HALF MOON BAY, Calif. - As Volkswagen of America Inc. introduces the Passat W8 to the United States, it dismisses suggestions that the sedan strays too far into Audi territory.
VW says cross shopping between owners of the brands is only 4 percent.
"Ninety-six percent of Volkswagen's customers aren't interested in the other guy," said Frank Maguire, vice president of sales and marketing at VW of America.
VW has been dogged by criticism that the Passat and Audi A4 are too similar and share too many parts. Audi is a sister brand to VW.
With the Passat W8, the VW brand will push further into Audi's price range and segment.
Maguire said he sees no conflict in expanding the VW brand into the near-luxury segment with the Passat W8, with its suggested retail price of $38,450, including destination. He said the new Passat and the luxury models on the way would help the VW brand retain customers and attract conquest sales.
"Most Volkswagen owners who left us went to an SUV or a European luxury vehicle," Maguire said.
Meanwhile, VW will not abandon its other models. The automaker is giving the Jetta - its best-selling car in the United States - some attention.
VW sold 145,221 Jettas in 2001. But now in its fourth model year, the Jetta is aging. In the first quarter of this year, Jetta sales of 30,752 were down 5.9 percent over the same quarter in 2001.
To create more interest in the Jetta, VW last week began delivering the Jetta GLI model to dealers. It is the most powerful Jetta yet, fitted with the 2.8-liter VR6 engine. The VR6 generates 200 hp and 195 pounds-feet of torque at 3,200 rpm.
The Jetta GLI has a six-speed manual gearbox, a first for the Jetta line. It has a sticker price of $23,500, including a $550 destination charge.