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New York – To atone for its Dieselgate sins, Volkswagen has been touting its electric future, from its ID line of EVs to its Electrify America charging network.

But VW has to make money to fund its electric dream. To that end, it has used the 2018 and 2019 New York auto show to introduce gas-powered pickup truck concepts.

The Tarok midsize pickup concept made its debut on the New York show floor Wednesday, following the larger Tanoak pickup that took a bow last year.

The Tarok shared billing with the ID Buggy, an electric reinterpretation of the classic American dune buggy. The Buggy joins ID concepts like the Roomzz SUV, Vizzion car, Crozz SUV and Buzz microbus.

The Tarok is aimed at the mid-size U.S. pickup space, which has been one of the fastest growing segments in auto. The Tarok has a 117-inch wheelbase, which is small for the segment. It is 11 inches shy of the larger Tanoak which is based on VW’s biggest SUV, the Atlas.

A VW spokesperson said the company was testing the waters with the Tarok, adding that the smaller pickup could lower the cost of entry into the market.

The Tarok is based on the same versatile MQB platform that under-girds the Golf hatchback, Jetta sedan, Arteon SUV and other models that sell in the hundreds of thousands world-wide. But the platform is a unibody construction that has proved a difficult sell in a U.S. pickup market dominated by rugged, so-called “ladder frame” architectures use by everything from the Ford Ranger to the Toyota Tacoma.

The only unibody midsize pickup made for the U.S., the Honda Ridgeline, has won media raves for its roomy interior and smooth ride. But it has struggled to get traction in the market.

VW has entered a partnership with Ford to sell vehicles globally, but there are no plans to partner on Ford’s ladder-frame pickup chassis in the U.S. The unibody construction for either the Tarok or Tanaok concepts is attractive to the brand because it could be constructed at VW’s North American plants in Tennessee or Mexico. That would avoiding the steep “chicken tax” tariff on pickups  that make it cost-prohibitive to import pickups from outside North America.

VW currently makes a ladder-frame Amarok pickup in Argentina for international markets, but importing it here would be subject to the tariff.

With its smaller size and possible cheaper price, VW says there is an opportunity for Tarok to attract young buyers looking for a hip, fuel-efficient wood-hauler.

With that in mind, the all-wheel drive Tarok is powered by a sippy 147-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbo-4.

To make up for its shorter length (a foot shorter than Detroit competitors) the Tarok invents the neat party trick of dropping the wall behind the rear seats. With the seats flattened, owners could use the added space for more cargo and long objects.

The Tarok is attractively designed with signature VW touches like a horizontal grille and taillights. The interior is upscale like other VW models. And to demonstrate the little truck’s off-road chops, the Tarok has an approach angle of 23.8 degrees, a departure angle of over 26 degrees and ground clearance of almost 10 inches.

And with a claimed payload capacity of 2,271 pounds, it could carry a lot more mulch than an electric dune buggy.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

 

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