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VW, Jeep Again Looking at Options for U.S. Pickups

A resurgent midsize pickup segment could draw new contenders.

by on Mar.06, 2014

The current VW Amarok is not sold in the U.S. market and may be too small to import.

Only a few years ago, the pundits were writing off full-size pickups as dinosaurs set to vanish from the market. But last year they set their best sales mark since the crash of the U.S. automotive market.  Now, many analysts are starting to rethink forecasts predicting the demise of the midsize truck segment.  That apparently includes product planners for both Volkswagen AG and Jeep.

In recent years, the segment has dwindled to insignificance and key players like Ford and Chrysler have abandoned their entries. Ford actually developed a new version of its Ranger for global markets but decided against bringing it to the States.

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But with General Motors counter-programming, as it were, with the new Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon models, might other manufacturers follow?

There are several who continue to consider their options, including both of the Korean carmakers, Hyundai and Kia.  But the makers most likely to take some action could be Detroit-based Jeep, and German giant Volkswagen AG — which already has an option available, the midsize Amarok pickup it sells in a wide range of overseas markets.

An ad for the 1981 Rabbit-based VW pickup.

Just last November, then Volkswagen Group of America CEO Jonathan Browning said he’d like to start importing the Amarok – if the U.S. government would just kill off its half-century-old “Chicken Tax,” a retaliatory tariff that morphed into a 25% penalty on imported trucks.

(Small is big as Jeep launches compact Renegade at Geneva Motor Show. Click Here to check it out.)

Browning is no longer the head of VWGoA, but his successor, it seems, continues to tax truck.  “It’s a question mark, but it starts to be discussed. Let’s put it this way: we start to discuss it again and whether it’s attractive for us,” Michael Horn told Autoblog.com.

The question is what pickup would work for the truck-crazy U.S. market.  Horn told Autoblog he thinks the Amarok “is too small,” reflecting the widespread concern that American buyers still go by the mantra “bigger is better.”

For his part, Heinz-Jakob Neußer, head of VW Group’s powertrain development operations revealed during a Geneva Motor Show roundtable that, “We are just reworking our truck strategy, and this is part of thinking about it. But the Amarok fits not very well to the efforts of the market.”

(VW rocks out with the T-Roc Concept. Click Here for a closer look.)

The Wrangler-based Jeep Scrambler.

For what it’s worth, VW actually once offered a U.S. pickup and, in some ways, was ahead of its time, opting for a car-based, or crossover, platform rather than going with what pickup fans like to call a “truck-truck.” The downsized model was, in fact, based on the first-generation Volkswagen Rabbit and was produced, starting in 1979, at the maker’s old assembly plant in Westmoreland, Pennsylvania. It lasted only a few years, however, and VW hasn’t offered a pickup in the States since then.

Both of the Korean carmakers have given serious thought to pickups over the last decade or so, but insiders say they’re reluctant to move at this time – especially since their efforts had focused on the midsized market that once rivaled full-size demand but now amounts to little more than an asterisk on the sales charts.

That downward trend convinced both Ford and Chrysler to abandon the segment. But while there seems little momentum to bring back the Dodge Dakota nameplate, several key sources at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles are telling TheDetroitBureau.com that they’re actively looking at another option.

(Ram Diesel claims lead in full-size pickup MPG. Click Here for the full story.)

The Comanche was Jeep Cherokee-based.

Like Volkswagen, the Jeep brand is looking for ways to make a business case.  The U.S. maker does have the advantage, however, of domestic production which would not subject a Jeep pickup to the chicken tax,

(That penalty was so named because it originally arose as a tit-for-tat U.S. tariff after Europe enacted penalties on imports of American-raised poultry.  Today, curiously, the 25% duty on imported trucks is all that remains.)

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles officials aren’t discussing their plans on the record, but several have confirmed privately that there is an active development effort targeting Jeep rather than the Ram brand that recently dropped its Dakota line.

The Jeep Mighty FC honored the design of the old Forward Control models build by Jeep founder Willys.

That might seem odd until you recognize Jeep has a history of building pickups dating back to the Forward Control of founder Willys, and the later J10 and J20 models assembled under the ownership of Kaiser.  More recently, the Wrangler-based Scrambler, and the Cherokee-based Comanche were produced through the 1980s and, for the Comanche, into the early ’90s. A number of Jeep concept vehicles have followed over the years, most recently the Mighty FC and Gladiator show cars.

The latest Jeep pickup project is far from production and coming up with the right business case remains as big a challenge as finding the right design. But the surge in the full-size truck market has buoyed hopes – and if the new Chevy Colorado and GM Canyon midsize models score well in the U.S. market, said a senior insider, it would clearly help boost Jeep’s desires to get back in the pickup game.

(Click Here for TheDetroitBureau.com’s complete Geneva Motor Show coverage.)

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One Response to “VW, Jeep Again Looking at Options for U.S. Pickups”

  1. Jorge M. says:

    VW’s U.S. built pick-up was a good truck but it suffered from not being a full sized U.S. brand truck. A pick-up truck isn’t the most practical vehicle for commuting but it meets the needs of many people in the U.S. No matter what VW decides to bring to the U.S. it would be a tough sell. The “chicken tax” is meant to benefit the Big Three and should have been abolished a long time ago.