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New York show: VW builds biggest ute

King of Atlantis: The massive 5400mm Atlas Tanoak concept is based on the US-market Atlas seven-seat SUV.

Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak concept is the bigger than Amarok, but not for Australia

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General News logo29 Mar 2018

By TIM ROBSON in New York

VOLKSWAGEN’S largest ever ute, the Atlas Tonoak concept – revealed overnight at the New York motor show – is an unlikely starter for Australia, should it enter production in the United States.

However, there is a glimmer of hope: the concept is built on VW’s ubiquitous MQB architecture, which offers the opportunity for right-hand drive production.

The Atlas Tanoak is based on the US-market Atlas seven-seat SUV built in Tennessee. The concept, which at more than 5400mm long is the largest ever vehicle built atop the MQB platform, joined a five-seat concept version of the Atlas on stage at the show.

It is a move that Volkswagen Group of America president and chief executive officer Hinrich Woebcken said was a shift in priority for the German company in the wake of the diesel emissions scandal that continues to plague it in the US.

“VW has been known for decades more as the small car company the Beetle, the Jetta, the Golf,” he told GoAuto. “So we believe that this brand has a great growth opportunity by arriving with products which fit into the heart of the American market, and the SUV market is further growing, so we believe we are just in the right place and time-slot, arriving with cars which are demanded by US customers.

“We believe we have a growth opportunity we have not been in these segments before.”

When asked if the vehicle was likely to replace the Amarok, Mr Woebcken said the two vehicles were very different.

“It’s a completely different concept and is aimed at different customers,” he said. “The Amarok is a stunning concept of its own on its ladder frame technology, and it has a very loyal customer base.

“This one is aiming more at a lifestyle base, at an American market, and more to have a family approach to the Atlas range.”

He also poured water on the notion of a right-hand-drive vehicle.

“We don’t have any plans at this point,” he said.

However, Mr Woebcken said that the Atlas seven-seater is currently being shipped from its Tennessee plant to outside markets.

“The Atlas is being exported to Russia and Arabic countries, so it’s absolutely an international car,” he said. “We don’t have plans to bring it to Europe, but in general, of course, a global platform has the beauty of bringing concepts that fit to other markets.”

The VW US head said that the unibody pick-up concept might be an emerging trend.

“The biggest difference is that Amarok is based on a ladder frame. It’s completely different architecture. The Atlas is unibody,” he said. “It gives the car a much better driving dynamics than a ladder frame.

“Look back 15 years ago, when unibody SUVs came to the market, everybody was dead wrong in regards to the sales numbers. But the beauty of better driving dynamics, when compared to a ladder frame, really pushed the numbers along.

“That could potentially also happen in the pick-up truck segment. People love to have the functionality of a pick-up truck for lifestyle, but having the driving comfort of a passenger car.

“That’s why we have to study it. I see it as an interesting opportunity for growth for the Volkswagen brand for the future.”

Mr Woebcken said that the push towards large SUV and pick-ups did not detract from the brand’s push into electrification.

“We always said we do both,” he said. “We can bring vehicles to the market that are exciting but at the same time work on really environmental-friendly transportation with full-electric cars.

“The MEB family arriving with the Microbus, for example, and the ID Krozz ... I think as a brand we will contribute a lot to bringing greenhouse gas emissions down, and that’s why it’s a good strategy to do both at the same time.”

The Tanoak concept sports a naturally aspirated 205kW version of VW’s 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine, backed up by an eight-speed automatic transmission feeding an all-wheel drivetrain.

The 5400mm-long Tanoak is 400mm longer than the Atlas, up to 300mm longer than a dual-cab Amarok, and about 100mm wider.

The interior features seating for five, VW’s Active digital dashboard and a unique trigger style shifter for the eight-speed auto.

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