Hey, Volkswagen! If you want us to move past the fact that you pumped a bunch of extra nitrogen dioxide into the air and tried to hide it, we need you to start making cool cars again. Sure, we love the GTI, but we’re talking more cool cars. Like the Atlas Tanoak concept introduced today. That! Build that, but make sure it’s priced so that we can actually justify buying it.
Everything about the Atlas Tanoak is pretty exciting. To wit: I towed my Volkswagen 411 home to Texas from California with the Atlas SUV the Tanoak pickup concept is based on, and it was a surprisingly capable thing.
The Atlas’ 5,000-lb towing capacity means it can tow a relatively light car on an open trailer without much drama. There were ample cupholders for in-car drinking and snacking. It wasn’t too unpleasant on dirt roads—even the heavily washboarded ones en route to the remote national forest campsite we stayed at in New Mexico. You can even sleep surprisingly comfortably in the rear hatch, if you must.
Yet people like me—sans kids, or even couples and smaller families—may not even look at three-row crossovers on principle. My mom, for example, always thought minivans were kind of neat, but a minivan never made a ton of sense for hauling one kid, and we never got one. If you don’t haul a small menagerie of humans on a regular basis, a small pickup variation of the Atlas just makes more sense for towing and camping.
To see Volkswagen mixing up the Atlas is rad, especially when it’s the VW pickup we’ve been wanting for ages! But they’re going to have to be careful how they price it, given that buyers seem timid about the whole “unibody truck” thing, or any small truck that’s not the Toyota Tacoma, for that matter.
The Tacoma seems to coast by on its name and reputation just fine, as it’s a proven, reliable small truck, built like the many body-on-frame trucks that have come before it. Only 2,209 Honda Ridgelines—the quintessential pickup truck for people who hate how pickup trucks drive—sold in February, according to Good Car Bad Car, a fraction of the 16,817 Tacomas that sold in the same month. The next best selling smaller truck after that is the Chevrolet Colorado, which sold 8,050 trucks that month, per Good Car Bad Car.
I know how car nuts are, especially for enthusiast-bait vehicles like a new VW pickup. The people who get the most excited about things like a new Rabbit pickup or Ford Ranger are usually the most excited about being that pickup’s second or third owner on down the line.
When we finally get the cool thing we wanted for years, we all too often don’t buy it, because it’s priced more than we want to pay. Y’all are cheap! (Please excuse me while I close the “used Porsche Cayenne” search tab on my browser.)
If Volkswagen wants an Atlas-based pickup to sell in America, they’re going to have to copy what they’ve been doing with the Atlas SUV: go cheaper. One of the problems with the Ridgeline is that it’s priced right up there with the Tacoma, and for that price, most buyers are going to skip the newfangled unibody that drives like a car for the proven body-on-frame pickup.
Undercut the other small trucks on price, and you may pick up a few of those buyers who were hum-hawing about being the future second owner of a Ridgeline or Colorado. The fact that the Atlas Tanoak already shares a platform and hopefully other bits with the Atlas SUV already makes me thing that VW could pull off building a good little pickup priced for cheap, timid Americans. That’s less cash VW would have to drop in the design stage.
It’s easy to poo-poo more niche vehicles and other actual risks to build as no-gos for the notoriously boring American market, but if you don’t build them, you run the risk of becoming forgettable.
Volkswagen’s at that painful crossroads right now where there isn’t much besides the Golf GTI that really gets people talking about their cars, and even the GTI’s been out a while. The Beetle is going away soon, and no matter how capable a three-row SUV is, they’re truly the minivan of our time and a lot of enthusiasts hate them for that reason.
It’s time to hack that kid-haulin’ SUV into a fun little truck.
Volkswagen’s mild off-road offerings—everything from Rabbit pickups to Things—are remembered with great fondness, so this pickup is a great way to slide back into America’s good graces. Stop teasing us with cool concepts and build it, VW. You pretty much have to at this point.