Strong sales of larger sedans and crossovers propelled Audi to a U.S. sales record in 2012 and Volkswagen division, aided by a full year of selling the redesigned Passat and Beetle, is on pace to reach its own milestone in 2013.
Volkswagen said Thursday that it sold just over 438,000 VW-brand vehicles in 2012, pacing the industry with a 35 percent sales increase. If sales continue to grow at that rate, the brand would sell about 590,000 vehicles this year, topping the record 570,000 units sold by its dealers in 1970 at the peak of the brand's U.S. heyday.
Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, told reporters he expects VW to again beat industrywide growth this year as the brand aims to increase U.S. sales to 800,000 by 2018.
Browning would not give a 2013 sales estimate or speculate about whether the VW brand will set a sales record, but he said the percentage increase in sales should be lower than last year's. One reason is the lingering uncertainty about Washington's approach to taxes and spending, he said, and another is that the brand will not get the sort of bump it got from new models last year.
"The Passat and Beetle have been in the market over a year, so we won't get the level of step-up as a result of new product introductions we saw last year," Browning said.
Volkswagen division sold 117,023 Passats in 2012, up from 22,779 in 2011, when the Chattanooga, Tenn.-built sedan was introduced. The brand also sold 29,174 Beetles in 2012, up from 6,468 the previous year.
The spike in Passat sales affected VW's top-seller. The brand sold a combined 170,424 Jetta sedans and station wagons, off 4 percent.
Meanwhile, total Audi sales increased 19 percent to 139,000 as the luxury brand rode a streak of 24 straight months of record sales.
It reflected a plan to "push the center of gravity up" on Audi's product line by relying less on the A4 sedan, the brand's longtime best seller, Audi of America President Scott Keogh told Automotive News.
Sales of the A4 rose 9 percent while sales of the larger, costlier A6 and A7 models rose 71 and 37 percent, respectively. Audi's second-best-selling model, the Q5, saw sales rise 55 percent in December after a freshening this fall, suggesting sales of the compact crossover will increase next year, Keogh said.
Meanwhile, Audi has stopped producing its smallest, most inexpensive model, the A3 "sportback," as it waits for a sedan version to arrive for model year 2014. Sales of the A3 were up 10 percent for 2012 but plummeted 38 percent in December.
"It's not ideal, but I think you have to focus on what you have at hand," Keogh said of the production hiatus between the two models, which will last 11 or 12 months.
He projected Audi will make up for the loss of the A3 in 2013 by selling more of other models and that gaining the new small sedan will provide a boost the following year.