Small pickups: An idea that won’t die

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(May 9, 2014) This concept Mini Paceman Adventure pickup concept isn’t as daft as it might first appear. There’s a market for a small, fun-to-drive unit-body pickup, but no manufacturer has had the nerve to move from concept to production. Kia showed a Soul pickup concept, the Soulster, in 2009, and made noises about it going into production. It never did.

Despite strong demand for the truck at auto shows, it didn’t do quite as well in formal customer clinics and would have been prohibitively expensive to build on the original Soul platform. Company executives in the U.S. whispered that the design would be held over until the Soul was redesigned, but the Soulster, pictured below, never appeared.

Neither will the
Paceman Adventure appear. This is a vehicle built by a group of apprentices and instructors at BMW’s plants in Munich and Dingolfing, Germany. Taking a Mini Cooper Paceman S, they ripped out the rear seats, added a bulkhead behind the front seats, removed the rear roof section, and constructed a flat load floor.

The result is a 184 horsepower, two-seat, all-wheel drive small pickup with a solid roof rack that can hold a spare wheel and tire. It also has a roof-mounted snorkel air intake to increase the diminutive pickup’s wading depth.

There’s no doubt that the Paceman Adventure is over the top, and far from production ready. However, it is more in keeping with Mini history (there was a pickup built on the original Mini chassis), and less ridiculous than some of the line extensions that have made it into production under the Mini name. It also shows the type of vehicle that the young craftsmen who built the Adventure would like to own.

Every automaker is watching this space to see if anyone has the courage to pull the trigger and put a small, stylish pickup into production. No one wants to be the first one in — despite all the talk about innovation in the auto industry, it is a very conservative business due to the sums involved in launching a new vehicle — or the last one out.

Volkswagen, for example, is looking at a small pickup, but is undecided what form it should take. The dominant group inside the company wants it to be the next generation Amarok. It is a vehicle with a higher manufacturing and, it’s hoped, profit volume that would be sold globally. However, rumors abound that this isn’t the only concept floating around Wolfsburg.

With the shift to the modular MQB structure for its transverse front-drive vehicles, VW has the ability and opportunity to build myriad variants profitably. Reportedly, it is looking at expanding the Beetle lineup to include a production version of its 2011 Bulli Concept; a modern day Microbus.

This six-passenger minivan was shown with an electric drive system, but would use more conventional (i.e. gas, diesel and hybrid) drivetrains if it entered production. And though there are some who have put forward the idea of a two-passenger Beetle small pickup, a load carrier based on the Bulli is more in keeping with VW tradition.

There’s only one problem: VW officials reportedly only are willing to support one of the two pickup programs, despite the fact that the MQB structure would allow a Bulli-style pickup to be put into production quickly and profitably. They need both.

The Virtual Driver