound-feet of torque with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
But the Atlas Tanoak Concept stretches the wheelbase by 11 inches and the total length by 15.8 inches. Its body is nearly two inches higher, providing 9.8 inches of ground clearance.
If Volkswagen started producing the Tanoak, it would be entering a crowded market.
Automakers sold 452,335 midsize pickups in the U.S. last year, a 1 percent increase compared with 2016. Toyota leads, with sales of almost 200,000 Tacomas last year. Chevrolet is the only other brand that sells more than 100,000 midsize pickups annually.
But even as sales level, the field is about to get more crowded. Ford will launch sales of the 2019 Ranger midsize pickup later this year. The automaker, which sold almost 900,000 full size F-Series pickups last year, is expect to aggressively market the Ranger.
Analysts, and even some Ford executives in private conversations, say sellers of midsize trucks will likely be battling each in a market that will have modest growth at best. Some sales growth could come from people moving down from full size pickups or up from SUVs.
Honda has found success with the latter approach. Like the Tanoak, the Honda Ridgeline pickup, is a unibody architecture – essentially a large crossover with a truck bed. Honda sold nearly 35,000 Ridgeline pickups last year. That pushed the brand past the traditional truck seller GMC and its Canyon, to capture fourth place in the segment.
But offering a pickup based on the Atlas platform is the only feasible way VW could attack the pickup truck market in the U.S. The company sells the Amarok overseas. But like other imported pickups, it would be saddled with a 25 percent tariff if VW brought it here. Using the Atlas and the company’s Chattanooga facility to produce the vehicles allows VW to escape the tariff.
The front fascia of the Atlas Tanoak Concept is highlighted by LED headlights and strips that extend to the side of the truck. It features plastic fender extensions and a protected underbody that houses a winch for upgraded capability. Tow hooks are built into the rear bumper.
The rear doors of the truck have handles that are integrated into the vehicle’s pillars for a seamless look. The Atlas Tanoak Concept rides on 20-inch wheels and it features a moveable cargo rail that can slide throughout the length of the bed to accommodate large items.
The spacious interior of the Atlas Tanoak Concept caters to both traditional truck customers and a more tech-savvy audience. There is a new transmission shifter and a metallic slider to control the drive modes provided by Volkswagen’s 4Motion all-wheel drive system. The slider was made to be used with work gloves.
The truck experiments with five individual seats instead of a rear bench, and the dashboard touchscreen and digital cockpit display control the majority of the vehicle’s functions.
The Atlas Tanoak Concept takes its name from a type of acorn tree called the tanoak. It is native to California and parts of Oregon and can grow to well over 100 feet in height.