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Electric EBugster, hybrid Jetta to lead VW's U.S. push

Volkswagen, Europe’s largest car maker, unveiled the all-electric E-Bugster and the hybrid Jetta at the Detroit Car Show today, saying high-technology cars like these were part of its drive to raise its profile in the U.S.

VW CEO Martin Winterkorn, in a speech at the show, said the company was already at the top in Europe, China and South America.
“It goes without saying that we want to be a top player in the U.S. 2012 needs to be the year of the great turnaround here,” Winterkorn said.

The world debut of the 2013 Jetta hybrid here in Detroit marks a new direction for VW, which has been more conservative than some its rivals in embracing hybrids and battery cars.

VW says the new Jetta will be the world’s first hybrid to use a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. Drivers also can cruise on electric-only power for short distances – up to 1.2 miles – and speeds of up to 44 mph.

VW expects combined city-highway fuel economy of 45 mpg, and 0-60 mph performance in under nine seconds The hybrid Jetta goes on sale in late 2012. Prices will be announced later.

The E-Bugster is a concept car, looking very much like the iconic old Beetle sedans. It will be powered by a 114 hp (85 kW) electric motor and a lithium ion battery. VW says the car would have a range of 100 miles. It gave no hint when the car might reach the market.

Volkswagen AG has said it expects to increase its U.S. sales at more than twice the auto market’s growth rate this year as it pursues its goal to become the global industry leader.

VW’s sales have risen steeply in the last three years, bolstered by the rollout of redesigned VW Passat and Jetta cars. But even its 2012 objective falls short of VW’s U.S. sales peak of around 570,000 vehicles in 1970. In 2011, VW of America sales rose 26.3 per cent to 324,402.

The automaker aims to set a new record by 2018, when it expects annual sales of 800,000 VW-brand vehicles in the U.S. By then, VW also aims to be the world’s leading automaker, with not only the highest sales but the biggest profits.

VW sees the revival of its U.S. business as a crucial element of its overall plan. Even after three consecutive years of strong growth, VW has only 2.5 percent of the U.S. market. In Europe, including its brands like SEAT and Skoda, its market share is close to 20 per cent.

For 2012, VW has tempered his expectations for the U.S. market, seeing continued recovery but slightly slower than it would have said a year ago.

VW is forecasting flat or slightly higher overall U.S. auto sales this year of between 13.5 million and 14 million vehicles, compared with 13.6 million in 2011.

Neil Winton
Neil Winton writes the European Perspective column for Autos Insider. He was Reuter's Science and Technology Correspondent and European Auto Correspondent before setting up as a freelance columnist and web site publisher, writing about the European automotive industry and its products. Neil can be reached at neil.winton@btinternet.com.