Buyers Wanted for Volkswagen Sales Drive

NEW YORK Volkwagen, reeling as sales for its Jetta and Passat continue to slide, will do something next week it hasn’t done in years: host a sales drive.

The effort, with the banner “Drive it, you’ll get it,” is a new approach for VW and its agency, Havas-owned Arnold in Boston, which typically favors wryly humorous image ads. Three retail efforts this year, starting with “Volkswagen Spring Sales Drive,” will promote 0.9 percent financing and lease deals including $179 per month on Jetta and $219 per month on Passat.

The new ads feature a humorous salesman, who escorts different consumers around, with each customer having an epiphany inspired by VW handling and power during their drive. The ads focus on such features like the low-end torque on the 1.8 liter turbo engine and handling.

VW spends approximately $400 million annually on ads. A VW representative said the sales drive is the first such effort for the brand in recent memory.

Karen Marderosian, director of advertising and marketing at Volkswagen of America, said the campaign was inspired by research the company did last year. “We know we have issues of with perception of quality, so we went out into the market, talked to our own owners and competitive owners, took VW’s away from current owners, and put them in competitive cars. What we found was that strength of Volkswagen is in the driving,” she said. The effort will be consistent through the year, with retail initiatives in the spring, summer and year-end selling season, she said.

The effort comes after VW has recently tried to inch up to the premium market with last year’s intro of the high-end SUV, Touareg, and this year’s $65,000 Phaeton. While Touareg has moved a respectable 5,127 units through February, per Ward’s Automotive, and it’s too early to tell how Phaeton is doing. Analysts said VW’s problems are with its mid-priced models.

A sluggish product cycle, aggravated by a declining perception of VW quality among American new-car buyers in the face of strong competition, have hurt VW’s volume cars, Jetta and Passat. Sales last year were off 19 percent and 20 percent, respectively. But this year is worse, 44.5 percent and 41.5 percent, with VW’s overall U.S. car sales off 41.4 percent in January and February, per Ward’s.

In a fast-paced market in which competitive vehicles are getting makeovers every other year, VW is still on a six-year product cycle. Jetta hasn’t seen significant changes since its 1998 introduction, nor have Golf and Passat. Said Art Spinella, president, CNW Market Research, Bandon, Ore.: “[Purchases are] driven more by freshness and newness of a product than the necessity to replace one.”