AUDI ADS SLAM SPORT-UTILITIES;MESSAGE: A6 HAS ALL THE BENEFITS, PLUS A LUXURY RIDE

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While luxury car marketers are scrambling to offer sport-utility vehicles, Audi is positioning its A6 sedan and wagon as the all-wheel-drive luxury alternative.

A new A6 campaign from McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C., pokes fun at the trucklike aspects of sport-utilities, such as high step-ups, poor handling and an uncomfortable ride.

In one 30-second spot breaking the week of Feb. 19, a young woman with a short skirt and heels loses the battle to gracefully get out of her sport-utility.

The campaign is aimed both at dissatisfied sport-utility owners and at car owners thinking of making the switch, said Ken Moriarty, director of marketing for Volkswagen of America's Audi unit.

The defection of luxury-car buyers to sport-utilities is a major reason luxury car sales have slowed during the 1990s. Last year, U.S. luxury-car sales fell 12.5% to 669,620 units, according to market researcher J.D. Power & Associates.

At the same time, sales of compact and full-size sport-utilities soared 12.8% to 1,753,408.

That's why Toyota Motor Sales USA's Lexus unit and American Honda Motor Co.'s Acura recently brought out their own sport-utility models, and Nissan Motor Corp. USA's Infiniti and Mercedes-Benz of North America have plans for their own.

Audi, however, figures it can capitalize by focusing on the Quattro all-wheel-drive system on its A6, which starts at $33,850, or about the same range as upscale sport-utilities.

"The A6 provides everything that most people want in an SUV in terms of safety, all-wheel-drive and utility, and it should appeal to people who also want comfort, handling and performance," Mr. Moriarty said.

The A6 campaign is expected to get a little less than half of Audi's estimated $40 million 1996 ad budget, up an estimated 33% from '95.

The print part of the campaign began Feb. 8, with an ad in The Wall Street Journal. Ads will also run in USA Today.

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