German automaker continues steady growth, even without an SUV It's beginning to sound like a broken record. Year after year, Volkswagen just keeps gobbling up more U.S. sales. Now, the million-dollar question: can the German automaker continue its past success against a declining market in 2001?

VW says 2000 final sales will reach an impressive 360,000 units. That's 30,000 more than it projected for the year and 45,000 more vehicles than it sold in 1999. Not bad for an automaker that doesn't yet have a sport-utility vehicle offering in the truck-lovin' American market.

Jens Neumann, the VW board member in charge of North American operations, says, "We had a very good year. We had our downturn like everyone else, but we came back strong in November." Volkswagen of America sold 24,469 cars in November - making it its best November since 1973. Despite that, Mr. Neumann says VW still has "a couple of years to go" to surpass its North American sales record of 564,000 units, set in the early 1970's.

In 2001, VW plans to continue working with dealers to invest in facilities as well as Internet training. "We are very grateful that our dealers are going along with us in this growth pattern," says Mr. Neumann. "This is a challenge that we face together."

About 90% of VW's dealers, Mr. Neumann estimates, currently are participating online. "We aren't doing anything without our dealers but we are taking initiatives so that together we can learn how to use the Internet better," adds Mr. Neumann. "Our efforts were test efforts in 2000 but they will be continued and broadened in 2001."

Mr. Neumann also is hoping to broaden sales in the coming year, but is realistic about the possibility of a continuing downward trend in the industry. "We are hoping for double-digit growth, but it depends on factors in the market," he says. "I think we can do 10% plus against the market, because of the great new products we're bringing forth."

One of those offerings, the Passat, continued to fuel VW's growth in 2000, reaching 80,000 units. VW will look to that vehicle to again drive sales in 2001, climbing to 100,000 units, says Mr. Neumann. The automaker is also expecting to snag sales with the upcoming Jetta wagon.