NEW YORK — Volkswagen's North American executive team swears the Atlas Tanoak unibody pickup that captivated the auto show here last week is "just a concept," built to gauge market reaction and show what the automaker's flexible MQB platform can do.
"There are no plans right now for production," Volks- wagen of America CEO Hinrich Woebcken said.
But between the sound bites and official statements tamping down expectations, some things were clear: Woeb- cken and his team want to build this pickup, they may need to build it and they're actively gaming out scenarios that would justify doing so.
And women could be the key to making it all happen.
First things first: Woebcken and his boss in Germany, Herbert Diess, need VW to sell hundreds of thousands more vehicles in North America per year than they do today — well over twice as many, in fact.
Both want the brand to achieve a 5 percent U.S. market share within 10 years, up from its current 2.1 percent. That's a giant ask from a lineup laden with vehicles in collapsing sedan segments — with no entries in the hot-selling full-size or midsize pickup segments — and from a brand that has had difficulty conquesting customers.
Volkswagen also needs to load more products into its underused $2 billion assembly plant in Chattanooga, which builds two vehicles and will add a third late next year, but still has plenty of room to grow.
The more MQB-based products — such as the seven-seat Atlas crossover and five-seater based on the Atlas Cross Sport concept coming next year — that VW can load into the plant, the greater the savings from production and purchasing efficiencies.