VW relaunches EuroVan in U.S.

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After nearly a decade on the market, Volkswagen's EuroVan is getting its first U.S. TV campaign.

Volkswagen of America is relaunching the 2001 EuroVan with an estimated $10 million effort arriving tonight on network cable and spot TV. VW believes it's the first U.S. TV campaign for a VW minivan in a generation.

The EuroVan, VW's only truck, bowed in 1992 when the automaker was on the skids. It is less known than a vehicle it succeeded-the Microbus, popularized and beloved by hippies in the 1960s.

"Our awareness for this vehicle is almost nothing," said Karen Marderosian, manager of advertising and marketing at the carmaker. "We do know we're starting from scratch."

Havas Advertising's Arnold Worldwide Partners, Boston, created a single 30-second spot, which will get heavy exposure in the three weeks after it breaks. Then it will go into rotation with other VW spots. The commercial shows parents driving in the middle of nowhere talking to their children with geographic names like Denver and Dakota. They pick up a hitchhiker, who pitches his "Phoenix" sign in with other signs, including, yes, Denver and Dakota.

The commercial is "very much about freedom, the open road and space" and to show "there's nothing mini" about the EuroVan, said Ms. Marderosian. "It has the same heritage as the Microbus."

The prior EuroVan model "had problems being real" since it couldn't compete on power, content or price, said James Hall, VP-industry analysis at consultancy AutoPacific. He said the 2001 model, which trickled into dealerships in the spring, has 200 horsepower, compared with 140 before. The price has also come down significantly.

Ms. Marderosian agreed with Mr. Hall's assessment, saying the new EuroVan has better performance and is a better value. The previous EuroVan "didn't really fit as well" with VW's lineup, she said.

The 2001 EuroVan starts at $26,500, down from about $33,000 for the prior model. VW projected it will sell 5,000 this year, but can get more if demand dictates. VW sold 2,714 EuroVans last year vs. 3,395 in 1999, according to Automotive News. VW said it sold 531 last month, an 86% increase from June 2000's 285.

Mr. Hall recalled a commercial for the arrival of the second-generation Microbus in the late 1960s or early 1970s, which VW conceded could likely have been the last time it was advertised on TV.

The EuroVan got more attention from consumers after VW showed off its concept Microbus at the Detroit auto show in January and then put it on its Web site.

VW will send an Arnold-created direct-mail piece about the EuroVan to about 300,000 Microbus hand-raisers and VW car owners. Arnold also created print ads that will appear in national outdoor, lifestyle and finance magazines and newspaper ads in 13 key markets.

Purchasers of the EuroVan are primarily outdoorsy VW loyalists, concentrated in the Northwest and Southwest. The target for the minivan is primarily married adults ages 35 to 49 with children.

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