published Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Auto sales: Dodge sideswipes Passat in TV spot; VW sales slide

AUTOMAKERS’ YEARLY GAINS WITH OCTOBER VEHICLE SALES

• Subaru — Up 29.8 percent

• Chrysler — Up 16 percent

• Mercedes-Benz — Up 14.4 percent

• General Motors — Up 14 percent

• Audi — Up 13.4 percent

• Nissan — Up 10.7 percent

• Toyota — Up 10.1 percent

• Ford — Up 7.2 percent

• Hyundai — Up 5 percent

• Kia — Up 1.3 percent

• Honda — Down 0.1 percent

• BMW — Down 0.4 percent

• Mazda — Down 4.5 percent

• Volkswagen — Down 16.3 percent

Source: TrueCar.com

Poll
Do you want a VW Passat?
  • photo
    Workers assemble Volkswagen Passat sedans at the German automaker's plant in Chattanooga.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Volkswagen sales in the U.S. slid in November as the company bumps up against strong gains from last year, but the automaker's Chattanooga-made Passat drew extra attention due to a TV ad from a competitor.

A Dodge commercial appears to take a dig at the Passat as the ad showcases a Charger kicking up a cloud of off-road dust. A narrator states that "We're willing to bet no kid ever grew up with a poster of a Passat on his bedroom wall."

The 30-second spot then puts up "300 horsepower" and "31 mpg" followed by the Dodge Charger nameplate.

Carsten Krebs, a Volkswagen of America spokesman, said the German automaker doesn't take offense to the spot because officials see it as "free PR," noting that Dodge feels the need to specifically cite the Passat.

"It's good for us," he said. "We like it."

Ron Kwiatkowski, sales manager at Village Volkswagen of Chattanooga, said he's not sure why the Passat is included in the commercial.

He said the midsize sedan isn't geared toward young people.

The commercial has attracted the attention of people on the PassatWorld website, eliciting comments ranging from amusement to disdain.

"Just saw this on the TV and I was floored. It made me laugh out loud," said one person. "Your move Volkswagen."

"I don't know anyone that ever had a dodge charger poster either," said another entry. "It was always ferrari posters, lambo posters, ect."

Still another said: "Volkswagen's numbers must have been making a dent in Chrysler's if they're resorting to these tactics. I wonder if it'll backfire."

That wasn't necessarily the case in November, however.

VW sales fell 16.3 percent last month compared to a year ago, and Passat sales were off 15.8 percent in November, the carmaker reported Tuesday.

Chrysler Group LLC, which includes Dodge, said its November U.S. sales rose 16 percent, led by the all-new Jeep Cherokee and small crossover sport utility vehicle.

Dodge Charger sales improved 11 percent.

A Chrysler spokesman couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

Jonathan Browning, Volkswagen Group of America's chief executive, noted that the carmaker this year is up against strong sales figures from the past two years. He said, for example, that VW's U.S. sales last month are 52 percent higher than November 2010. Also, last month was the second best November for the German automaker since 1973, Browning said.

"We're setting a new baseline in future investment," he said in a conference call with reporters and analysts.

VW sold 30,727 vehicles in November, and 8,876 units were the Chattanooga-made Passat.

For the year, VW reported that total sales are down 5.2 percent to 373,689 vehicles.

Overall, November auto sales in the U.S. rose 9 percent above a year ago, with a solid piece of the gains coming over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Sales ran at an annual pace of 16.4 million cars and trucks last month, the best in almost seven years.

The numbers gave further evidence that the small SUV is replacing the car as the vehicle of choice for families and aging baby boomers.

Erich Merkle, Ford's top sales analyst, told The Associated Press that the small SUVs gained two percentage points of market share in November compared with last year, while small and midsize cars lost two points combined.

Compact SUVs like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V now make up 15.5 percent of U.S. sales. Through November, Americans bought just over 1.8 million of them, a 21 percent increase from a year ago.

Also popular in November were Black Friday deals, traditionally a mainstay for chain stores and technology retailers.

Toyota said more than 25 percent of its sales came over the holiday weekend. General Motors said Black Friday is "obviously becoming a bigger go-to-market strategy in automotive, a little more consistent with other industries."

Dealers said November sales started slowly, but rose after Thanksgiving.

The future looks especially promising for the small SUV category.

The Honda CR-V led the segment with 23,509 sold, up 5 percent to set a second-straight monthly record. The Toyota RAV4 sales rose 57 percent to 19,447. The all-new Jeep Cherokee sizzled, topping 10,000 in sales during its first full month on the market.

Industry analysts said small car sales slowed because gas prices fell during November, while midsize car sales also slowed as buyers defected to the small SUVs. Automakers also are starting to offer more deals on small cars and especially midsize cars.

"If deals are to be had, that's the segment to look at," said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of auto sales forecasting for LMC Automotive. "There are some models that are starting to age."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6318.

about Mike Pare...

Mike Pare, the deputy Business editor at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, has worked at the paper for 27 years. In addition to editing, Mike also writes Business stories and covers Volkswagen, economic development and manufacturing in Chattanooga and the surrounding area. In the past he also has covered higher education. Mike, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., received a bachelor’s degree in communications from Florida Atlantic University. he worked at the Rome News-Tribune before ...

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