WOLFSBURG, Germany - Even Volkswagen AG is not sure whether its New Beetle can match its huge U.S. success worldwide.
Volkswagen will add a marketing wrinkle to its home-country launch by loading up German dealers with more than 80 New Beetle-branded products, from silver New Beetle jewelry to New Beetle sunglasses.
This is the first time the marketer has used a related-merchandise program for a car introduction. The car was launched last Friday, Nov. 27, in Germany and will arrive in the rest of Europe and Japan next year.
So far, Volkswagen has registered 200,000 inquiries in Europe for the car, half in Germany. But it will wait until March to decide whether to start manufacturing the New Beetle in Europe; the car now is made only in Volkswagen's assembly plant in Puebla, Mexico.
All of its European factories are working at full capacity. In Europe, the VW Golf already is a big hit in the small car market.
Newspaper ads for Der New Beetle from DDB Needham Worldwide in Dusseldorf began running Monday, Nov. 23. A magazine and TV campaign will follow.
The car was sold in Germany until 1978 as the Kaefer, the German word for beetle, but that has been dropped.
Print ads have a similar look to the U.S. campaign from Arnold Communications in Boston. The campaign is reminiscent of the classic 1960s ads from original U.S. agency Doyle Dane Bernbach, with small cars and a handful of words on a white background.
The text, however, will be different from the U.S. 'heritage' of lemons and 'flower power' captured in the Arnold advertising.
One German headline, on an ad showing four Beetles clinging to different sides of the page, reads: 'And suddenly the world is round again.'
'It's going to be positioned differently' in Europe, said Garel Rhys, director of the Center for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff University Business School in Cardiff, Wales. 'In America, it was much more of a mainstream car in the market. In Europe, it's more of a niche car because of the way they're pricing it. The Beetle will have a certain cachet, but not in the mass market.'
The New Beetle will sell for a steep $21,875 in Germany, significantly more than the U.S. base price of $16,425, which includes a destination charge of $525. For 1999, VW has allocated 80,000 New Beetles for Europe, including 45,000 to be sold in Germany.
'I find the price, reaching nearly $25,000 with some extras, exorbitantly high,' said Gino Pesch, sales manager at Dusseldorf dealership Autohaus Moll. 'The Beetle is well-received, but only as a second or third car.'
Other dealers are more enthusiastic.
'If you order one today, delivery time would be one year,' said Klaus-Juergen Kolbinsky, manager of the Autohaus Hotz dealership in this hometown of Volkswagen, whose 130,000 inhabitants mostly buy their cars with company employee discounts.
He already has taken orders for 150 New Beetles.
John Slaven, a New Jersey-based auto consultant who was ad director for Volkswagen of America Inc. in Auburn Hills, Mich., until the early 1980s, said he does not believe the marketer expects the same instant success for the New Beetle in Europe.
For the European launch, Volkswagen created the New Beetle Collection, with 83 items, including stuffed animals, watches, cigarette lighters and $600 lambskin jackets, to be sold only at Volkswagen dealerships.
'With this merchandising package, we hope to pull more people into the showrooms at our dealers,' said Harald Bottger, manager of special marketing projects at Volkswagen. 'The dealers can profit from the Beetle Collection and support the brand with it.'
Volkswagen will not advertise the New Beetle merchandise, but dealers can feature the collection in their own advertising.