Volkswagen has previewed its plans for a new US-built pick-up with the unveiling of the Tanoak at the 2018 New York International Auto Show.
Conceived around the company’s unibody MQB (Modularen Querbau - modular transverse architecture) platform - as used by a wide range of Volkswagen models ranging from the Polo hatchback through to the Atlas SUV - the dual-cab concept hints at how the German car maker intends to muscle its way into the lucrative North American full-sized pick-up market against competition that includes the ubiquitous Ford F-150.
Combining a contemporary design lineage reminiscent of more recent Volkswagen SUV models with traditional pick-up proportions, the 206kW 3.6-litre V6-powered Tanoak has been conceived as part of an eventual three-model Atlas line-up that includes the seven-seat Atlas SUV and five-seat Atlas Cross Sport - that latter of which also made its debut at the New York International Auto Show.
Unlike the Atlas Cross Sport concept, which has already been confirmed for production in 2019, the Tanoak is described as being more conceptual in nature. Its brief, says Volkswagen design boss Klaus Bischoff, is to test public reaction to a full-sized pick-up model for the North American market that he says could be produced at the company’s Chattanooga plant in Tennessee.
“We’re not saying this is a model we will definitely bring to showrooms. Rather, we’re airing our ideas of how a future Volkswagen pick-up could look like. In the US you need to be in the truck market to generate proper volume. With a positive reaction from potential customers the Tanoak could take us there,” says Bischoff.
While Volkswagen admits the Ford F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado are among the competition being targeted by the new model, it says the Honda Ridgeline and upcoming production version of the Hyundai Santa Cruz pick-up concept are more obvious rivals for the Tanoak, which has been seen as less of a tradesman’s workhorse and more of a lifestyle- orientated model.
The decision to develop the Tanoak as an addition to Volkswagen’s Atals line-up comes after internal studies deemed the Amarok, a ladder frame chassis based pick-up produced by the company’s commercial vehicle division as a rival to the Toyota Hi-Lux and Ford Ranger, was deemed unsuitable for sale in North America due to its high production cost, relatively compact dimensions in comparison to the full-size pick-ups popular across the US and a lack of a suitable production base within the North American Free Trade (NAFTA) region.
The front end of the Tanoak takes its sytling inspiration from the Atlas. However, the new pick-up concept departs quite radically from its SUV sibling towards the rear.
Key design elements include a technical looking front bumper featuring a metal kickplate and winch within its lower section as well as outer air ducts surrounded by distinctive LED day time running lamps. In a hint that an eventual production version of the new Volkswagen could take the same name, it is also adorned with the word “ATLAS” within a contrasting black middle section.
The Tanoak also receives a newly designed grille with integrated headlamps that wrap around into the front fenders with greater tapering effect than those seen on the existing Atlas SUV. It is highlighted on the concept by a series of LED light bands and an illuminated Volkswagen badge that, in combination with a similar styling effect at the rear, light up when the concept is unlocked or locked.
Further back, the wheel arches have been beefed up with additional cladding and are filled with multi-spoke 20-inch wheels shod with 275/55 profile tyres. However, the characteristic side feature lines, which extend over the top of the front wheel arches and down the middle of the doors, are retained.
It is aft of the B-pillars where the Tanaok gains its own truly unique visual character, with short rear doors that are not immediately recognisable due to the door handles being integrated within the cladding at the base of the C-pillar. There are also contrasting sills aimed at creating the effect of greater cabin length.
Towards the rear, the cargo box sides receive large rear wheel houses and side feature lines mimicking those up front.
At 5438mm in length, 2030mm in width and 1844mm in height, the Volkswagen Tanoak is 104mm longer, 34mm wider and 46mm higher than the Honda Ridgeline.
The exaggerated height of the new Volkswagen concept has been achieved, in part, through a 45mm increase in ground clearance over the Atlas SUV, leading to a bold stance that aims to appeal to typical North American pick-up drivers - a customer group the German car maker says it hopes to target with a possible production version of the new five-seater.
As a point of reference, the Ford F150 SuperCrew, a dual cab version of North America’s best selling pick-up, stretches to 5890mm in length, 2029mm in width and, with maximum ground clearance, a height of 1953mm.
The four-door dual cab body of the new Volkswagen is combined with a cargo box that extends to 1627mm in length and 1450mm in width. The width between the rear wheels wells is put at 1280mm, while the height of the cargo bed is a claimed 530mm.
The lower-hinged tailgate at the rear extends the overall length of the cargo box by 633mm to a total of 2290mm when opened. To maximise load space, the concept’s full-sized spare wheel is mounted underneath the cargo box, making it accessible even when it is fully loaded.
Volkswagen’s decision to base the Tanoak around a unibody MQB platform follows the example of the Honda Ridgeline, which is based on the same structure that underpins its Pilot SUV - the so-called Global Light Truck platform as it is known internally at Honda. As well as offering greater refinement as the ladder frame arrangement used by the majority of pick-up models offered in North America, the MQB structure is also claimed to provide the new Volkswagen model with valuable economies of scale with the Atlas SUV and its new stablemate, the Atlas Cross Sport.
In the creation of its new pick-up concept, Volkswagen has extended the wheelbase of the MQB platform that underpins the Atlas by 280mm to 3260mm. By comparison, the Honda Ridgeline receives a wheelbase of 3180mm.
Volkswagen is not specifying what structural modifications it has made to its MQB platform to meet the sort of payload and towing expectations of prospective customers in the development of its new pick-up, saying only that Tanoak “follows the technical DNA” of the Atlas SUV.
Inside, the Tanoak continues the design theme already established with the Atlas SUV, but in a more contemporary manner featuring new high definition digital instruments and Volkswagen's latest touchscreen infotainment system. It also introduces newly designed switchgear within a unique looking steering wheel and broad centre console as well as ambient lighting and, in keeping with its conceptual nature, more upmarket materials.
Volkswagen claims its latest concept provides seating for up to five, but while the outer two seats at the rear are contoured, the middle rear seat is raised and rather flat. Entry to the cabin, meanwhile, is via four conventional front-hinged doors.
Power for the Tanoak comes from the same naturally aspirated 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine offered in high end versions of the Atlas SUV. With 206kW and 350Nm, it delivers the same amount of power but 5Nm less torque than the 3.5-litre V6 used by the second-generation Honda Ridgeline.
The transversely mounted unit channels its drive through an eight-speed torque converter equipped automatic gearbox and Volkswagen’s multi-plate clutch 4Motion four-wheel drive system in a combination providing both high- and low-range gearing via a so-called Active Control function.
Plans to offer low-range gearing on the new model are a departure from the Atlas SUV, which comes exclusively with high-range gearing. Volkswagen also says it envisages offering a number of different driving modes, including on- and off-road programs - the latter of which has been conceived around an electronic system offering a locking differential function.
Without a confirmed kerb weight, the performance figures of the new pick-up concept are largely theoretical. However, computer simulations suggest the Tanoak will reach 100km/h from standstill in 8.8sec and reach a top speed limited to 190km/h.
The unveiling of the Tanoak, whose name refers to a tree grown mainly in the western regions of North America, comes 18 years after Volkswagen aired its first pick-up concept targeted at US car buyers. In 2000, the German car maker revealed the Advanced Activity Vehicle - a unibody pick-up concept that previewed the styling of the first-generation Touareg.
Meanwhile, the decision by Volkswagen to preview its new Tanoak pick-up has further stoked speculation that its sister company Audi could be harbouring plans for a similarly conceived model as a premium brand rival to the recently introduced Mercedes-Benz X-class.
Audi officials at the New York motor show wouldn't directly comment on the possibility of the MQB underpinnings being used for the new Volkswagen also being used as an upcoming Audi pickup model. However, they did acknowledge the continued strength of the pickup market in North America, saying "in terms of volume it is really a very lucrative market segment."
It is not yet know whether the Tanoak could be offered in Australia, but Volkswagen's local division has admitted it is pushing for right-hand drive production of the Altas to build on its SUV offensive, which could open up production for the Tanaok in the future.
A spokesman for the brand said "If it becomes available in right-hand-drive, it would certainly be of interest to us".
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