Volkswagen sales could near U.S. record, official says

Volkswagen sales could near U.S. record, official says

September 28th, 2012 by Mike Pare in Business Around the Region

The VW logo is seen on the front of one of dozens of new Passats made at the Chattanooga Volkswagen assembly plant parked outside the plant. These cars will be used as demos for testing, internal quality control and press test drives.

The year was 1970 and Ford introduced the Pinto, American Motors rolled out the Gremlin and Volkswagen sold a record number of cars in America.

This year, 42 years later, the German automaker could near its all-time sales record, Volkswagen Group of America's chief said Thursday.

"We may get close," Chief Executive Jonathan Browning told Reuters at the Paris car show. The all-time group mark is 569,696 vehicles.

This year, VW has posted U.S. group sales, which include Audi, of 375,142 vehicles through August. Sales would have to hit the 48,000-a-month range for the rest of the year for VW to close in on the record. Last month, VW's group sales totaled 52,538 vehicles in the U.S.

Industry analysts said Volkswagen is on the verge of the American record.

"They've been trying to get back for a long time," said Aaron Bragman of IHS Automotive.

He said the Chattanooga-made Passat is a big reason for VW's 2012 higher sales numbers. The Passat makes up about a quarter of all the automaker's American sales.

Analyst Jesse Toprak of said that VW is a leading brand around the globe, and it's an anomaly it's not in the U.S.

But, he said, VW officials realize there's an opportunity as evidenced by the construction of the $1 billion assembly plant in Chattanooga.

"We see Volkswagen as the one brand which has the biggest growth opportunity in the U.S. for the next three years at least," Toprak said.

Browning also told Reuters he's still discussing with group management the possibility of introducing a midsize sport utility vehicle in the U.S., although he could not yet confirm the project would go ahead.

Observers have said such an SUV could be produced in Chattanooga.

"They'll probably build it in Chattanooga," Bragman said.

VW has the Touareg SUV. But Bragman said VW likely would produce a less expensive, midsize SUV more in line with Nissan's new Pathfinder or Toyota's Highlander.

Toprak said that a key for VW moving ahead is expanding its lineup of vehicles in the U.S.

"They need a full lineup of vehicles," he said.