STUTTGART - Volkswagen will aim its new Beetle several grades higher than its predecessor, the 'People's Car.'
Insiders say pricing is expected to be about 10 percent above the VW Golf, putting it in competition with small European luxury cars like the Audi A3, BMW Compact and Mercedes-Benz A-class.
Volkswagen hopes for panache from the new Beetle, not volume.
The aim of the car, says Volkswagen marketing boss Robert Buechelhofer, is to 'add emotion to a lineup that is already regarded as being high on values like quality and durability.'
The audaciously styled hatchback will spearhead VW's renewed attack on the US market. A bigger presence in the USA is required to meet the VW goal of 5.2 million worldwide sales in 2003.
The Beetle shown at the Detroit auto show on 5 January is a production version. In 1994, the Concept 1 version of the new car was shown in Detroit to wide acclaim.
The Beetle will be built in Mexico. VW plans to make 100,000 units a year. US sales start in April. European sales start in November if Volkswagen meets production targets at its Puebla factory in Mexico.
The new Beetle is a style statement. It will be launched with a multi-million dollar advertising blitz.
The styling updates the cuddly shape of the original.
At 4091mm in length and 1725mm in width, the Beetle is 59mm shorter and 10mm narrower than a Golf, with which it shares a platform. The luggage compartment is just 209 liters, against the Golf's 330 liters. Wheelbases are identical at 2512mm.
The fenders, hood and bumpers are made of plastic to cut weight and resist minor scrapes.
It uses standard 406mm steel wheels. Suspension is MacPherson strut (front) and torsion beam (rear). Two existing iron-block, four-cylinder engines from the Golf range will be offered at the launch: a 2.0-liter gasoline unit developing 115hp and a 1.9-liter turbodiesel with 90hp. A five-speed manual transmission will be standard.
Two other gasoline engines are possible in the future: a 150hp, turbocharged, 20-valve, 1.8-liter four-cylinder, and a 24-valve, 2.8-liter VR6 developing 180hp.
Volkswagen market research indicates the styling is viewed favorably by the baby boomers who connect it with their earliest motoring memories. However, potential customers have also asked for more comforts than the bare-bones original.
Inside, a large semi-circular-shaped instrument panel is located behind a three-spoke steering wheel. It contains a large speedometer with fuel and temperature gauges and digital odometer.
Switches for the air conditioning, ventilation and integrated radio are grouped together on a large central pod, underneath which sits two drink holders that double as small oddment bins.
Additional storage compartments are incorporated into the door trim and there is a normal-sized glovebox.
Standard equipment in the USA includes air conditioning, anti-theft alarm, central locking, four-wheel disc brakes and twin airbags. Among a long list of options are: four-speed automatic transmission, full-length sunroof, antilock brakes, side airbags, alloy wheels, cruise control, leather trim, integrated fog lamps, heated seats, electric windows and an entry system which automatically slides the front passenger seat forward for access to the rear.