The Volkswagen Pickup is Dead, Long Live the Volkswagen Pickup!

For the last two New York Auto Shows, Volkswagen has shown off pickup concepts that have been remarkably well-received. Despite that reception, Volkswagen won’t move forward with the Tanoak, according to Hein Schafer, Senior VP, Product Marketing & Strategy for VW USA.

“I think, just in terms of platform limitations, and I think in terms of sheer volume capacity to be able to do something like that, it just doesn’t pencil,” Schafer told journalists at the Chicago Auto Show. “So that concept is still pretty much dead.”

The Tanoak, for those who don’t remember, was an Atlas-based pickup that was roughly the size of the Honda Ridgeline—which was one of the main knocks against it.

“So, you’ve basically spent a hell of a big investment to, at best, deliver a Honda Ridgeline, which is sitting at what? Three, four percent of segment,” said Schafer. “And that’s the difficulty. If you don’t do the job right—I mean how do you take on an F-150 or a Toyota Tundra?”

Even the Tundra, which is a body-on-frame pickup, unlike the Tanoak, struggles to compete against the Americans. That’s another concern for Johan de Nysschen, VW USA’s COO.

“You know, Toyota have been trying forever with competent vehicles. Nissan have been trying forever and the American manufacturers kind of have that tied up,” said de Nysschen. “So if you try to do a me-too, I don’t think you’ll get anywhere even if it’s just as good or better.”

But that doesn’t mean that the idea of a VW pickup is completely dead. Ford and VW’s collaboration on a Ranger-based pickup doesn’t apply to the US, according to Schafer, but there is another pickup that might: the Tarok.

“The beauty of that, at least in my opinion, is that it is kind of more of a lifestyle vehicle,” said Schafer. “It’s not something that’s going to tow a massive trailer […] it’s more a lifestyle vehicle, and I would see it more kind of appealing to someone who’s potentially looking for a more rugged-looking SUV.”

That, however, is the Tarok’s other big problem. The Atlas and the new Tiguan have been enticing new buyers to the brand and growing it. A Tarok might instead poach VW’s own sales. That’s not the biggest problem in the world, but it is expensive.

“That becomes the difficulty when your portfolio becomes full, you start investing a lot of money and all you do is you substitute 50% of your other model,” said Schafer. “And then you gotta keep both those brands fresh, you’ve got to keep them both facelifted, you’ve got to market them, you need awareness out in the market.”

If you look even farther down the road there may be another solution, said de Nysschen. Fully electric pickups.

“Electrification is like a reset for everyone,” said de Nysschen. “And it’s changed the definition of the product concept. And while brand loyalties no doubt will continue to play out in the future, that could represent an opportunity for us.”

He was quick to add, though, that an electric pickup isn’t on the horizon, just that it could be an entree into the segment. And even if it is a reset for everyone, the American brands aren’t exactly eager to let people in on their turf. Ford has partnered with Rivian while GMC just announced that is would produce an electric pickup under the Hummer name soon. So even if VW wants in, they may not be allowed in.