DETROIT – Volkswagen of America Inc. says it expects overall U.S. sales for 2004 to end in the range of 300,000 units, on par with 2003’s 303,000.

But the importer has several new models in the pipeline that should help it boost volumes in the coming years.

VW expects sales of the Touareg SUV to boost overall U.S. results.

This year, VWA is pinning hopes on its new Touareg SUV and Phaeton luxury sedan to provide positive sales momentum. Several of its volume models, including the Golf, Jetta and Passat, are reaching the end of their lifecycles.

A new Golf will arrive in U.S. showrooms in mid 2005, while the new Jetta and Passat will bow in 2005, VWA President Gerd Klauss tells Ward's.

“We think in this transition year we will hold the line where we were in 2003,” Klauss says. “We will shoot in 2004 for also around 300,000 Volkswagens.”

Before the new cars arrive, VW will offer what Klauss calls “sexy” editions of its aging models. The auto maker will begin sales of its high-performance Golf R32 in the U.S. later this year, while a refreshed Jetta recently hit the U.S. market. Also on tap in 2004 is a special anniversary-edition of the Jetta, and a diesel engine option is being added for the Passat.

Klauss says he expects the optional diesel powertrain to account for about 10% of Passat volume this year, or 7,500 units. Golf R32 will be limited by capacity constraints to about 5,000 units in 2004.

VW’s future-product plan also includes what Klauss calls a “small Touareg,” which will take design cues from the Concept T cross/utility vehicle that debuted at the North American International Auto Show here. He says the Concept T’s styling is a strong indication of where VW will be going in the future, particularly with its SUV range.

Executives at parent Volkswagen AG in Wolfsburg, Germany, initially were reluctant to expand the SUV range beyond the Touareg, but the initial success of that model has changed that thinking, Klauss says.

VW also will expand its technology offerings on its new models. One of the key features in VW’s future is the Dual-Shift Gearbox (DSG), which will be optional on the ’05 Jetta and next-generation Passat (due in 2005 as an ’06 model), as well as on a variety of VW’s diesel-powered vehicles. The auto maker initially plans to limit DSG to high-line trim levels.

DSG, created by BorgWarner Automotive Inc., features a twin-clutch design that was developed from Audi AG’s racing program. The system bowed in 1985 in Audi’s S1 rally car, victorious in the legendary Pike’s Peak hill-climb competition.

The transmission is a 3-shaft, 6-speed manual that also operates in automatic mode. DSG has a twin multi-plate clutch design with electro-hydraulic controls that enable two gears to be engaged at the same time.

During operation, DSG engages one gear and pre-selects the next gear based on the next up or down shift.

Klauss also reiterates VW’s plans to stay out of the incentive war that has developed in the U.S. market. He says VW will remain committed to keeping its brand equity intact, rather than trying to buy market share for short-term gain.