FRANKFURT - The two best-selling cars in Europe's largest segment will do battle on price.
In Germany, General Motors priced its new Astra DM1,000 ($550) below the Golf on average. Last year, VW priced the new Golf below the model it replaced.
The new Astra will arrive in German dealerships beginning 20 March, six months later than planned. The fourth-generation Golf debuted last autumn, but a slow production ramp-up has diminished VW's advantage.
When VW launched the car, it lowered the price and added content. GM raised the Astra's content and kept the base price the same at DM24,170 ($13,350). The new Astra will come with standard side airbags, electronic steering, a third brake light, and a third headrest in the rear. All the features are extras on the current Astra.
The Astra held 13.2 percent of the 3.77-million-unit lower-medium class in 1997, compared with 13.5 percent for the Golf. The Golf's share of the segment slipped from 17.0 percent in 1996 because of the troubled new-model changeover.
'The Astra price doesn't surprise me,' said analyst Peter Schmidt, of Automotive Industry Data in the UK. 'The Golf set the trend of giving more value for money. The others have to follow.'
Schmidt said Opel quality problems that delayed the Astra launch could threaten the brand's traditionally strong customer loyalty. Golf customers are disappointed by slow deliveries, Schmidt said, 'but they accept it because the loyalty rate of VW customers is still very high.'