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Once-Beloved Beetle Could Be Back Soon : Automobiles: Volkswagen hopes to tap into American nostalgia with updated version of car that still sells elsewhere but vanished from showrooms in U.S. more than a decade ago. Irvine dealer reports interest.

March 30, 1994|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

NEW YORK — The Volkswagen Beetle, the much-loved and fondly remembered car that disappeared from auto showrooms more than a decade ago, may be coming back to U.S. markets.

If Americans like the idea, a sleek futuristic version--complete with convertible top and environmental controls--could be sold in the United States as early as 1997.

The German auto maker is tapping into American nostalgia to reverse a sharp decline in its overall U.S. sales, which totaled only about 50,000 cars in the United States last year--down from more than 10 times that in 1970 when the Beetle was a hot seller.

At Ray Fladeboe Volkswagen in the Irvine Auto Center, sales manager Woody Woodward said he was getting at least 10 calls a day from buyers interested in the updated Beetle.

"I think it's going to be an incredible hit, especially in Orange County," said Woodward. "There are a lot of young, successful people here and this is an affordable convertible. It's a fun car and there is some nostaglia involved."

Meanwhile, Volkswagen officials parlayed the news about the updated Beetle--called the Concept 1 Cabriolet--to promote its new Golf and Jetta models at a news conference Tuesday.

Clive Varlo, president and chief executive of Volkswagen of America, acknowledged the steep decline in Volkswagen sales. It has been "difficult to sit and watch--it's been a great disappointment to me," he said, adding he expected the situation to improve.

The Volkswagen Beetle was pulled from the U.S. market after costly air pollution and safety requirements made it obsolete. The company hopes to price the latest model between $12,000-$13,000 to make it attractive to U.S. buyers. Volkswagen still sells 400 a day in Mexico and Brazil.

The marketing strategy could fail if the American consumer tires of nostalgia before the new Beetle returns, one analyst said.

"I guess the question then becomes, 'Will the retro look be totally passe?' " said Joseph Phillippi of Lehman Brothers Inc.

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