NEW YORK, March 28 (Reuters) - Volkswagen AG unveiled a prototype pickup truck at the New York auto show on Wednesday, a vehicle that would fill a gap in the German company's U.S. product lineup in what is one of the most profitable segments of the American market.
The German automaker said the dual-cab, short-bed concept Volkswagen Atlas Tanoak pickup truck could be built off the same platform at its Chattanooga, Tennessee assembly plant, where it builds the Atlas SUV and Passat car.
Volkswagen said it does not currently have production plans for a U.S. pickup but "is keen to gauge the reactions of buyers and media, since pickup trucks are one of the biggest volume segments in the U.S." The vehicle could compete with pickups like the Honda Ridgeline, executives said.
“We want to be a relevant player in this market. We want to definitely be a full-line automaker,” said Hinrich Woebcken, chief executive of the North American region for the VW, told reporters Tuesday in New York. “We want to be more American.”
Pickups accounted for about 16 percent of U.S. auto sales in 2017 and the best-selling vehicle is Ford Motor Co's F-Series pickup trucks.
VW sells the Amarok pickup truck in Europe and other markets but not in the United States, where it faces a 25 percent import tariff. VW last sold a pickup truck in the United States in the mid-1980s.
The Tanoak, named after a species of tree that is native to the United States' Pacific Coast, is 214.1 inches long, some 15.8 inches longer than the Atlas, which makes it a large midsize pickup by U.S. standards.
Last week, VW announced it plans to invest $340 million to build a new sport utility vehicle in its Tennessee plant as demand surges for larger vehicles.
The vehicle will be a five-passenger SUV that will be branded as part of the company’s Atlas family and go on sale next year. A concept version called the Atlas Cross Sport Concept was unveiled Tuesday night ahead of the auto show.
The investment announcement is positive news for the U.S. car industry at a time when it is bracing for the impact of higher steel and aluminum tariffs.
VW said in February that 54 percent of its total own-brand volume sales were SUVs - a big shift for a company that for years largely emphasized cars in the United States.
In addition to a seven-passenger Atlas, which went on sale last year, VW unveiled an all-new 2018 Tiguan SUV last year. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)