SAN FRANCISCO – Volkswagen Group of America Inc. wants to dispel the notion its vehicles are “cool” but too pricey with the new ’11 Jetta, which starts at $15,995, $1,740 less than the ’10 model.

The auto maker is targeting top-selling cars such as the Toyota Corolla, which starts at $15,450, VWA’s top marketer says.

“It’s priced in the sweet spot of the segment,” Tim Ellis, vice president-marketing, says at a media event here. “The quality, details and styling put it way ahead in its class and defy traditional values in its segment.”

VWA was able cut the sticker price by shaving costs out of certain areas, including the interior and suspension.

The Jetta particularly is instrumental in German-parent Volkswagen AG’s quest to become the world’s largest auto maker, Ellis says, noting the vehicle is one of its most-popular models. To date, 9.6 million Jettas have been sold worldwide, the auto maker says.

If VW wants to take Toyota Motor Corp.’s crown, it has its work cut out.

In 2008, Volkswagen sold 5,863,220 vehicles worldwide, compared with Toyota’s 7,770,801, according to Ward’s data. But the gap is closing. Last year, VW delivered 6,149,061 units vs. Toyota’s 6,879,107.

Ward’s Upper Small car category shows VW has even more ground to cover in the U.S. market. Through June, Toyota delivered 130,896 Corollas, compared with 55,258 Jettas.

Ellis is confident the new Jetta is up to the job. The new model still boasts German engineering, despite its lower price point, he says. That, combined with low expectations among car buyers in the segment, will help drive volume.

“Consumers in these volume segments rationalize they really don’t need an emotional car, just something to get around,” Ellis says. “But when they’re presented with a car that not only can get you from point A to B, but (also) has high quality and looks great, then all of a sudden they’re very attracted.”

And the Volkswagen brand also has the “cool factor” behind it. “The fact America has such a love affair with VW is really our trump card,” he says

To promote the new Jetta, VWA plans to launch a multi-media advertising campaign in the year’s fourth-quarter, about the same time the car hits dealerships.

The campaign, which carries the tagline “Great for the price of good,” will have a “dose of VW humor and lifestyle,” Ellis promises.

“Our advertising campaigns are almost textbook examples of how to use humor,” he says. “This emotional equity we have gives us a unique advantage in this country.”

But it will take more than a lower price point and catchy tagline to attract buyers in greater numbers. For ’11, VW made the Jetta 2.9 ins. (7.4 cm) longer than the previous model, with 2.7 ins. (6.9 cm) more rear legroom.

The car also boasts a number of new features typically not found at such a low price point. These include VW’s patented “intelligent crash response” system, which automatically shuts off the fuel pump, unlocks the doors and turns on hazard lights in case of airbag deployment.

The U.S. ’11 Jetta will come with several engine choices: a 115-hp 2.0L inline 4-cyl., 170-hp 2.5L I-5 and 2.0L turbodiesel. A performance-oriented 200-hp 2.0L turbocharged stratified injection engine will be added next year.

Ellis says it’s too early to determine what the volume engine will be, but the diesel variant has been a strong seller in the past.

“We see a growing number of buyers seeking diesel,” he says. “Once the story gets out, it’s amazing how our sales have taken off. We’ve surpassed the percentage of sales we projected. We’re now a good 30% of volume with (diesel).”

And the more consumers learn about the benefits of the new clean diesels, the more they will help dispel the notion they are dirty oil burners.

“Some of the other so-called ‘green’ cars out there just don’t deliver on the performance customers require,” Ellis says.