It Might Take More Than American Enthusiasm to Make This Volkswagen Truck a Reality

Volkswagen’s Atlas Tanoak concept was one of the few interesting products to emerge from last week’s New York auto show, but the Atlas-based pickup remains a one-off for now. The automaker plans to judge consumer interest before making a decision to scrap the idea or sign off on a production version. Naturally, with VW staking it’s U.S. fortunes on light trucks, the volume-seeking company would like to get as much mileage out of its Atlas architecture as possible. See the two-row Atlas Cross Sport for Exhibit B.

But does the Tanoak’s future hinge on Americans expressing an overwhelming desire for a VW truck? Not entirely.

According to Wards Auto, Volkswagen of America CEO Hinrich Woebcken’s gaze doesn’t end at the continent’s perimeter. The Tanoak’s production could hinge on foreign demand.

“We potentially would not only look at the data for demand here in the United States to get business economics together,” Woebcken said at a media roundtable last week. “Maybe then also there is the opportunity of exporting the pickup truck out of the United States and generating scale of economy out of this.”

The automaker’s Chattanooga plant, which produces the Atlas (and its future variants, if green-lit), has a potential annual production capacity of 500,000 vehicles. It isn’t using close to that amount. Currently, workers in Chattanooga build only the Atlas and dwindling Passat, with the three-row MQB platform crossover recently going on sale in the Middle East and Russia.

So, production capacity isn’t a roadblock for a potential U.S. VW truck, just its market. U.S. buyers looking for an unusual pickup might one day have overseas interest to thank for their new Tanoak, but other problems remain. In creating the Tanoak concept, VW stretched the donor Atlas’ wheelbase by 11 inches in order to craft a useable bed. This puts the Tanoak, as we know it now, dangerously close to full-size territory, Woebken said.

For marketing purposes as much as anything else, VW has to first decide what it wants the Tanoak to be: a midsize lifestyle pickup, or a brawnier, more capable full-size.

Should interest surpass VW brass’ wildest expectations, we wonder whether Chattanooga’s production of the Tanoak, Atlas, its five-seater derivative, and the Passat would alter VW’s tentative plans to utilize the plant for electric vehicles. Late last year, VW brand boss Herbert Diess said Chattanooga was the automaker’s “first choice” for production of I.D.-branded EVs.

a version of this article first appeared on The Truth About Cars