Is VW Building an Atlas-based Unibody Pickup?
Speculation and remarks from VW officials seem promising
America will never see the Volkswagen Amarok mid-size pickup skip the Chicken Tax and arrive in stateside showrooms. That leaves VW clearly out of the pickup truck game, while other automakers are raking in profits while VW twiddles its thumbs while bleeding Dieselgate cash to the U.S. Government. But VW might have another Ace up its sleeve. According to reports, VW is currently evaluating the possibility of a unibody mid-size pickup based on its new Atlas crossover. That’s right, the Honda Ridgeline might soon have some company.
The news comes from CarBuzz, which spoke to Dr. Matthias Erb, Volkswagen of North America’s chief engineering officer, at the 2017 Detroit Auto Show. According to Erb, the German automaker is currently exploring the possibility of scaling the Atlas’ platform for use as a unibody mid-size pickup aimed directly at the American market.
It’s an interesting idea, to say the least. Basing the pickup off the Atlas platform and using Atlas parts has many positives, including the reduced cost of engineering an entirely new platform and powertrain lineup, the already-established assembly plat in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the outright chaos avoided by trying to revamp the body-on-frame Amarok pickup to meet U.S. Government standards in emissions and crash testing, along with building an assembly plant in North American to avoid the Chicken Tax.
What’s more, the Atlas-based truck would have less competition. The Honda Ridgeline is the only unibody pickup based on a SUV currently sold in the U.S., so VW wouldn’t have to worry about competing with GM, Ford, Ram, and to a lesser extent, Toyota, and Nissan.
In fact, Erb told CarBuzz he knows the full-size truck segment is a tough nut to crack. “Body-on-frame trucks are a protected market, he told the outlet. "More than 80 percent of trucks in the U.S. are full-size. There are three main automakers who greatly protect this segment: Ford, GM, and Ram. They’re not just about to let someone else invade their turf.”
Opting to go unibody avoids this long-standing rivalry, allowing VW to compete on a more manageable level with the Honda Ridgeline. Of course, none of these plans are set in stone at this time – at least as far as we know. However, VW could certainly earn some market share in the niche corner of the unibody mid-size pickup segment. At this point, anything that could bring additional profits to the cash-strapped company would be given deep consideration.
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Why It Matters
Crossovers and SUVs aren’t the only hot items flying off automakers’ U.S. showroom floors. Pickup trucks have always been, and continue to be, a massive part of the industry. The segment has seem big growth numbers over the last few years, both thanks to full-size pickups like the F-150, Silverado, and Ram 1500, but also thanks to the mid-size segment contenders like the Tacoma, Colorado, Canyon, Frontier, and Ridgeline. Jumping onto this profit-making bandwagon is certainly an enticing move for nearly every automaker. Heck, even Hyundai is bringing a unibody pickup to market in the new few years.
Volkswagen would be smart to engage this segment and it seems wise to use the Atlas platform. Not only does it meet U.S. regulations, but it also squarely completes with the established unibody competition – the Ridgeline. Honda has already seen impressive sales numbers for the Ridgeline in the few months the all-new 2017 model has been on sale. If VW plays its cards right and develops a strong contender with all the right features, it seems a sure bet the truck would be a success.
What do you think? Would you like to see VW build a unibody pickup that competes with the Honda Ridgeline? What features would you want to see? Let us know in the comments below.
Hattip to TFL truck
Read our full review on the Volkswagen Atlas here.