Should VW build an F-150 Fighter?

This is the follow-up to my earlier post asking the Jalopnik community to give me a topic to discuss. While I had a lot of great suggestions, this question posed by Hermann- Fantasy WRC Champion, appealed the most to me. I think it is a great discussion piece simply because it is a different take on the Amarak discussion.

Within 5 minutes of starting of any pick-up truck conversation on the internet, someone always rips off their clothes and starts screaming "Bring us the Volkswagen Amarak!!!!" while simultaneously running in circles like a mad man. Listen to enough of these conversations and you begin to think that if VW brought the Amarak over, they would meet their world domination sales goals with a single model. Yet it is still not here for reasons that have been discussed in terabytes of articles. To recap in a twitter sized quote, here is why we can't have the Amarak:

Chicken Tax, Small Midsize Market, Too Big, Too Much Money #screwyouchickentax

So for now the Amarak doesn't make sense for VW America; but what about a full-size truck instead? Let's face it: full size trucks are America, with the big three's trucks ranking in the top ten annual sales for decades. With such ambitious sales goals for America, should VW try to take a bite of this market?

The answer I am afraid, is a resounding NO. Before I explain why, let's look at what a VW truck would need to succeed in the F-150, Silverado, Ram 1500 playground.

  • Big Numbers- HP, Torque, Payload, Towing, Fuel Economy. Truck guys love their numbers and bigger is always better. It doesn't matter that none of it is standardized yet, bragging rights are bragging rights.
  • Lots of Choices- According to Autonews, a 2013 F-150 can be ordered in just under ten million combinations of body, bed, engine, trim and options. The more choices the better. Truck buyers want to build a truck that fits their needs. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • Price- Prices for the F-150 start at just over $24,000. With that money you get a 2WD V6 with over 300hp, can tow 5500lbs, and 23MPG. VW needs a truck with competitive pricing and capability just to survive. At $28000, the midsize Amarak is already more expensive.

Can VW build a truck that does this? Hell yeah; there is not a doubt in my mind they could. They already have showed they can with the Amarak. The problem is, competing on the full size level requires a full size truck, something the Amarak is not. So before they even begin, they need spend billions developing a new truck and pricing it for very little. There is no room for the VW premium at the bottom of the truck market. The good news is that they can make it up on the higher end models.

So now that we have identified what VW needs to build a successful truck and established that they have the capabilities to do it based on the success of the Amarak; here is why they shouldn't.

Truck buyers are loyal , I mean beyond all logic loyal, like "I would rather be arrested for public intoxication than accept a ride in your Chevy loyal." That's not good for a new-comer. Outside of the big three, the only other company to even make a ripple in the full-size truck market has been Toyota with their second generation Tundra.

To make that ripple, Toyota invested 1.2 BILLION dollars to build a plant in the heart of truck country, Texas, USA. They designed the truck for Americans, had it built by Americans, and gave it the capabilities Americans wanted. In 2007, they forecasted 200,000 annual sales; they sold 196,555. In 2008, they sold, 137,949; 2009, 79,385. In 2012, they sold 100,489. Let's put this in perspective; Ford sold 424,000 F-150 pick-ups in 2012.

Volkswagen does have one ace in its sleeve compared with Toyota; Its line-up of TDI engines. Truck buyers have been begging for a half ton diesel for years. They are finally getting one in the form of the 2014 Ram 1500 and the 2017 Nissan Titan (another also-ran). If VW is the king of diesels, they would need to leverage that technology for a full size truck. Every other automaker is charging a premium for a diesel engine. If VW makes it a no cost option, since the development work is already done, I can promise they will get a few more looks. The problem is that looks don't translate into sales as Toyota is finding out.

Toyota is the reason Volkswagen should not build an F-150 competitor. For 2014, Toyota redesigned the Tundra. It is a great improvement over the previous model and marks millions more invested into the truck market. I still don't see it making a difference. Ram redesigned the 1500 in 2013, and added a diesel for 2014. Chevy redesigned the Silverado for 2014 and Ford has a new F-150 for 2015. With all these changes, brand loyalist have no reason to change. The fact is that all of these trucks are fantastic choices and a grossly over-capable for the people who buy them. If the truck you buy can handle all the jobs you throw at it, why would you change brands?The amount of money and time that Toyota has invested, with relatively little success, does not line up with how Volkswagen wants to build a customer base. VW wants quick sales, selling bland products to people who point at the car they want in a dealership. They don't want start over and prove their metal to a bunch of people who wont pay attention anyway. It's just bad business.