TWIG - The German car industry’s biggest names were in Detroit this week showing off a slew of new models, among them the new Jetta sedan from Volkswagen and the next-generation M-Class sport utility vehicle from Mercedes.
Following a year of disappointing U.S. sales, German carmakers hope to dazzle American car aficionados with a vigorous overhaul of line-ups that are showing increasing signs of age.
The industry has set its sights on selling more than one million cars a year to U.S. drivers — compared to around 883,000 vehicles in 2004 — said Bernd Gottschalk, head of the German car industry association VDA.
That ambitious goal comes after a year in which U.S. sales of German cars declined by 3%, with Volkswagen and Audi especially hard hit by the impact of a strong dollar that made imports more expensive for U.S. consumers.
Yet this week at the North American International Auto show in Detroit, the industry was looking ahead with optimism, pinning its hopes on sophisticated engineering and a string of high-profile car launches.
Audi plans to revamp its U.S. offerings with five new models in the next seven months, while Volkswagen expects to introduce nine new models in the next 18 months, many of them drawing on the company’s performance car roots.
U.S-German giant DaimlerChrysler will debut four new Mercedes models this year, including the eagerly-awaited new M-Class SUV produced at the automaker’s Tuscaloosa, Alabama, factory.
Munich-based BMW will also bring new vehicles to market, including the 5 Series sedan with a new six-cylinder engine and optional all-wheel drive, the 530xi Touring and the speedy M5 sports sedan.
The company, whose U.S. sales grew by 7% last year, credits the introduction of new models for helping it to record its 13th consecutive year of growth in the U.S. market, which it describes as its most important.
"We’ve been very active with new models in the past 12 months," said Tom Purves, chief of the automaker’s North American operations.
Sports car mainstay Porsche was another winner in 2004, recording a healthy 10% jump in U.S. sales last year. Yet it, too, has no plans to rest on its laurels.
In Detroit, the carmaker showed off its new 911 Cabriolet sports car. The convertible will be available in March in two versions: A Carrera Cabriolet, with a 3.6-liter engine, and the Carrera S Cabriolet, with a 3.8-liter engine.
Porsche chief Wendelin Wiedeking also created a buzz by hinting that the carmaker could soon offer a hybrid-powered version of its Cayenne SUV.
Volkswagen, on the other hand, said this week it will push
clean-burning diesel fuel over gas-electric hybrids.
North American International Auto Show
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