Will Volkswagen Debut a US Pickup This Week?

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The last time Volkswagen made a pickup truck for the U.S. market was in the early 1980s. It was not a big seller. The company apparently believes the time is now right for another go at it and is expected to introduce a concept vehicle at this week’s New York auto show.

No German automaker currently offers a pickup truck in the United States, although all sell sport utility vehicles and crossovers categorized as light trucks. If the midsize pickup is greenlit, it likely will be manufactured at VW’s Tennessee plant, based on the company’s recently introduced Atlas SUV.

VW’s U.S. sales of light trucks accounted for just 23% of the company’s 2017 sales, according to Automotive News. Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) racked up 70% of 2017 sales from its F-Series pickups and expects sales of an expanded light truck line to account for a whopping 86% of sales volume by 2020.

A midsize VW pickup would be going up against the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon from General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM), the Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) Tacoma and the Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (NYSE: HMC) Ridgeline.  More competition is due next year when Ford reintroduces its midsize Ranger, and a new midsize pickup is also expected to appear from Hyundai.

VW markets a pickup — the Amarok — outside the United States, but it is available only with a TDI diesel engine, and we all know what that means following VW’s diesel scandal.

The bigger question for VW to answer is how many pickups can it sell to the U.S. market? The target market for this vehicle is more like the market for Honda’s Ridgeline than it is for the F-Series market, and that market is pretty small. Honda sold fewer than 35,000 Ridgelines last year, while Ford sold nearly 900,000 F-Series trucks. Combined sales of the Chevy Colorado and the Toyota Tacoma totaled just over 425,000 units last year, and IHS Markit estimates that the market for these trucks won’t exceed 480,000 sales a year through 2025.

Either the pie has to grow or VW has to get a good-sized slice of the current pie. The latter is unlikely to happen with Ford’s new Ranger coming next year, and the former may not lead to a much larger pie.

Check out the ad from 1981 for a look at the VW pickup.

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