DETROIT - It will debut in Europe this spring, but Volkswagen's flagship Phaeton sedan won't be available in North America until mid-2003.
Volkswagen of America Inc. says the launch probably will be July 2003. Dealers in the United States and Canada expect to get about 4,500 Phaetons annually.
The luxury sedan will be available in the United States with eight- and 12-cylinder engines. Though a U.S. price has not been set, it is expected to start at more than $50,000. In Europe a V-6 Phaeton will sell for about $63,690.
The Phaeton will be an important model for VW in the North American market, positioned against the BMW 7 series, the Mercedes-Benz S class and Lexus. It will join the Touareg sport-utility and W8 Passat as part of VW's strategy to expand the brand into the luxury and near-luxury segments.
"With the Phaeton, you are going against the big boys," said Gerd Klauss, president of VW of America.
Dealers' ability to sell the Phaeton will hinge on the quality, said Al Gossett, chairman of the VW Dealer Council. "This car has got to (have) bulletproof quality," he said.
The W8 Passat, to debut in April, is equipped with VW's first eight-cylinder engine for the U.S. market. It will be priced just under $40,000. The Touareg is expected to debut here after the Phaeton.