Random enough – VW still makes a diesel pickup that gets nearly 50 mpg in S. Africa, and it looks like it’d be a major pain to import it. Anybody ever tried importing a car, and did you really have to get airbags installed into it?
To the best of my knowledge, importing a “new” vehicle into the US requires that it be brought up to US standards for both safety and emissions. The addition of air bags and all of the related equipment would make your plan impractical, IMHO.
By the time that you got finished paying for all of the modifications, you would no longer have any cost savings as a result of the fuel mileage, and in fact, would probably wind up paying more in the long run than if you drove the least fuel-efficient truck made in the US.
Is your concern saving fuel or saving money???
If saving money just buy a used 4 cylinder pickup. Otherwise maybe hunt for an now ancient but still running diesel rabbit pickup.
Today, it is next to impossible for an individual to import ANY car into the U.S. That door is pretty much closed.
Small diesel pickups are hardly unique to South Africa.
The diesel version of the Toyota HiLux (same general body as the old Toyota pickup or modern Tacoma) gets about that kind of mileage and is sold in every other market except the US and Canada. The diesel outsells the gas version by a handy margin-- the diesel HiLux is a ubiquitous sight in the less-developed parts of the world.
Bizarrely enough, for a few years Toyota let VW sell HiLuxes with VW badges on them. Could this be the vehicle you’re thinking of? Otherwise I don’t think VW has sold a pickup since the old rabbits, which was more like a Car-truck. I think they might make a combi-wagon version of the Eurovan too, but that’s hardly the American concept of a pickup truck.
As the other posters have mentioned importing a new one is darned near impossible, but getting a somewhat used one might be easier. Usually you have to actually physically go buy the vehicle and drive it in the country you bought it in for a while. VW of South Africa is a major VW franchise dating back to the aircooled days, but of course the first and still largest VW franchise is in Mexico! If VW does make the vehicle you’re thinking of, I’m sure you could get one there, take a vacation with it, and possibly import it here.
People have managed to import new air-cooled Beetles (which they made there until 2004) using the buy-it-on-vacation technique. I think for used cars, the importation regulations vary wildly by state. In some states, people are able to register a used car bought in another country through a process similar to registering a kit car, whereby the state police give it a cursory inspection and then issue it a VIN number. In other states, I think you can only import a car if it passed federal guidelines for its model year. (Which might work for a diesel HiLux from the 80’s, because it shared most of its parts with the Pickup that was sold here).
Anyways, sorry about the long post. Good Luck!