Volkswagen of America is not looking for gray hairs, but it does want to boost the age of its core customers.
Volkswagen hopes to do that with its trio of redesigned cars -the 1999 Jetta, Golf and Cabrio.
'We're broadening our audience a bit because we're taking the car to a little higher level. We're moving the brand more upscale,' said Liz Vanzura, director of marketing and advertising at Volkswagen of America.
U.S. dealers began selling the new Jetta in late November. The 1999 Golf went on sale here last week, and the 1999 Cabrio convertible goes on sale in April. The three cars are based on the same platform.
With those cars, Volkswagen has completed the redesign of its entire U.S. lineup. The process began with the redesigned Passat sedan for the 1998 model year. Volkswagen also redesigned its big EuroVan for 1999.
Despite the explosive success of the New Beetle, the four-door Jetta will continue to be Volkswagen's high-volume passenger car in the United States, Vanzura said.
Volkswagen sold 89,311 Jettas in the United States last year. It expects to sell about 100,000 Jettas this year. The New Beetle, with 55,842 sales in 1998, was Volkswagen's No. 2 seller in the United States.
'The Jetta is a completely contemporary redesign,' Vanzura said. 'It has a lot more standard features, a lot more focus on engineering and a slightly higher price. So we're going to move it slightly older and that's why the advertising has a slightly more sophisticated feel.'
Jetta customers have had a median age of 30 and average household income of $58,000. Volkswagen wants that median age to creep up to 33 or beyond, which currently is the median age for the entire Volkswagen lineup.
The first in a series of new VW TV ads began this month. Dubbed 'Synchronicity,' it features a couple driving a redesigned Jetta down a city street while listening to music from the cassette deck. Everyone and everything they encounter is in synch with the beat of the music. A 'Don't walk' signal, for instance, pulsates to the beat.
If you do not get it at first, the TV ad is doing its job, Vanzura said. 'Most of our ads are sort of unique in that they are not always obvious the first time, and that's OK,' she said. 'It is an ad that is meant to be seen over and over, and every time you see it, you pick up something else about it. It makes you think a little bit more and kind of have fun figuring it out.'
The couple in the Jetta appear older than 20-something Generation Xers.
The commercial was created by Arnold Communications, Volkswagen's agency since 1995.
While the three redesigned 1999 cars are priced higher than the 1998 models, they have more standard equipment, said Steve Keyes, Volkswagen of America director of public relations.
'Radios, air conditioners, ABS, things like that, which are ordered pretty heavily by the customers, are now standard equipment,' Keyes said. The base Jetta GL has several new standard items for 1999, including side airbags in front, antilock brakes, adjustable steering column, heated remote mirrors, power doors locks, two power outlets and a premium eight-speaker stereo system.
The redesigned Jetta resembles Volkswagen's Passat, the family sedan that rebounded in the United States after it was redesigned for the 1998 model year.
The redesigned 1999 Golf is just now reaching dealer showrooms. Volkswagen sold 18,282 Golfs and 15,230 Cabrios in the United States in 1998.
As with the new Jetta, Volkswagen will try to broaden the age range of the new Golf.
But the core Golf customer always will be an unconventional, younger buyer seeking sportiness and functionality, Vanzura said.
The redesigned Golf stays close to its previous design, but the sharp lines and edges have been smoothed over.
Volkswagen also redesigned the GTI, its high-performance model based on the Golf. It comes with either a high-powered 2.8-liter VR6 engine or the 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine.
The 1999 Cabrio convertible, which goes on sale in April, will be offered in a base GL version and a high-end GLS model. The GLS will have a power-operated convertible top in cloth or white vinyl, leather seating and power windows with one-touch up or down operation.
The only engine offered in the Cabrio is a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder powerplant.