DETROIT - The 1999 Beetle base model will cost $15,200 in the USA, which is less than most people expected.
The average car in the USA costs more than $20,000, and VW executives earlier had predicted the Beetle would cost about $18,000 when it goes on sale in late March.
Production began in December at Volkswagen's plant in Puebla, Mexico. Exports to Europe begin in autumn. The rest of the world must wait until 1999, said Jens Neumann, Volkswagen AG's chairman for the North American region.
Several production models of the Beetle were unveiled at the 1998 Detroit auto show. The car arrived four years after VW presented its Concept 1 at the 1994 Detroit show. Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech said that public reaction to the Concept 1 was overwhelming.
'We were forced by the customer's voice to make a real car out of Concept 1,' Piech said.
The Beetle's price was the biggest surprise.
The $15,200 suggested retail price is for a Beetle equipped with the standard 2.0-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine with five-speed manual transmission. The body is fully galvanized. Dual airbags, side airbags, and four-wheel disc brakes are standard.
'We think it's a great price,' Neumann said. 'It's priced above Golf and below Jetta. It seems a fair price that will attract enough people who want to reconnect with Volkswagen.'
Volkswagen used $16,000 as a target price for the new Beetle. 'The price came out of our dialogue with people and the media,' said Robert Buechelhofer, sales and marketing boss at Volkswagen AG.
Volkswagen expects Beetle sales of 50,000 annually in North America and a minimum of 100,000 sales worldwide annually, he said. VW believes the four-seat coupe creates a segment of its own.
Customers 'will want this car to make them feel good about themselves, to share a smile with others, to have fun together,' said Neumann. 'The new Beetle is optimism on wheels.'
Two optional engines will be offered. A 1.9-liter, four-cylinder Turbo Direct Injection diesel engine that generates 90hp will give the Beetle a price of $16,475 in the USA. A turbocharged 1.8-liter V-5 will be available in autumn. It has not been priced. It generates 150hp, said Martin Winterkorn, head of technical development for the Volkswagen brand.
The original Beetle had an air-cooled, rear-mounted engine. The 1999 Beetle engine is water cooled and mounted in front.
Standard features include air conditioning, a pollen and odor filter, six-speaker stereo, beverage holders, a bud vase, anti-theft alarm system, halogen projector-beam headlights and central locking system with remote.
The Beetle can be ordered with optional ABS, alloy wheels, cruise control, leather seating, fog lamps, heated front seats and electric windows.
Safety features include pretensioning front seat belts, front and rear headrests and daytime running lights. The Beetle has a wheelbase of 2510mm, is 4090mm long and 1720mm wide.
Neumann does not anticipate any trouble marketing the new Beetle.
'Whenever and wherever we showed the new Beetle design concepts, we noticed an amazing reaction,' he said. 'People of all nationalities, all ages, divergent life experiences, different incomes, different religions all behaved the same when they first saw the car. They smiled.'