Volkswagen's Tanoak concept stole the show at this year's New York Auto Show, but the German manufacturer's mid-sized pickup truck is not quite guaranteed to ever reach the North American market. From internal communications to explicit interviews, VW seems to be strongly considering the strong US pickup market as a target for the Tanoak, which could even be built at the brand's new, $2 billion Chattanooga production plant. The Tanoak concept features plenty of futuristic design details, which VW would certainly have to rely on if they hope to crack into America's highly patriotic pickup truck market.
If the Tanoak hits the North American market without major changes from its concept to production form, the truck will establish a new language for the pickup industry. Everything about the Tanoak in its current design points to Volkswagen's commitment towards future-facing shapes, and how small details contribute to functionality. Little bits like brake lights that wrap around the entire tailgate, a non-vertical delineation between cab and bed, and integrated exhaust tips bring out a simplicity that seems like a direct counter to the excessively badged and chromed pickup trucks coming out of Ford, Ram, and even Toyota.
VW's form-meets-function aesthetic is expressed through the Tanoak's adaptable roof rail, which rests against the cabin when not in use, but can slide along the entire truck bed to help secure larger, longer loads. A tow hook and winch sit embedded in the front bumper—rather than sticking out up front and adding another foot of length.
Klaus Bischoff, head of Volkswagen Design, described the thought process behind the Tanoak's looks, admitting that "Pickups are distinctly American. If you go into this territory, you need to come up with something cool, and something that works. You can’t do something unserious.This is engineered to the bone.” He also explicitly added, "We’ve gone for versatility, for functionality."
DRIVETRAIN & MECHANICALS
The Tanoak concept is built on the same MQB platform as VW's three-row SUV, the Atlas, but the entire chassis has been stretched 11 additional inches to allow for two full rows of seating and a full-length truck bed. The Tanoak's design team studied current mid-sized pickups on the market, and came up with an ideal ride height of 9.8 inches, which should allow for plenty of clearance when fully utilizing VW's 4Motion all-wheel-drive system.
Under the hood, the Tanoak will feature the same engine as the Atlas, a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 276 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, pumped to the 4Motion system through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Again, those stats are in line with current competition like the Chevrolet Colorado and the GMC Canyon.
Both the Atlas and its stretched Tanoak big brother feature a unibody construction, with SUV-based suspension that should lead to more comfortable driving than the industry's more common body-on-frame build method. Whether potential pickup truck buyers will celebrate or denigrate a more car-like ride remains to be seen.
INTERIOR & TECH
The Tanoak's interior highlights a unique marketing perspective that may have factored into Volkswagen's concept: for model year 2017, 18 percent of total pickup buyers, and fully 21 percent of mid-sized pickup buyers, were female. And while the nearly Western-styled leather and stitching projects a rugged vibe, the rest of the cabin is trimmed with neat details and futuristic lighting (or what Volkswagen designers call a 'light signature').
The overall interior style seems much more in line with VW's higher-end Audi products than a dirt-cheap Golf hatchback, with aluminum cladding, a flat-bottom steering wheel, and a touchscreen infotainment center all part of the concept. Even the gear-shift selector looks to be possibly sourced from one of Audi's Q-SUVs, as well. Whether a production Tanoak would allow buyers a choice of interior amenities and options packages remains to be seen, and the truth is that concepts often focus more on impeccable tactility than their road-going counterparts.
PRICING & BUYING
Should Volkswagen decide to ship the Tanoak to the United States, expect pricing to fall in line with current domestic competitors like the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Asian imports like the Toyota Tacoma and Hyundai's forthcoming Santa Cruz. Lower-spec Tanoaks will probably start in the mid- to upper-$20,000 range, while fully-optioned examples should easily climb up towards $40,000. Once news of a North American Tanoak hits the market, Volkswagen dealers may very well find consumer demand high enough to ratchet up prices for the first few months of deliveries, which likely won't begin until late-2019 at the earliest.
Fellow mid-sized pickup trucks like the Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon, Toyota Tacoma, and Hyundai Santa Cruz should be wary of the Tanoak's market potential. But established brands with plenty of years behind them to iron out small bugs in their products may have a slight edge against Volkswagen, who, despite churning out impressive hatchbacks, sedans, and SUVs, has not yet proved their mettle in the pickup truck world. Still, the Tanoak could prove a potent seller if Volkswagen can establish a strong identity for the truck early on in its tenure.