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by Matt Campbell

The Volkswagen Amarok has forged a position in the market as one of the premium utility vehicles, a bit of a foreman’s truck rather than a rough-and-tumble work vehicle.

And with competition soon to come in the form of the new Mercedes-Benz utility – which will be based on the same underpinnings as the Nissan Navara and Renault Alaskan through a collaboration between those three makers – there’s an expectation that VW won’t necessarily be the Euro ute of choice anymore.

But Volkswagen Australia managing director, Michael Bartsch, told CarAdvice at the launch of the all-new Tiguan this week that he isn’t concerned about sales being stolen by utes wearing the badge with the three-pointed star.

“I think that Mercedes is based on a Nissan, isn’t it? That’s going to be a very expensive Nissan!” Bartsch exclaimed.

“Jokes aside, I think it’s good if Mercedes joins in – it’s better for everybody, because it adds more weight in terms of voice in the segment. We’ve always seen that with sports cars – the more people participating in the sports car segment, the healthier the sports car segment becomes and the demand increases.

“I think the same thing will happen in the ute area, there,” he said.

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“Volkswagen has never been shy of a challenge, and Volkswagen’s position will always be that we certainly won’t be the most expensive, but in terms of product quality and substance and engineering, I’m absolutely convinced the Amarok will always stand up and be comparable to brands that hide behind the luxury badge and charge too much money.”

That last swipe may have been a bit harsh, but – unless Mercedes-Benz offers a six-cylinder version of its ute – the Amarok is soon to become the only V6 model in that market space.

The arrival of the 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 engine to the Amarok range will both appease those buyers who were weary of the small-output 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel currently offered, and will offer better capability, according to Bartsch.

“We’re looking at a 3.5-tonne rating on that, so that car will really have a very unique position in the market,” he said.

Bartsch said the new V6 Amarok will be “really important” in appealing to a different buyer group that the company may have been missing out on. Having a V6 means it has an extra cylinder on the likes of the Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50, while the remainder – HiLux, Triton, D-Max, Navara, Colorado – all have four-cylinder engines.

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“The Amarok has been setting the benchmark in the utility and commercial vehicle space. I drove the V6 a couple of days ago, and really – if you closed your eyes you would think you’re driving a Touareg,” Bartsch claimed. “That engine is just a really sweet engine, and it’s an incredibly smooth diesel.”

Bartsch said the pull of dual-cab utility vehicles as alternatives to SUVs is something that is noticeable.

“You see a transition in SUVs in the passenger segment, you’re also seeing a significant transition in these crew-cab type vehicles of very successful trade people,” he said.

“You see the profiles driving these cars, and they’re independent businessmen who have been extremely successful – and like everybody else they’re looking for statements of success, of saying ‘look: I’ve done well’. Aspiring to drive something a little more sophisticated on the road to and from the job, and the Amarok absolutely sits sweetly in that spot.

“To put into context, at the moment in our range it’s Golf and Amarok. They’re our top two selling cars. It’s the segment benchmark,” he said.

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But as premium and powerful as the updated Amarok may be, it still falls short of all of its mainstream rivals by not being fitted with rear airbag protection.

Bartsch admitted this was an issue for the image of the ute, even if it’s not affecting the number of people buying the Amarok.

“I think if you look at the sales numbers I would very cautiously say it’s not impacting sales,” he said.

“But one also has to acknowledge that safety is an important thing – we are looking at it, we’ve made Wolfsburg aware that we need those to get that ANCAP rating. Safety isn’t something you sit still with, so we’re looking at the earliest possible time to bring that in as a standard feature in the car as well.”

MORE: 2017 Volkswagen Amarok V6 DRIVEN
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