Audi wants to convince well-to-do, young, urban consumers that its five-door A3 isn't a hatchback.
Given Americans' coolness to hatchbacks, Audi wants to position the A3 as a sport wagon. But, experts say, regardless of what Audi calls it, the A3 is a luxury hatchback -- a body style other competitors have tried unsuccessfully to sell in the United States.
Audi unexpectedly finds the A3 alone in what was supposed to be a new wave of compacts bearing European luxury badges. The segment was expected to include the Mercedes-Benz B class and BMW 1 series.
But the Mercedes isn't coming to the United States because the strong euro prevents competitive pricing. BMW still promises a 1 series in the United States by 2007, but it won't provide details and is equally concerned about pricing.
Audi's ambitions aren't high. It wants to sell 9,000 A3s in a full year in the United States and another 1,000 in Canada, says Johan de Nysschen, Audi of America executive vice president.
De Nysschen admits the volume is low, but he says the A3 will help Audi reach out to a young, urban buyer.
"Audi wants to continue the gradual repositioning of the brand in the U.S. so we can occupy the same ground that we hold in Europe," he says. "Part of that is to make sure our brand becomes more emotional and more appealing to a younger mind-set."