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Hear Me Out: The Atlas Should Be Offered as a Woodie

Last week, Volkswagen sent out a press release about dealers participating in a “Community Drive Atlas Initiative.” I don’t really care about the press release, what caught my eye was this picture of the Atlas with a decal on its side.

The decal fills the space between the beltline and the character line near the bottom of the car and most importantly looks kinda good. I had one thought immediately: The Atlas would look great as a woodie! 

Woodies have been around for, roughly, ever, and started when parts of cars were actually made of wood. Cars that were only partially wooden were popular at fancy hotels, country clubs, and national parks, though. It’s no wonder then that the style became popular with the rich, so once steel replaced wood completely, some designers still liked to add a little grain for style.

In the ‘60s, though, simulated woodgrain started growing in popularity and soon it was hard to find a family wagon that didn’t have the option. The practice came to define the station wagon body style, which Byron Olsen, author of the book “Station Wagons,” argues is a uniquely American design development.

By the early 2000s, though, like the station wagon body style that had popularized fake wood trim, fake wood trim was losing popularity.

Although the Ford Flex’s bodysides are said to be a nod to woodgrain, the last woodie I can really find is the PT Cruiser. And that in and of itself tells us something about the wider industry. The Flex was a crossover designed to ape late ‘50s design trends in a modern way while the PT Cruiser was unabashedly retro. No surprise then that the former tried to modernize wood trim while the latter just slapped some on its side.

We’ve been without factory wood trim for a few years now, though, and I’d say it’s about time the trend came back. And what better car to bring it back than the Volkswagen Atlas?

VW’s initial ads for the car were all but set in the ‘60s. They featured the music of Simon and Garfunkel and showed generations making road trips across America. In many ways crossovers are an evolution of the station wagon. A particularly American body style that matches a car’s chassis with a big, long body that has a hatch at the back and is designed to take families out into the country.

The crossover does, admittedly, add SUV design language to the vernacular, but I would argue that’s more of an evolution than a redefinition. What better way, then, for Volkswagen to truly capture the Americana they want to with the Atlas than with vinyl wood paneling? Actually a landau roof would that, but that would only attract boomers.

If you’re trying to capture millennials who remember driving around in the last real hurrah of wood-paneled station wagons, then it has to be a woodie. Only ‘90s kids will understand. Already the aesthetic of the ‘90s has proven a powerful design influence with car shows like Radwood.

Most importantly, though, it just looks rad. 

PT Cruiser photo By Navigator84 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

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