The Atlas Tanoak asks: Should VW build a pickup for America again?

Once upon a time, Volkswagen assembled and sold pickups in America. Branded simply as the “VW Pickup,” known elsewhere around the world as the Volkswagen Caddy, the Rabbit derivative assembled in Pennsylvania was the brainchild of American executives in an era where front-wheel-drive trucks were popular due to high gas prices. After selling 77,513 models between 1979 and 1985, VW left the U.S. pickup market to others.

Today, we ask: What might happen if Volkswagen brought a pickup back to the United States?

This is the Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak concept, a hypothetical answer to that question. Built from the same MQB platform architecture that’s used on new vehicles from the Atlas to the 2019 Jetta, the Atlas Tanoak makes a dramatic statement of VW’s design skills and engineering flexibility – along with some fresh ideas of what a real pickup could be.

The Volkswagen Atlas, concept Atlas Tanoak and concept Atlas Cross Sport.

To be clear: There are no plans to make a production version of this show car. But, as Hinrich Woebcken, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America says, the Atlas Tanoak “shows that we are thinking about what may also be possible, some day in the future, in this market.”

Designed as a dual-cab, short-bed truck, the Atlas Tanoak would check in as a mid-size pickup. It’s not just a chopped and stretched Atlas either, but a custom take on the MQB platform. Compared to the 2018 Atlas, at 128.3 inches, its wheelbase is 11 inches longer, with an overall length at 214.1 inches that’s 15.8 inches longer. To improve off-roading, the Atlas Tanoak sits nearly 2 inches higher, with 9.8 inches of ground clearance, riding on 20-inch wheels.

While the Atlas Tanoak is designed as a unibody lifestyle pickup, it also sports a few trucking innovations, like an integrated winch and hook in its front bumper and a slide-out rail in the rear roof for ease of hauling long items like a canoe. That rail also holds a strip of LEDs to illuminate the cargo bed, which is large enough to hold items like an ATV or dirt bike with the tailgate down.

Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak concept

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Concept vehicle shown throughout. Not available for sale. Specifications may change.

Like many recent VW electric concepts, the Atlas Tanoak makes some inventive use of LEDs. There are DRL bars integrated into the grille and red LEDs in the tailgate; both animate upon starting up the truck. Powered by a 276-hp 3.6-liter VR6 and VW’s 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, the Tanoak’s interior offers spacious seating for five, with ambient lights that change colors depending on the drive mode.

Although it’s been out of the pickup market in the United States for more than three decades, Volkswagen has ample experience building and selling pickups around the world, from the Doka to the Amarok. The Atlas Tanoak will remain a show car, but depending on public reaction, VW could consider a fresh look at the American pickup.