Special Coverage

Greater L.A. Auto Show

LOS ANGELES – Volkswagen of America expects to maintain its torrid sales pace in the U.S., crediting an influx of new customers to the brand.

“I think the momentum is sustainable because it’s part of our product offensive that started a year ago with the launch of the new Jetta,” Tim Mahoney, chief product and marketing officer, tells WardsAuto at the auto show here.

“Most of that growth has been with the Jetta line,” he says, “but we also have the ’12 Passat and Beetle, and they’ve been off to a great start.”

VW’s U.S. sales climbed 23.8% to 263,486 units through October, compared with year-ago, according to WardsAuto data.

When the all-new ’11 Jetta launched last year, some enthusiasts complained the car was inferior to previous models, lacking quality interior materials and offering a less-refined driving performance.

Mahoney says the auto maker is aware of the criticism and admits “some of the tactile things may be a bit different,” but increasing sales prove VW made the right decision.

“Even though we repositioned (the Jetta) to improve the value proposition, the reality is the transaction prices have held or gone up slightly, so it’s a win-win on some levels,” he says.

“If customers buy it and are satisfied, that’s really what matters.”

Much of the demand is coming from conquest buyers, who stayed away from VW models in the past because they considered them too expensive, Mahoney says.

Now that the brand is seen by many as more affordable, the new Passat and Beetle are benefiting as well.

The Beetle, in particular, is attracting more male buyers, he notes, crediting the car’s redesign.

Mahoney estimates about 60% of new Beetle buyers are men, up from 30%-35% for the previous model.

“The research that was done as part of the (new Beetle’s) positioning and development work indicated it had more of a broader appeal,” he says. “So we’ve taken advantage of that.”

bpope@wardsauto.com