Why VW Doesn’t Think the Amarok Would Work in America

The New York Auto Show a surprising embarrassment of riches this year and among the most talked about vehicles was Volkswagen’s pickup concept, the Tanoak. Based on the Atlas, the concept was meant to “show just what’s possible” from the MQB chassis.

That might cause some VW fans’ brows to furrow in confusion. Why not just give the Amarok a new name?

There’s a very good reason for this, as VW’s head of design, Klaus Bischoff, explained to us on the New York International Auto Show floor: size. 

According to Bischoff, in this country size matters and VW’s body-on-frame frame pickup just wouldn’t be big enough.

“It needs to be big,” says Bischoff. “If you don’t tick the box on that one, you are out of the field of gaze, people don’t look at you.”

The MQB platform, on the other hand, VW feels could make a truck big enough to fit in the American market. In fact, the Atlas Tanoak is as long as a standard-cab Ford F-150 (though it would compete with a Tacoma).

And that’s pretty impressive from a platform that also forms the basis for the Polo. How can it manage such a Mr Fantastic feat? Well, it has to do with that word “platform,” I wasn’t just using it to be pedantic.

Rather than being a chassis, MQB is what VW calls a toolkit. When it comes right down to it–big oversimplification on its way–the only thing that the Tanoak and the Polo have in common is the space between the pedals and the front wheels.

That means that pretty much everything else (within reason) can be modified for its particular needs. So, a Polo can be designed to be light and fuel efficient, whereas a Tanoak could be designed with some extra steel to be rigid enough to support its own mass. That said, the Tanoak is about the limit of what the platform can reasonably handle.

The Amarok, meanwhile, simply couldn’t have been made as large and wide as the Tanoak, says Bischoff.

“It’s thinner and smaller,” he says of the Amarok. “Nobody would take an Amarok for real here. They would say ‘that’s not a machine, it’s a toy.'”

The distinction also marks another interesting point of differentiation between the two trucks. Whereas the Amarok is widely used as a commercial vehicle, VW’s North American Chief Engineering Officer, Matthias Erb tells us that they would consider the Tanoak more of a lifestyle vehicle than a commercial vehicle. 

Finally, if based on the Atlas, the Tanoak could be built in America, a people VW is very interested in wooing. 

Although VW has repeatedly reminded us that they have no actual plans to put the Tanoak into production, they are dipping their toe into the pickup waters. Like the I.D. Buzz, if enough people want one of these VW can make it.