Having ceased production due to the pandemic, Volkswagen’s indomitable Amarok pickup truck, which states Iain Robertson has always been a trend-bucker, is coming back imminently in a much-revised and uber-confident form that is sure to build its image at the top of the pickup tree by enticing a tranche of new buyers possessing deep pockets.
Ever since the first more car-like and less agricultural pickups hit our market, it has been a sector that has polarised only slightly. In the early days, the precept of a fairly car-like cabin, stuck atop a 4×4 chassis, with a notional one-tonne load deck out back, kickstarted a car tax avoidance exercise of such proportions that being drawn blindly to its shortcomings became a company car remit of the mid-1990s. Naturally, the burgeoning leisure sector adored the category, not least because the business owner would have his personal transport wrapped up in one, rather than two expensive vehicles. Most of those early pickups were utterly and unashamedly classless, coming mostly from the Japanese brands, such as Nissan, Mazda, Ford (Mazda), Toyota and Mitsubishi, with the occasional US giant (Chrysler, Chevrolet and Ford) being imported for those with more money than sense.
Yet, there were issues. The rear seats of most crew-cab based models, while fairly generous for legroom, enforced an upright seating position that was never better than ruddy uncomfortable, regardless of occupant size. Irrespective of leather trimmed details, the cockpits were a feast of unyielding plastic mouldings that were fast becoming somewhat removed from their initial car-like standings. Even bangin’ stereo equipment, enormous and shiny alloy wheels and deeply tinted glazing could not conceal the agricultural roots of the average pickup. However, as governments became increasingly aware of a fresh niche opening in their customs and excise databases, firming up the rules about one-tonne load capacities, below which a fixed rate tax levy was illegal, stirred up a corporate hornet’s nest.
While the pickup scene is fairly advanced in North America and the Antipodes, as much for the various vehicles’ abilities to cover broken ground and unmade roads, often while towing a ‘fifth wheel’ caravan, neither UK nor European roads networks are so reliant on the tough and resilient hardware. Yet, the niche still exists among what might have easily been the ‘Marlboro Men’ of a certain generation and, besides, a 4×4 pickup still retails for a lot less money than its SUV equivalent, thus presenting a ‘bonus’ to the more youthful customer seeking a gnarlier outdoorsy image. The retail proposition remains extant.
When Volkswagen took its first tentative steps into the sector, with the extended deck. single-cab version of the Golf, it obtained a few nibbles around its periphery. However, VW sought to expand its Commercial Vehicles offering on a world stage and, when Amarok appeared in 2010, having been teased for almost five years previously, it had a scary role to fulfil. Its prime priority was to carry the VW roundel with pride, which it did. It was designed to look sturdy, strong and VeeDub related, which it did. However, it was intended to carry a premium price tag and bear in mind that the Nissan related Mercedes-Benz offering was yet to break cover. It did so but met with immediate and understandable market resistance, after all, value for money was a pre-eminent requirement in the pickup truck sector and an average price tag some 20% steeper than its nearest rival was not exactly going to endear it to a ‘people’s market’. VW had a major education job to expedite.
There was no denying the Amarok’s competence, or range of capabilities, courtesy of the Group’s well tried and trusted 2.0-litre petrol/diesel, or efficient 3.0-litre V6 TDi engines. By heavens, the Amarok drove well and felt as impeccably assembled as anything from the Group. However, high prices seldom equate to large volumes, unless the market is prepared to change its demands. All the while, the rest of the pickup truck scene was evolving gently but almost imperceptibly, being motivated marginally by a growing raft of high-performing US-style trucks that offered a butcher, more intimidating appearance but were associated with gas-guzzling US insouciance that has only recently been nipped in the bud thanks to the fuel crises that have struck at the hearts and back pockets of buyers worldwide.
VW has recognised that it can win on the frugality front and the most recent production break seems to have renewed its spirit but, if anything, its loading up of the specification, advancing the design proposition and removing even the merest hint of negativity from the overall operational proposition has bolstered its strength. You can rest assured that the new Amarok, when it appears this summer, is going to be expensive but, then, when you look at how the rest of the Group’s fossil-fuelled model prices have climbed inexorably up the premium ladder, its place in VW’s SUV line-up appears logical. The rest of the sector, while retaining a competitive edge, has also been loading up in anticipation of a broader level of acceptability. VW’s role in the world, as a market leader, is hardly unassailable but it is assured and that proposes both corporate and private ownership benefits, arising not least from sustainable residual valuations.
Conclusion: Volkswagen may well find itself in a high-priced class of one, when it relaunches its super-dooper Amarok, but it is not unfamiliar ground for a major player that continues to build its indefatigable image, perhaps even to the detriment of its key Japanese rival, Toyota, a factor about which it is unlikely to lose much sleep. Amarok’s Audi-like build quality will win it many fans, even though they may not make the investment presently. Yet, being admirable has done no disfavours to the Volkswagen brand thus far and another shot at life has a good chance of succeeding.