While the average age of a current Passat owner is 40, the new model will be targeted at 30-to-50-year-old buyers with a median annual household income of $80,000, VW said.
"We are hoping and planning to retain a lot of our Jetta and Golf owners who are buying up" to larger vehicles, said Liz Vanzura, advertising director at VW.
The car's ad theme will be "Live larger"; the advertising will fall under VW's "Drivers Wanted" umbrella branding effort, said Ms. Vanzura.
The marketer's move upstream is a strategy devised by Ferdinand Piech, chairman of the German parent company. He has said he wants VW to compete against Mercedes-Benz since Mercedes moved downstream with its new, small 1998 A-Class in Europe.
Before the new Passat, VW didn't have a move-up vehicle; the average age of the owner of a Jetta, VW's best-seller in the U.S., is 31.
Ms. Vanzura declined to discuss ad spending for the campaign. VW is expected to spend about $15 million marketing the Passat through the first quarter.
The car received only $2.4 million in measured media spending last year, and a mere $33,000 in the first half of '97, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
The new Passat is getting a bigger ad push because VW is seeking to sell 40,000 Passats annually-double what it sold in 1996. This year, through September, Passat sales have slid nearly 39%, to 9,778, vs. a year ago.
The Passat campaign from Arnold Communications, Boston, breaks first in print; An 8-page ad runs in December issues of auto enthusiast books, followed by a three-page ad in other enthusiast books.
The first of three commercials will air in VW's top 18 markets Nov. 16 during National Football League broadcasts on Fox, followed by a three-page ad in USA Today.
The spots will be extended national early in the first quarter, on NBC, Fox, MTV and ESPN.
EUROPE BUYS PASSAT
The larger Passat has sold well in Europe, where it went on sale first, with a six-cylinder engine and all-wheel-drive, said James Hall, auto analyst at AutoPacific. Early buyers of the European Passat were trading in Mercedes' C-Class cars, he said.
That isn't likely to happen in the U.S. because VW will first sell the more value-price, 4-cylinder version, he said.
Passat will compete with American Honda Motor Co.'s Accord, Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Taurus and General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Malibu, which cost less than Passat, Mr. Hall said.